2009 Navy Preview - Defense
Navy DE Jabaree Tuani
Navy DE Jabaree Tuani
Posted Jun 18, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Navy Midshipmen Defense

Navy Midshipmen

Preview 2009 - Defense

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- 2009 Navy Defense | 2009 Navy Depth Chart
- 2008 Navy Preview |
2007 Navy Preview | 2006 Navy Preview  

What you need to know: The defense took a good step forward with a great year from the run defense. This season, the defense could be the best Navy has had in a long, long time with real talent and good experience on the front seven led by Nate Frazier, possibly the team's most indispensible player, on the nose, and a terrific linebacking corps with Ross Pospisil and Clint Sovie two excellent tacklers. A pass rush is the key after doing next to nothing. Michael Walsh, Jabaree Tuani, and Matt Nechak are promising on the ends. The safeties will be terrific, but the corners are a bit suspect. Overall, there's plenty of experience, there's solid depth, and for Navy, there's good talent to get excited about.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Ross Pospisil, 106
Sacks: Matt Nechak, 4
Interceptions: Emmett Merchant, Ross Pospisil, Ram Vela, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DT Nate Frazier
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior LB Craig Schaefer
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Jabaree Tuani
Best pro prospect: Junior SS Wyatt Middleton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Frazier, 2) LB Ross Pospisil, 3) LB Clint Sovie
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, Experience
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Good Passing Team

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The anchor of the line, senior Nate Frazier, is back on the nose. At 6-3 and 287 pounds, he's the team's biggest D lineman and he might be the most indispensible player because of his bulk. The rare Navy lineman who could start at several other places, he has gotten stronger, more consistent, and better making 44 tackles with a sack and nine tackles for loss. He's not just a brick wall in the middle; he can move and will chase down plays.

Senior Matt Nechak is the team's most experienced defensive lineman and is the best threat to apply pressure from the end. He made 39 sacks with a team-leading four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss, and he has the drive and the motor to do even more. At 6-4 and 249 pounds he's built like a linebacker, where he started out his career, but he's one of the team's strongest players and holds his own against most big linemen. Now he has to come back healthy after suffering a minor knee injury.

Jabaree Tuani stepped into a starting spot four games into the season and came up huge making 43 tackles with 1.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. The 6-1, 242-pound sophomore is the team's speediest option coming around the corner with the upside to do far more as a pass rusher. Heavily recruited by several BCS schools, he should grow into the best lineman on the defensive front over the next three years with the ability to become a disruptive force.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-2, 257-pound senior Michael Walsh is back after missing most of last year with a toe injury. He started the first four games making eight tackles with a sack before getting hurt, but when he's right he's a promising pass rusher who should do more against the run. While he was out he was able to bulk up a little bit and he should be ready to go to start the year.

At 6-4 and 263 pounds, senior Jordan Stephens is a big end who is neck-and-neck with Nechak in the hunt for a starting job. He can be an extra tackle in a 4-3, or he could work on the nose if needed. One of the team's strongest players, he has the potential to be tough against the run. Now he has to produce after making just 16 tackles in two years.

A pure nose guard, 6-4, 270-pound junior Chase Burge will be the apprentice behind Frazier for a year before taking over in 2010. He only made one tackle in his brief time, but he has the potential to be a key part of the rotation to give Frazier a bit of a break.

Watch Out For ... Tuani to take things to another level. He's the speed rusher who could provide the pass rush the defense has been desperately missing. He'll be turned loose.
Talent. Talent?! Navy has always gotten by with try-hard types on the defensive front who made plays on will and motor. While there aren't any All-Americans on the line, Tuani and Frazier could hold their own against just about anyone, while Walsh and Nechak are nice veterans.
Proven pass rush. There's hope for all the experience to turn into production. The Midshipmen only came up with 17 sacks and was 103rd in the nation in tackles for loss. Any improvement would go a long way.
Outlook: The potential is there for this to be the best line Navy has fielded in a long, long time. There's legitimate size all across the front three, and there's great depth on the ends. Now if there can be a little more pressure to help out the secondary, the line will be one of the team's strengths.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: The 2008 leading tackler, Ross Pospisil, returns after making 106 tackles from his spot on the inside. Not just a run stuffer, the 6-0, 223-pound senior also made two interceptions and four broken up passes showing nice range and the kind of instincts that come with two years of starting experience. Always moving and always trying to get in on every play, he makes up for a lack of size and pure athleticism by hitting hard and with a non-stop motor.

Senior Clint Sovie, a tough, athletic playmaker who made 60 tackles with four tackles for loss on the inside. He missed all of 2007 with a broken ankle and came back looking like he never left. A safety-sized presence at 5-11 and 210 pounds, he has sideline-to-sideline range and speed from the inside, and he has the quickness to play on the outside. For now, he'll move outside where he'll be used as more of a pass rusher to utilize his speed into the backfield.

Senior Tony Haberer started five games last year on the inside and finished with 41 tackles. He was a good reserve in 2007, making 44 stops, and now he's a seasoned veteran who should clean up everything Pospisil doesn't get to. Arguably the best athlete in the linebacking cops with tremendous quickness to go along with great weight room strength, now it has to translate to more production.

The new starter to the mix is Craig Schaefer, a 6-2, 222-pound senior who'll take over on the outside after starting the first two games of last year and finishing the year with 17 stops. A special teamer and an afterthought on the defense over the first part of his career, he has been great in offseason practices showing off pass rushing ability that has hasn't been able to bring to the field. He has the potential to be a big-hitting playmaker, but he has to step up and produce with the new responsibility.

Projected Top Reserves: After starting for most of last year on the outside, senior Ram Vela will be a key part of the outside linebacker rotation again after making 33 tackles and three sacks with two interceptions. A big-time playmaker, he's extremely fast taking his running back skills and utilizing them for the defense. He's not consistent, but he's able to use his speed well. However, at 5-9 and 193 pounds, he's not an every-down linebacker.

6-3, 230-pound junior Tyler Simmons will work behind Pospisil at one of the inside spots and has looked good enough this offseason to see more time as a possible starter at one of the four spots. Very active and very tough with nice range and great strength, he's also one of the team's biggest linebackers. He only made ten tackles last year, but he might triple that this season.

Watch Out For ... Sovie on the outside. As good as he was on the inside after coming back from injury, he should be fantastic with more room to move. He could be the pass rusher the team has solely missed. 
Experience. Sovie, Pospisil, and Haberer have seen it all and should be rock solid. Schaefer isn't a bad option to throw into the outside mix. This is as loaded a linebacking corps are Navy has had in years.
Big plays. Everyone can hit and there's good athleticism and toughness. Now there have to be more big hits, more takeaways, and more plays behind the line. The linebackers are too good to not be more disruptive.
Outlook: Good last year, the linebacking corps might be the team's biggest strength with two fantastic stars in Pospisil and Sovie who'll tackle everything in sight, and Harberer who has tremendous athleticism and plenty of experience. The backups are good, the starting four is talented, and Navy will have a great group to count on year in and year out.

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: With Rashawn King gone, senior Blake Carter will assume the role as a No. 1 corner. He started three times last year and was a backup the rest of the time, and now he has to regain the form that led to 71 tackles two years ago. He's a fantastic athlete and he's a proven hitter, but the 5-11, 185-pounder only made 16 tackles. with an interception. He has to come up with more plays against the pass and he'll have to show he can handle the top receiver options.

Taking over on the the right side, where King started last year, will be Kevin Edwards, a 6-2, 180-pound junior who's not only a big corner, but he's one of the team's fastest players. He was primed to come up with a big season last year but the junior suffered an ankle injury and was only a special teamer making four tackles. He has the skills to be great, but he's unproven.

Junior Wyatt Middleton is back at safety moving over from free safety, where he started every game last year, to Rover. The 6-0, 193-pounder could end up moving back if needed, but he has the range and tackling ability to be a steadying force no matter where he plays. He made 80 stops, with an interception and five broken up passes. and it'll be a shock if he's not one of the team's top tacklers again.

Sophomore Kwesi Mitchell will move over from corner to start at free safety. The 5-10, 189-pound speedster was an Alabama state champion caliber sprinter and was part of the juggernaut of a Hoover High football team. He should grow into a key factor on the defense as the season goes on.

Projected Top Reserves: Navy gets a big boost with the expected return of Emmett Merchant this fall after he chose to leave the team for personal reasons. He's not expected to be handed a starting job again right away at one of the safety spots, but there's no denying his potential to be one of the team's top defensive backs. The junior is a former slot back who brings excellent speed to the defensive backfield and good tackling ability making 41 stops with two interceptions. He'll need a little while to get back into the swing of things, but he'll be a key force who'll make the secondary far better.

Sophomore David Wright will be in the hunt for time at right corner working behind Kevin Edwards. At 6-2 and 188 pounds, he has excellent size and the quickness to possibly used as a kick returner. He needs time and seasoning, but he has the skills to be a good one in time.

Watch Out For ... the Merchant situation. If he really is back and if he's ready to become a major force after his focus was on whatever his personal reasons were, he should join Middleton and Mitchell to form an impressive trio of safeties.
Safeties. Middleton is a good veteran who can be counted on as one of the team's best tacklers. while Merchant and Mitchell are speedsters with great range.
Pass defense. With no pass rush to help the cause, the secondary has a nasty time coming up with stops against anyone who can throw the ball. The idea is to keep everything in front of them, but the defensive backs got dinked and dunked on to death. While giving up 212 yards per game isn't that bad, finishing 103rd in the nation in pass efficiency defense is a problem. Wake Forest's Riley Skinner connected on all 11 of his passes for 166 yards and a score in the bowl game.
Outlook: The corners are going to have problems against the better passing teams, but the safeties will be good playmakers. They'll not only come up with a ton of tackles, but they'll save the corners more often than last year.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Gone is Matt Harmon, who nailed 19-of-22 field goals last year and was a difference maker in several games. In steps Jon Teague, a sophomore who was excellent as a kickoff specialist last year. He's the real deal and he should provide even more range than Harmon, who topped out at just under 50 yards.

Junior Kyle Delahooke returns after averaging 41.6 yards per punt with 11 inside the 20. He needs to get more blast on his kicks and he has to do a far better job of putting his kicks deep. It would be nice if there were a few more punts aired out deep.

WR Mario Washington only got ten chances to return punts last year averaging just 6.2 yards per try. Extremely quick, he has the potential to do far more with a little room to move. Sophomore Gary Myers will take over for Greg Jones and John Angelo as the main kickoff returner. After the team struggled averaging just 19.2 yards per try, Myers should be an upgrade.

Watch Out For ... Teague. He's not going to be better than Harmon right away, that's next to impossible, but he's a talented kicker who'll be a weapon. It's possible he'll be the most talented kicker the program has had, outside of last year's season from Harmon, in a long time.
Delahooke's average. He needs to blast it more, but he got the average close to 42 yards per kick. Since field position means everything to Navy, he needs to be a star.
The return game. Not being able to average 20 yards per kickoff return is a problem. Navy finished 37th in the nation in punt returns, but that's an aberration considering Blake Carter's 44-yard punt return for a score skewed the stats.
Outlook: Teague has a cannon for a leg and he should be the difference in at least two games. Delahooke is more than just serviceable, and there's the potential for upside with good quickness and speed in the return game.
Rating: 6.5