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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.
Tackles: Ross Pospisil,
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
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
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:
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
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
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.
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
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
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.
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
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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
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.
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.