Post-Spring Update: Navy

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In a traditional rivalry that’s been far more spirited than Notre Dame fans would like lately, the Naval Academy and the Irish meet once again in 2014, playing in the nation’s capital at FedEx Field. After pushing the Irish to the max last year in Notre Dame Stadium, Ken Niumatalolo’s squad will be looking to avenge a tough loss.

Doing so won’t be outside the realm of possibility. The Midshipmen have veteran depth on both sides of the ball. They also have quarterback Keenan Reynolds, a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate. Reynolds was impressive in South Bend, the start of a statistical tear that turned him into one of college football’s most prolific scorers.

To get us up to speed on how spring practice went for the Midshipmen, and just how dangerous they might be next year (the answer: very), is Bill Wagner of the Capital Gazette.

 

After a down 2012, Navy is coming off a 9-4 season that ended with another Commander-In-Chief Trophy and a victory in the Armed Forces Bowl. It might be too early to tell, but heading out of spring, does this feel like one of Ken Niumatalolo’s better teams?

Yes, Navy should be very solid this season as there are a slew of returning letterman on both sides of the ball. Navy is stacked on offense with four of five starting offensive lineman back along with numerous skill position players. Obviously, having a third-year starting quarterback who is a big-time playmaker is a great start. Navy returns its top three fullbacks, all of whom earned starts in 2013. Navy also has a slew of quality slotbacks led by Geoffrey Whiteside, DeBrandon Sanders and Demond Brown. Navy graduated both starting wide receivers, but the coaching staff is very high on sophomore Jamir Tillman (6-2, 205), the son of former NFL wide receiver Cedric Tillman and winner of the Admiral Mack Award as Most Improved Player during spring camp.

Defensively, Navy returns an outstanding nose guard in Bernie Sarra and a very good defensive end in Paul Quessenberry. Safety Parrish Gaines and cornerback Brendon Clement lead a secondary with experienced players at every position. Lone question marks come at inside linebacker as Navy graduated both starters and its top two leading tacklers in Cody Peterson and D.J. Sargenti. There was enough concern about the potential replacements that Jordan Drake, who started every game last season at outside linebacker, was shifted inside toward the end of spring drills. Punter Pablo Beltran and placekicker Nick Sloan also return. Navy should have no trouble securing the six wins necessary to qualify for the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.

 

Junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds gave Notre Dame all it could handle last year in South Bend, kicking off a near-historic month of football that had him racking up insane stat-lines down the stretch. Is it fair to call him a Heisman contender? Just how good can Reynolds be?

Reynolds is going to graduate as the most accomplished quarterback in Navy history behind Roger Staubach. He is already on the verge of breaking several school records. Reynolds just keeps getting better and better and the sky is the limit. He is an outstanding runner and a very solid passer. He is smart, a great leader and outstanding at reading defenses and making decisions in the option game. Having a QB of that caliber is huge in Navy’s system and almost guarantees good offensive production.

 

Navy’s option attack will always be difficult to stop, but with seven starters returning, how does Buddy Green’s defense look?

See first response. There are plenty of proven performers along the defensive line and in the secondary. Question marks come at inside linebacker as those two players make the majority of tackles in Navy’s 3-4 alignment.

 

The season starts off against Ohio State and Urban Meyer. After coming close to springing the upset a few years ago, is that a game circled on the calendar?

Obviously, getting Ohio State on a near home field in Baltimore is a coup for Navy and a major upset is slightly possible, although likely improbable. Navy almost beat Ohio State on its home field a few years ago so that provides some hope. Obviously, the fact it is the opener for both teams is good for Navy as Ohio State may not be clicking on all cylinders. Of course, the Midshipmen need to hope the Buckeyes struggle against the triple-option.

 

Notre Dame has committed to keeping Navy as part of its annual schedule. How will the Midshipmen’s schedule transform after it enters the AAC?

Navy must play eight American Athletic Conference games, which leaves four open dates. Three of those are locked in stone – Air Force, Army and Notre Dame. So basically, Navy has one open date and will no doubt schedule a very beatable opponent. Navy will NEVER stop playing Notre Dame.

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Special thanks to Bill for taking the time out of his schedule to answer these. Find more of his coverage of the Naval Academy at the Capital Gazette’s Navy Sports blog or on Twitter @BWagner_CapGaz.