The media reports from Ken Niumatalolo’s spring press conference are coming in, and you may get confused by some of the headlines. The Post says, “Spring Practice Brings Big Changes for Navy.” The Sun says, “Change for change’s sake senseless to Niumatalolo.” Glad we got that cleared up! Fortunately, Christian Swezey and Peter Schmuck were talking about different things.
Schmuck was talking about Coach Niumatalolo’s overall coaching philosophy, while Swezey’s article focuses mostly on players There are plenty of changes on the depth chart as spring practice starts. Let’s start at center, which Coach called “our main concern offensively.” Swezey says:
Senior Ricky Moore (Northern) was listed as the starting center when Navy opened spring football practice yesterday, but if the coaches have their way, he won’t stay there long. Coach Ken Niumatalolo said he would prefer to use Moore as a starting tackle. For that to happen, one of the backup centers needs to have a good spring.
The most intriguing candidate is Andy Lark, a 6-foot, 290-pound junior. He is one of the strongest players on the team but spent last year as a reserve nose guard. He did not play as a freshman after he broke his leg.Niumatalolo said Lark is too talented to remain as the third-string nose guard “and get 10 reps a game.”
Coach Niumatalolo was asked by Swezey why Ricky Moore was moved to center, and the first thing he said was “For Air Force.” Then he got into a little more detail. Air Force switched to a 3-4 last year, and in doing so presented an odd (3 or 5-man) front. Notre Dame lined up the same way. In 3 or 5-man fronts, the nose guard is usually lined up in a 0 or 1-technique, meaning that they are lined up either directly over the center, or over his outside shoulder. The one-on-one matchup between the center and the nose guard can be a mismatch, since nose guards are typically… well, huge. I think it took a toll on Antron Harper last year, although I have nothing to back that up other than what I think I saw. Moore is 6-4, 283. Andy Lark is built like a bowling ball at 6-0, 290, and was described by coach Niumat as “maybe the strongest player on the team.” In contrast, Harper was once called the “smallest offensive lineman in I-A” earlier in his career by the SID staff. The added emphasis on size and strength at the center position is an interesting story to follow this spring.
Coach Niumatalolo also mentioned Jarod Bryant’s move to slotback. He’ll still be the #2 quarterback, but “Jarod is too talented to sit on the bench… He’s special with the football in his hands.” That’s also why Bryant will get a shot at returning kicks. Because Reggie Campbell was so effective in the return game last year, finding a replacement is another big priority. Backup fullback is another priority, and Niumat once again mentioned Devan Clark as someone he’s looking to transition from workout star to on-field performer.
When asked about the importance of putting his stamp on the program, Coach Niumatalolo tossed ego aside and said he doesn’t worry about that. “I think the core of the practice will stay the same,” he said. “I just want to make sure I do what’s right for the Program. I don’t care whose idea it was.” But while making his own mark isn’t a priority, the new head coach was very enthusiastic about the “infusion of fresh ideas” from his new assistant coaches. Along those lines, I thought one of Niumat’s most interesting comments came when talking about his offensive philosophy. He stated that he learned his Xs & Os from Paul Johnson, and the option game will look pretty much the same. But “there might be a few changes in the passing game. Not that we’re going to throw the ball more, but just some different ideas.” Coach Niumat credits these ideas to newcomers like Joe DuPaix and Ashley Ingram. One more thing to watch leading up to the spring game.
Anyway, the usual outlets did a great job recapping the press conference:
Overall, it’s clear that Coach Niumatalolo isn’t quite as comfortable behind the podium as Coach Johnson, but that will probably come with time. There was no hiding his enthusiasm, though; on the topic of the Poinsettia Bowl, he commented, “I’m still pissed that we lost.” He was clearly anxious to get started on the field. So am I.
Moving right along…
Bowl game update: The Congressional Bowl is up for NCAA approval next month, and without it, Navy might have a hard time finding a postseason home. That’s because, as you already know, existing bowls all have conference affiliations. But Chet has agreed to send the Mids to Washington pending the game’s approval, which hinges on finding an opponent. Bill Wagner gets into good detail.
Elsewhere in the land of Service* Academy football: Army football practices will be closed this spring, according to this blog entry at the Times Herald-Record. We already kind of figured that. I just wanted to compare this entry to what I said on the subject a couple weeks ago:
Him: A few weeks ago, Brock said he wanted to keep the offense a secret for as long as possible. The only people Brock is hiding the offense from is the Temple football team, Army’s first opponent in 2008. Once Army plays Temple, the big secret would be out. My job is to sniff out the offense before spring practices ends.
Me: You mean “opponent,” Stan, because as soon as you play your first game, everyone’s going to know what your offense looks like. What, exactly, is he hoping to accomplish? To try to pull a fast one on Temple? It isn’t like there won’t be reports all over the internet and in the papers anyway once practice starts.
Him: This isn’t the best move for Brock. Figure he would want as much publicity on his team as possible following its 11th straight losing season in 2007.
Me: Coach Brock needs to be telling anyone who will listen all about the new offense. Give downtrodden Army fans something to be excited about. Generate a little buzz about the the program. This is one of those times when the AD should pull the coach aside, tell him “tough luck,” and start a marketing campaign all about the new-look Army football team.
I guess someone reads this blog after all. That’s OK. Considering that half of my stuff is just snarky comments on other people’s work, I’m not one to talk TOO much about originality…
*Unless the NFL wants you.
Speaking of the asterisk: It didn’t take long for someone to say “wait a minute…” about Army’s new Alternative “Service” Option. This blogger at the South Bend Tribune sees the program for what it is:
Campbell’s opportunity comes from a policy implemented in 2005 “that releases cadets from their five-year active duty commitment if they have ‘unique talents and abilities.’” That conjures images of cadets pedaling unicycles while spinning plates on their noses. “Look, Sarge, no hands!”
The idea is to grant exemptions for graduates who “participate in activities with potential recruiting or public affairs benefit to the Army.”
Recruiting for the battlefield or the football field?
Good question. We all know the answer. Some of you are probably thinking, “yeah, but it’s just some guy with the South Bend Tribune. Who cares?” Do you really think that this guy is the only one who’s going to notice? You haven’t heard the end of this. Not by a longshot. The Army is not going to generate “positive PR” by allowing West Point graduates to skirt their commitment for professional sports.