WRAPPING UP THE SPRING

Navy’s spring practice came to a close last weekend with the annual Blue-Gold game, won by the Blue squad (1st team offense, 2nd team defense), 38-7. It was a good time. There was a decent-sized crowd (relatively speaking), and Coach Niumatalolo was hooked up to a microphone, providing color commentary while standing behind the play. It was a good time. For me, the spring game is somewhat weird to watch. Assuming that this isn’t the first time that you’ve seen this blog, you’ve probably noticed that my favorite part of football is the chess match– the schematic duel that unfolds as coaches attempt to out-maneuver each other. But in spring scrimmages, you don’t really have that element. The coaches aren’t trying to win. They’re trying to evaluate. Fortunately, there was still a little razzle-dazzle tossed in for fun.

The 45 points scored were the most in a spring game since the 31-27 final in 2002, which was probably a good thing. Most Blue-Gold games are pretty low-scoring, but I was hoping that the offense would be extra-motivated coming into this one since they were harshly criticized for their performance in the previous scrimmage a week earlier. With each squad scoring a touchdown on their opening drives, I wasn’t disappointed. Coach Niumatalolo was quick to point out after the scrimmage that the defenses used in the scrimmage were very vanilla, though, so the offenses shouldn’t have been challenged too much from a mental standpoint.

Anyway, some position-by-position thoughts on the spring:

Quarterback: Kriss Proctor seems to be accumulating comparisons to Kaipo like the Gulf of Mexico is accumulating oil. Last year, it about was his similar experience in the offense, having run an option attack in high school. Later, it was his awkward passing that seemed to mirror Kaipo’s attempts during his sophomore year– sort of like a fisherman chucking a crab trap into the bay. After Proctor ran for 100 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first half of the spring game, Coach Niumatalolo had this to say about Navy’s backup and heir apparent to Ricky Dobbs:

“A very talented kid … we’ve all known that about Kriss. Along with Kaipo, (he’s) one of the fastest quarterbacks we’ve had here,” Niumatalolo said. “You can see that it’s a little easier said than done getting him on the ground. The kid is very elusive.”

Niumat’s comparison of Proctor’s speed to Kaipo’s sort of caught me off guard, but after watching him go all Garden Weasel in mulching the defense on some killer midline option runs, it’s a tough point to argue. We didn’t get to see much of that in his two starts last year, running for his life against Temple and swimming for it against Wake Forest. Hopefully we don’t get to see much if it again until the next spring game, unless it’s in the 4th quarter of another Rice-like blowout.

Speaking of not wanting to see Proctor again for a while, Coach Niumatalolo said that Ricky’s recovery is coming along nicely, to the point where if this was a regular season game, he probably would have played. It’s good that he was able to get some non-contact reps this spring; even in his MVP performance in the Texas Bowl, Ricky still missed a fair amount of reads. While I’m happy that Proctor appears to have made the most of his extra snaps, hopefully it doesn’t keep Ricky from experiencing the “senior enlightenment” that graced his predecessors between their junior and senior years. 

While Kriss’ running was impressive, I don’t think too many of us were worried about that. His passing is a different story, and perhaps the biggest QB development from this spring is how much it appears to have improved. Not to the point where I’d call it good, necessarily, but at least to the point where it isn’t a handicap. Most of his throws were of the short & simple variety, but he also tossed a beautiful rainbow to Bo Snelson, hitting the slotback in stride over the middle for a 56-yard touchdown. The progress is a good sign.

Travis Keating was having the better game of the 3rd-stingers up until the point he got his bell rung and had to leave the game. Apparently he did a pretty good job this spring for someone just stepping into the position. My gut feeling is still that the #3 quarterback come Labor Day is not yet on the roster.

Linebacker: With more turnover than any other position on the team, this is the battle that everyone was looking forward to. After finally seeing them for myself, I’m not sure I know any more than I did going into the game. It was hard to get a read on the linebackers, especially since the defense was so basic. They definitely look the part physically– this is by far the biggest group of LBs I’ve ever seen at Navy, and they hit hard. You’ll remember, though, that even when our defense was terrible back in 2007, there was never any question about their athleticism. The problems came from a lack of experience and not knowing where to go and how to line up. Of course, back then Coach Green had to start a bunch of freshmen and sophomores; these guys are mostly juniors and seniors. My gut feeling is that they’ll be fine, but it’s still something that we won’t know until they get into an actual game. On one hand, it’s kind of disturbing to see Kriss Proctor weaving his way through the middle of the field. A week earlier, though, the defense absolutely crushed the offense.

I spent a lot of time watching Collin Sturdivant, since I was curious to see how he’d make the transition from DE to LB. He didn’t disappoint, registering 4 tackles. It’s easy to see why he was moved to his new position, and why he’s challenging for playing time already. The offense had a tough time blocking him.

Offensive Line/Defensive Line: This is one of those situations where I’m not sure if the defensive line is that good or if the offensive line is that bad. I think it’s more of the former; more specifically, I think the DL is deeper at this point. That’s especially true at nose guard, with Bothel, Burge, and Marks. The guards and centers were getting blown up all night, and I think a lot of that is because the 2nd & 3rd string defensive line is just farther along than their offensive counterparts. While Shane Bothel is sitting on top of the current depth chart at NG, both Chase Burge and Jared Marks will challenge him for the starting job, with all of them likely to get playing time. I don’t think the same can be said on the offensive line, where there’s more of an established hierarchy. Mike McCarthy’s departure at center left Kahikolu Pescaia took most of the snaps with the second team, and he was in a dogfight on every snap. The defensive line’s dominance kept the fullbacks from having much of an impact on the game, other than 1 or 2 decent runs.

Slotbacks: Throughout the spring, the coaches have called slotback the deepest position on the team. They lived up to that billing in the Blue-Gold game. All of them– and I mean ALL of them– had at least one big run. The most impressive came from Gee Gee Greene, who juked and weaved his way down the sideline for a big gain only to be called back by a holding penalty at the line of scrimmage. The run looked a little bit like something Karlos Whittaker uncorked on Stanford back in 2005. Gee Gee seems to be sort of a forgotten man in the slotback mix. Well, maybe “forgotten” is the wrong term, but he definitely hasn’t been talked about as much as the other A-backs in published reports from practice. It’s hard not to talk about him now. In the speed and agility tests conducted this spring, Gee Gee is the only player to be listed in the top 5 in every category. His habit of dancing around in the backfield rather than putting his head down and picking up yards was frustrating at times, but when it finally clicks for him– and it looks like we’re getting close– that physical ability will reach its full potential.

All the slotbacks can run; where they fall on the depth chart seems to be determined by how well they block. Some were definitely better than others, although I admit I wasn’t always paying attention. When I was, Aaron Santiago stood out to me.

Bo Snelson’s touchdown catch was almost as impressive as Kriss Proctor’s throw. He got behind the safeties, never broke stride, and got just enough of the ball on his fingertips to be able to haul it in. A well-executed play all around.

Secondary: Mario Washington played on both sides of the ball in the spring game. He looked comfortable enough at cornerback, although he wasn’t challenged too much. While his is the more high-profile switch, the bigger story to me has been the play of Cory James. The slotback-turned-cornerback has played his way onto the depth chart, and could be as high as #2 if Mario sticks to WR. At 5-8, 160, James certainly isn’t the biggest player on the roster, but he doesn’t shy away from contact. Sometimes players get re-energized when they get a chance at a new position, and that appears to be the case with Cory. Third-string FS Jordan Fraser also had a good game with 4 tackles.

A good number of starters either sat out the game or only played a series or two, so we didn’t really get a look at the team that will be taking the field against Maryland in September. Trying to get a feel for each position in one game is sort of like taking a drink from a firehose. It’s a lot to take in, and this is far from a comprehensive summary. These are just a few things that caught my eye, mixed in with some other thoughts.

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21 Responses

  1. Thanks, Mike. A good summary for those of us who couldn’t make the game.

  2. Very good write-up/analysis tbd. Good to have your extended thoughts back “on paper” here.

    Being at last season’s Navy-WF game, and on close to a “ground level” viewing plane, … I must say that Proctor showed plenty of speed & elusiveness in his cutback-across-the-grain TD scamper. Enough to say that the kid can run.

    Go Navy!!!

  3. Elusiveness yes, speed not as much. He did get caught from behind on that play, although I think we got a face mask or a horse collar tacked onto the run. The wet track made just about everyone slow that day. His shoes probably weighed 5 pounds apiece by the end of the game.

  4. Great write up! Thanks TBD.

  5. Thanks, Mike. Interesting observations.

    Do you think that the depth / talent on the defensive line might prompt Buddy Green to use more than three down linemen on occasion?

  6. I doubt it. He already puts a 4th guy with his hand in the dirt quite a bit, but usually moves up a linebacker to do it. You don’t want to trade a LB for a DL and sacrifice overall team speed in the process. The DL depth is more valuable as a way of getting fresh legs on the field.

  7. Mike…great writeup as usual and so much more civilized than some of your recent prose over on the GoMids page…thanks for putting this together…

    It looks to me like the two big ?’s going into fall ball are:
    1. DE depth – we’re good at the nose, but not deep on the ends
    2. O Line synching up

    From all the hype, one would think some direct input LB or two might break into the 3 deep as well; will be interesting to see if that develops…

    Do you know what talent at what positions should be in-bound from NAPS?

  8. Nice summary…any supplemental info on the FB’s; specifically the heirs apparent and how they stack up to the current 1&2; and at this stage comparing their talents/abilities/potential vs. their predecessors? Thanks

  9. I never count on incoming freshmen being a factor except maybe on special teams. Anything we get out of them is gravy. Niumat mentioned that the slotbacks coming from NAPS are just going to make the position that much more competitive, but I still have a hard time imagining any of them rising to the top of this group. I know there are a lot of incoming recruits that have received a lot of hype (especially at linebacker), but I would caution against getting too caught up in that. After all the hype Nate Frazier got going into his plebe year, people expected him to line up and dominate like Godzilla on Tokyo. There was no way he was going to live up to that, and some people went so far as to call him a flop after just one year. By the time he was separated, those same people were wailing and gnashing their teeth in panic over how hard he would be to replace. So don’t expect ULTRA MAGNUS linebacker superplebe to roll into Baltimore and destroy Maryland with a single burp. Like you said, maybe one or two will break into the 3-deep, but until they show up for a D-I practice it’s meaningless to predict how they’ll perform.

    I think one of the NAPS QBs will be 3rd string, and we’ve seen a freshman break into the secondary depth chart almost every year. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine.

  10. I don’t really have much to say about the fullbacks, honestly. With the two-headed monster this year, plus knowing that we have Teich for another year after that, the short- and mid-term are pretty much taken care of. I’ve been told that Delvin Diggs is pretty solid at #3, but that’s just word-of-mouth. Prentice Christian had a ton of carries in the spring game, and Austin Beaty and Kevin Eckel both had decent runs. I couldn’t say how they all shake out, though.

  11. On the hype and on plebes, I certainly agree…history has shown that plebe special teamers very often show up on the D depth chart by year two, sometimes mid season…on the hype, if this is not the year one of these hotshots can’t break through, I might not ever waste my time looking at the recruiting news ever again because this year seems as feverish as I have ever seen…if this ain’t it, it ain’t never gonna happen…just wait until fall ball and watch the depth chart to see who bubbles up…

  12. after letting that last burp go, i certainly forgot the plebe SBs last season who made it onto the depth chart and got playing time (GGG, Snelson, e.g.)…BUT none of them had Gabriel’s Horn blowing for them on the way in the gates, they just showed up well in fall ball…

  13. Exactly. What we *think* we know about recruiting rarely ends up being reality. Fans get influenced by newpaper writeups, Youtube highlights, and random message board posters telling us how we just landed some great recruit, but more often than not those things just lead people astray. I actually remember Snelson as a recruit because he won some national POY award, but until Gee Gee showed up on the depth chart I had never heard of him.

  14. Of last year’s slotback bunch, Zapata IMO had the most “hype” coming in (Big Numbers in HS, freaking scary YouTube videos running wild in upstate NY, allegedly a 4.48 40, good year at NAPS), and Snelson certainly had the local types back home drumming him up on the GoMids board, but Greene and Howell were kind of invisible. Zapata (and also Beatty) not coming in, kicking tail, and taking names made me sit up and pay attention…they’re good players, but Navy clearly does not have an empty cupboard right now…

  15. The only “hype” those guys had came from message board posters who should know better.

  16. Mike: “Elusiveness yes, speed not as much. He did get caught from behind on that play, although I think we got a face mask or a horse collar tacked onto the run. The wet track made just about everyone slow that day.”

    Proctor scored a TD (on a 20-something yard run when he cut back completely across the field) on that run, so obviously wasn’t caught(???). He looked “fast” relative to the WF defenders. Concur that the water-logged conditions slowed everyone down.

  17. You know what? I was thinking of Ricky’s run against SMU the year before. I guess games played in the rain all run together for me.

  18. For the record, I made an error in my post. Mike McCarthy played most of the 3rd quarter at center. He is indeed no longer on the team, but that decision wasn’t made until after spring practice. He remains at USNA.

  19. IMO the only player who looks like a potential home run threat is Proctor…and as stated, hopefully we do not see him until 2011 doing that when it counts…the rest of the offensive ball carriers and recevers have ok speed, but there is no Campbell/White/Singleton speed in the bunch…but we may still see some 50 yd runs; what I don’t see are the 60+ runs in this team…but I hope I get proven wrong, and many times over…

  20. Dude, there were 20 players who ran in the 4.5X or better range. Home run threats aplenty, and I’m not sure Proctor is in the top 10. If you’re worried about the difference between 50- and 60-yard runs, your team is probably OK.

  21. Slotback depth just took its first hit. GGG, time to step up to the plate.

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