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.