This one is long and super glitchy but at least it starts on time. Topics this time around include NCAA changes thanks to O’Bannon and Power 5 autonomy, and Air Force’s troubles.
I’m not gonna lie: I don’t always look forward to the start of football season. Football season means, like, writing and stuff. Summer means doing nothing and being lazy, two things that hold tremendous appeal for me. I don’t remember much from physics class, but I do remember that an object at rest stays at rest unless acted on by an external force. You have no idea how well I imitate an object at rest. Wait, you totally know because I go months at a time without writing anything. Never mind.
Anyway, the preseason feeling of dread doesn’t last very long. Once pads start poppin’, it’s hard not to get excited. This year is no exception, and now that practice has been underway for a week, we can see how a few key positions are shaping up. Here’s what I’m watching in fall camp.
Inside Linebacker – This is the obvious one, since it’s the only unit that doesn’t include a returning starter. Things aren’t off to a great start either, with medical issues forcing Maika Polamalu to retire. That hurts, both in terms of the position’s depth– Maika was practicing with the ones– but more importantly on a human level. You hate to see when a guy can’t end his career on his own terms, and I’m sure you all join me in wishing Maika all the best.
Most of the preseason talk has centered around Jordan Drake, probably because he’s the one guy we’ve actually seen play. Well, at another position of course. While Drake played well at OLB, the depth at that position plus the lack of experience inside made Jordan a prime candidate for a switch. He has reportedly played well so far, but there’s a learning curve. Coach Johns had a good interview that was posted to NavySports.com touching on the differences between playing outside vs. inside linebacker. The coaches seem optimistic on Drake’s potential, but emphasize that he’s a work in progress. Also, don’t sleep on sophomore Daniel Gonzales, who was a standout player at NAPS. James Britton is still in the mix as well.
They all need to learn quickly, because they’ll get a baptism by fire in week one.
UPDATE: Apparently Maika Polamalu is back.
Slotback – We know what we have in Geoffrey Whiteside, DeBrandon Sanders, and Demond Brown. It’s probably safe to assume that they’re pretty settled in the rotation. The question now is how big the rotation is going to be. The depth chart tends to be sort of meaningless with the A-backs. A guy might not start, but if he’s ready to play, he’s going to get onto the field in some capacity. By the end of last year, once Ryan Williams-Jenkins was healthy, the slots were going 6-deep with those four plus Marcus Thomas and Darius Staten.
There’s lots of potential here. We didn’t see much of Ryan Williams-Jenkins last year because of his ACL injury, but when he finally did play I thought he acquitted himself well in limited opportunities. He had already played himself into the rotation at the time he got hurt, so you’d think that by being healthy through a full fall camp, he’d be able to play his way in again. Toneo Gulley was a highly recruited guy with lots of other FBS offers, especially from MAC schools. It might be exciting to see what he brings to the table. He’s been banged up, but hopefully not too seriously. Dishan Romine is another highly recruited guy that originally committed to Western Kentucky. He was mentioned by almost everyone in those “Meet the Mid” player features on as the fastest player on the team. We’ll see if that translates into playing time.
Slotback is also a position where we’ve seen freshmen able to get some playing time over the years, with guys like Gee Gee Greene, Reggie Campbell, and Karlos Whittaker making an impact as plebes. It’ll probably be difficult for any to break through this year with the depth we have at the position, though. As recruiting has steadily improved over the years, so has the depth. It’s only going to get harder for plebes to break through as time goes on.
Fullback - It might seem a little odd to mention fullback here since this is probably THE most settled position on the team. I think it’s worth mentioning, though, because I feel that this could be a big season for Chris Swain’s development.
Fullback is sort of underrated when we talk about difficult positions to learn in this offense. We talk about the quarterback’s reads all the time, but he isn’t the only one making a read after the snap on an option play. The fullback does too, reading the first down lineman inside the B-gap. If the DL goes left, the FB goes right, and vice versa. It’s a very fast read, and it’s so similar to the quarterback’s first option read that you might recall that QBs and FBs used to share the same position coach. Now that I think about it, they still do at Georgia Tech.
When Coach Judge talks about consistency, this is what he means. He is referring to how well the B-backs make these reads. We know how much of a physical specimen Chris Swain is. We all saw him go bonkers against Arizona State. Over the season, though, he hasn’t been able to run like that consistently. For every long run he had, there would be five more where he hit a pile and ran for 1 yard. Of the three starting fullbacks last season, Swain actually had the lowest average yards per carry. Copeland and Singleton both did a much better job getting regular 4-6-yard runs that kept the chains moving. You can have all the physical talent in the world, but without the ability to make those reads, you’ll never be able to apply that talent. It’s not about “moving the pile,” because at that point the play is more or less done. It’s not about moving a pile 2 yards; it’s about avoiding the pile and running for 5 yards.
Of course, Swain was also the youngest of the three, and as you look to Navy fullbacks of the past, the light went on for many of them in their junior year. Will the same hold true for Swain? If so, then the offense has the potential for fullback production like we’ve never seen.
Secondary – This might be another odd position to mention, but I’m curious to see if we have any position changes. The DBs are another position where the depth chart is pretty meaningless, since the coaches don’t really separate the corners from the safeties. They’re just looking to get the four best players on the field regardless of what position they’re listed at. Three of the four positions are probably settled, but the loss of Wave Ryder to graduation leaves a hole at the rover safety position. If neither Lonnie Richardson or Lorentez Barbour takes charge and claims the spot, I would expect either Kwazel Bertrand or Quincy Adams to have a go at the position. They were listed as co-starters after spring ball, and both have a considerable amount of in-game experience. That would be the most experienced lineup that Coach Green could put on the field.
Quarterback – How will Tago Smith do with a full fall camp running with the twos? He made the move to quarterback in mid-season, but with a full spring and fall at the position, he should come a long way.
I also wonder where John Hendrick fits into the picture once he’s healthy again. He caught a lot of flack after the Western Kentucky game, but as I pointed out back then, I didn’t feel it was deserved. It reminded me of how people reacted after the Rutgers game in 2006. That was the Brian Hampton injury game. Kaipo replaced him, but the offense couldn’t do a thing. People were screaming for Jarod Bryant to take over instead based on that performance. And this was Kaipo! The guy who knew the offense better than anyone!
Hendrick might not be Kaipo, but he probably shouldn’t be judged based on that one game, either. He played very well against Delaware (I know, it’s Delaware, but still). He had risen to #2 on the depth chart for a reason. I think he could get back into the mix, or at least I hope he does. How rusty he is and how well he can perform physically after the injury are yet to be seen, though.
Wide receiver - There has been a lot of talk about all the big wide receivers on the roster, with four guys listed at 6-4. So far, only Jamir Tillman is listed on the depth chart. Will the other guys play their way in?
Kick returner – Finally, we have the special teams, where there are some large shoes to fill after Marcus Thomas’ excellent performance last season. I expect to see the coaches experiment with several players leading up to Ohio State.
“Yesterday’s football game between Annapolis and West Point is the first instance on record of competition between the two national institutions. In army and navy circles it is looked upon as the beginning of a series which will vie in importance with any of the great intercollegiate matches.”
-The New York Times, November 30, 1890
One of the cooler things that has been showing up on the internet is an expanding collection of newspaper archives, going back about as long as there has been a press. Way easier than poring through leather volumes of periodicals or blinding microfiche in Nimitz Library, I find it enjoyable to read how historic events well-known to us today were portrayed to the public when they actually happened. Curious about how the sinking of the MAINE was reported the day after? You got it. How did she do in sea trials? Got that too. It’s a glut of information, if you want it, as well as a certain drain of time.
Of course, all this gives us is another angle from which to blather about Navy sports. Especially given the prominent role Navy played in the early years of collegiate athletics, there is a potential windfall of material out there most of us have never seen. In that vein, I think it would be fun to inspect well-known events in Navy sports history through the words of the journalists of the day. And what better place to start, than the very first Army-Navy game?
Wax your moustache, call for your pipe and your bowl, and loosen your high rise trou. This was Navy Football in 1890.
“When victory finally perched on the maroon and white colors of the Naval Academy … “
We won the cheering competition, apparently:
A group of naval sympathizers … gives in startling chorus this cry: “Rah, rah, rah! Hi, ho, hah! U. S. N. A! Boom, siss, bah! The Navee!” There is so much of this cheer and it is given so vehemently that the army looks frightened for a moment. At this point however the West Point team appears. … It is greeted with a rousing “Rah, rah, rah! U. S. M. A!”
Gonna have to keep our ears perked to hear if Keenan calls any of these audibles this season:
“Splice the mainbrace!” shouts the Captain of the navy, and immediately a hole is made in the army’s centre. “Tack ship!” is the cry, and off for the end dashes a half back. “Wear ship!” and off goes another for the other end. “Anchors in sight!” “Veer chains!” “Reef topsails!” and “Savez the Bobstay!” are other examples of this marvelous code of signals caught during the game.
I’m guessing RADM Luce would not have been cool with filling in Dewey Basin for a sports field:
In a recent paper before the United States Naval Institute Rear Admiral Luce severely deprecated the tendency of men in the navy to resort to sport on shore. He pointed out that there was too much baseball and too much football; that instead of finding recreation in boat sailing, rowing, swimming, and the like the young naval apprentice and officers generally found it more congenial to seek sport on land. The Admiral believed the navy tended too much toward the military.
(Don’t look at me, I passed my kayaking class.)
And finally, it looks like NAAA has had our athletes’ backs from day 1:
Another thing that struck terror in the heart of the army was the announcement in confidence from the navy that the discipline at Annapolis had permitted the football team to eat hot beefsteak for supper, a privilege not accorded to any other naval cadet. Such consideration and co-operation on the part of a Faculty almost unnerved the army, but it grittily determined if it must die it would die in the glory of doing its utmost to avoid defeat.
Verily, there shall be hot beefsteak for all.
There’s a lot of humor in articles from this time period, and more than enough hyperbole. But one can’t help but be struck by how interchangeable some of the themes are from that era to ours. The struggle to find balance between brains and brawn, Athens and Sparta in training midshipman? At least 124 years old it seems. Institutional policies affecting the competitiveness of the respective service academies against one another? It started with the menu for evening meal. Intense alumni interest in the running of affairs at their commissioning source? “Every officer in the [Army], it is said, will take this defeat directly to heart, and no matter what Col. Wilson’s personal ideas may be on the subject, it is believed impossible for him to resist, even should he feel so desirous, the temptation to bring these two teams together again.”
Everything old is new again.
It’s not the best one, and it’s all glitchy and whatnot, but here it is. And there might be more, which will hopefully get better as we go along. It’s a little out of date at this point because it took me so long to put it together, but you get what you pay for. Start it at 6:20 (like I said, glitchy), and brace yourself for a wide range of unsolicited opinions from me and Andy!
At least the famous clambake should be good for headlines – one of the top two newspapers in Hampton Roads claims “The league’s annual Newport, R.I., clambake towers above all media days.” But somehow peanuts in your cold drink at ACC days might have generated even more buzz at the college football food nexus. (Y’all Yankees really didn’t know about that?). Still, the clambake got some pretty good coverage from the new members of the conference (including the rehashing of prior crustacean-related coverage).
In the year before Navy’s move, my interest in the event was limited to the important things:
It would have been understandable had there been NO mention of Navy at all – plenty of work to do to build buzz for the coming season. After all, three new teams joined this month. However, I found it notable that right after welcoming those new members, Commissioner Mike Aresco talked about Navy.
As you know, Navy joins us in 2015, giving us 12 teams, and I want to recognize and thank Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk for his efforts in positioning Navy to join our conference and for his active involvement and support as we have built this league. I want to thank Vice Admiral Mike Miller, who recently retired as the superintendent of the Naval Academy. He is an outstanding gentleman who was instrumental in our league’s development and I will always treasure my warm friendship with him.
He would later bring Navy into the conversation again, when his narrative was establishing the American’s bona fides in beating so-called “Power Five” conferences. He rattled off 37 teams that have been beaten in the last five years by the 12 American members for 2015 – by my count Navy has four of those scalps. He went on to say “And that does not include multiple wins over Notre Dame.” I would have liked to watch UConn coach Bob Diaco’s face at that second.
Clearly Navy is important to Aresco’s and the American’s plans from 2015 forward.
Navy does have one 2014 opponent from the American – we play Temple on 6 September for those of you who haven’t looked beyond game planning for Ohio State. With Army-Navy in Baltimore, playing Temple at the Linc allows Navy coaches to tell recruits about playing in four NFL stadia in 2014 (M&T, FEDEX, the Linc, and Qualcomm should we win 6 and go Poinsettia Bowling again). Temple was picked to finish eighth in the conference by the media. Not too surprising, given the Owls’ 2-10 (1-7) record in 2013. However, there are some marquee players: QB P.J. Walker ranked third in the conference in efficiency behind Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles as a true freshman, and Linebacker Tyler Matakevich is on some pre-season watchlists.
2015 AMERICAN WEST
I also tried to listen in on our future West Division foes. Houston looks like the team to beat there – joining ’15 East teams Cincy, UCF, and ECU in the top four. Next, our Gansz Trophy rivals from SMU at fifth. Tulane may have been picked to tie for ninth with UConn, but I will give them two sentences here because coach Curtis Johnson’s entire transcript is posted here for your reading pleasure. Every coach is brimming with optimism in July, but it is certainly nice to see the new arrival, potential cellar-dweller sound like the Commissioner does.
As for Aresco – let me reiterate what I said in my previous post – the senior leaders of the American are intent on being a top conference in college football and in college sports. Twelve months from now, Navy will join the American. It is good to know that the leadership is moving forward.
Oh – and there will be a clambake.
In a college-football climate made uncomfortable by the ever-growing competition of professional football and the withdrawal of more major conferences into round-robin schedules which virtually exclude the independents, these major independents were seriously considering an adventure in Togetherness.
There isn’t anything terribly profound about this comment until you consider that it was made in 1959. Navy football is leaving the ranks of the independents and joining a conference for the first time next year, but the question of conference membership has been around for decades.
There are more than a few lines in this old Sports Illustrated article regarding football, academics, and the NCAA that sound like they could have come out of the SI issue that’s sitting on newsstands this week.
You might have noticed that the last post wasn’t written by me. You’re going to see a lot more of that as we head into the new season. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to write nearly as much as I have in years past; the demands of kiddo travel soccer have finally caught up to me. The desire to write is still there, but the time won’t be. I don’t want the blog to fall off the radar, though, so I’m enlisting the help of a bunch of new writers to keep the conversation going. I’ll leave it to them to introduce themselves as they see fit.
In the meantime, I’m still trying to figure out ways to contribute on a compressed schedule. I’m not going away, much to the chagrin of Air Force fans everywhere. And you’ll always find me running my yap on Twitter @navybirddog.