Previewing Navy’s Offense for 2016
Navy begins life after Keenan Reynolds, the record-setting quarterback and four-year starter. Reynolds graduated as the most prolific option quarterback in college football history, having set the FBS record for touchdowns scored. Senior Tago Smith patiently bided his time as the backup the past two seasons and is prepared to take the reins of Navy’s patented triple-option offense. As a sophomore, Smith started two games in place of the injured Reynolds and performed well.
Dynamic wide receiver Jamir Tillman is the lone returning starter on offense. The 6'4", 212-pounder, who had 49 receptions for 983 yards as a sophomore and junior, runs great routes and has excellent hands.
Senior slotback Dishan Romine had a breakout season in 2015, ranking third on the team with 378 rushing yards. The speedster averaged 10.5 yards per carry. Shawn White takes over the all-important fullback position, which has always set the tone in the triple-option. White, remarkably agile and athletic for a 255-pounder, has only 28 career carries and must prove he can handle the pounding that comes with being the featured runner.
Left guard Adam West and right tackle Robert Lindsey are the most experienced members of a rebuilt offensive line. Lindsey started four games while West started one in 2015.
Previewing Navy’s Defense for 2016
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Inside linebackers Daniel Gonzales and Micah Thomas lead a list of six returning starters from Navy’s strongest defense of the current triple-option era. Under the direction of first-year coordinator Dale Pehrson, the Midshipmen ranked 26th in scoring defense and 40th in total defense with 21.8 points and 364.9 total yards allowed per game.
Pehrson implemented a more aggressive philosophy that produced 15 fumble recoveries, most in the nation.
Thomas was second on the squad with 73 tackles while Gonzales was fourth with 65 despite missing two games due to injury. All four starting linebackers return, with Josiah Powell and D.J. Palmore manning the outside spots.
Navy graduated two outstanding defensive linemen in nose guard Bernie Sarra and left end Will Anthony. Sarra was a brick wall who could take on double-teams and hold the point of attack. Anthony lived in opposing backfields in totaling 22.5 tackles for a loss his last two seasons. Patrick Forrestal (6'4", 305) certainly has the size to man the middle but must prove he has the strength and stamina to be stout against the run. Amos Mason, the returning starter at right end, showed playmaking ability with five tackles for a loss, four pass breakups and three quarterback hurries in 2015.
Free safety Daiquan Thomasson assumes the leadership role in the secondary. He started the final nine games of the season and secured the game-clinching interception against Army. This unit also received a boost after spring practice when cornerback Brendon Clements was reinstated to the team.
Previewing Navy’s Specialists for 2016
Alex Barta was impressive in his first season as the starting punter with a 41.6-yard average. Navy lost a solid two-year placekicker when Austin Grebe graduated. D.J. Grant-Johnson, who boasts a strong leg, seized the job during spring practice. Romine developed into a dangerous kickoff return threat, averaging 27.3 yards on 24 attempts. Coach Ken Niumatalolo made special teams a particular emphasis during spring.
Navy took the American Athletic Conference by storm in its inaugural season as a member. The Midshipmen won’t sneak up on anybody in 2016, having earned the respect of all opponents while sharing the West Division crown with Houston. Navy has posted winning seasons capped by bowl berths in 12 of the last 13 years, and there is no reason to believe the Mids won’t reach that standard again. An Oct. 1 showdown with Air Force in Colorado Springs will go a long way toward determining whether Navy captures the coveted Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the 11th time since 2003.