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You can read the entire Navy Midshipmen preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 National magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
HEAD COACH: Ken Niumatalolo, 32-21 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ivin Jasper | DEF. COORDINATOR: Buddy Green
Quarterback Trey Miller played in seven games last season and gained valuable experience. The Georgia native relieved injured starter Kriss Proctor against East Carolina and led a comeback (that fell short) by throwing for 126 yards and two touchdowns. The 6'0", 199-pounder then made his first career start at Notre Dame the following week. Coach Ken Niumatalolo says Miller still has a long way to go in terms of understanding and executing Navy’s triple-option offense. However, Niumatalolo believes Miller is a more dynamic passer than Proctor and intends to take advantage of that strength. The Midshipmen worked on some shotgun formation packages during spring camp.
Noah Copeland, who impressed the coaching staff in practice as a plebe, will get first crack at the fullback job that is so critical to Navy’s option attack. At 5'10" and just 205 pounds, Copeland would be the smallest fullback of the current triple-option era. “Noah is more the elusive type. We’re going to do some things to take advantage of his speed and quickness,” Niumatalolo says.
Gee Gee Greene, the team’s top returning rusher, leads a deep, talented stable of slotbacks.
Left guard Josh Cabral, who has started all 25 games over the past two seasons, becomes the anchor of the line. Navy has two experienced tackles in Andrew Barker and Graham Vickers, who started six and three games, respectively, in 2011.
While Navy returns five starters on defense, the Midshipmen lost 18 lettermen to graduation, none more valuable than defensive end and captain Jabaree Tuani, who concluded his career ranked third all-time at Navy in sacks and tackles for a loss. Wes Henderson, who started three games at right end and saw significant action at nose guard in passing situations, is the most experienced returning defensive lineman.
Matt Warrick, who led the team with 103 tackles in 2011, returns and will be joined at inside linebacker by defensive captain Brye French, who enjoyed an outstanding spring camp. Senior Keegan Wetzel, who started one game and saw significant action in 10 others last season, is being counted on to replace French at the outside linebacker spot known as Raider.
Senior Tra’ves Bush started nine games at outside linebacker last season but will move back to his natural position of safety in 2012. Bush, the team’s second-leading tackler with 93 stops last season, will be the leader of an experienced secondary. Rising sophomores Chris Ferguson and Parrish Gaines emerged as starters at free safety and corner toward the end of last season.
Placekicking was a major problem for Navy last season, especially considering the Mids lost five games by a total of 11 points. None of the returning kickers impressed during spring drills, so the competition will be wide open in the fall with the possibility that a freshman could earn the job. Pablo Beltran was the starting punter as a plebe and performed well, averaging 37.5 yards per attempt.
Navy established a program record of appearing in eight straight bowl games by not beating itself and doing all the little things right. Last season, the Midshipmen hurt themselves with costly mistakes, untimely turnovers and poor special teams. There is always a small margin of error for a service academy program, and the Mids, who routinely find themselves in close games, need to get back to playing mistake-free football.