Navy won nine games last season and played in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game but it was losses to Air Force and Army that defined the Midshipmen’s campaign. The focus for head coach Ken Niumatalolo is recapturing the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, which won’t be easy with only nine starters returning. But all Navy has done for more than a decade is win so don’t be surprised if that continues even with an inexperienced roster.
Previewing Navy Football’s Offense for 2017
Zach Abey takes the reins of Navy’s patented triple-option, and there figure to be some growing pains along the way. Abey is the least experienced starting quarterback the Mids have opened a season with since 2012. He was thrust into the spotlight after season-long starter Will Worth went down with a broken foot in the AAC Championship Game. Abey made his first career start in the Army-Navy game and struggled mightily. The 6'2", 212-pound junior performed much better in the Armed Forces Bowl, rushing for 114 yards and passing for another 159.
Navy does have a proven veteran at fullback, always the first option in the offense. Chris High started eight games a year ago and finished second on the team in rushing with 546 yards. The powerfully built 224-pounder figures to be a workhorse this season. Darryl Bonner became a big-play threat in 2016, averaging almost 13 yards per touch. The 5'7", 178-pound speedster was the team’s second-leading receiver with 10 catches for 278 yards and added 227 rushing yards on 29 carries.
Navy must find a go-to wide receiver to replace Jamir Tillman, who concluded his prolific career with 91 catches for 1,626 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Right guard Evan Martin graded out as Navy’s best offensive lineman last season and leads a unit that will feature three other veterans (left guard Robert Lindsey, center Parker Wade, right tackle Andrew Wood) who have started.
Previewing Navy Football’s Defense for 2017
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Inside linebacker Micah Thomas spearheads a unit that returns six starters, including seven of the eight top tacklers. Navy’s 3-4 defensive alignment requires the inside linebackers to make the majority of stops, and Thomas (107) was certainly up to the task in 2016. The 6'1", 241-pound senior is an aggressive run stopper with the speed to pursue sideline-to-sideline and is also solid in pass coverage.
Outside linebacker D.J. Palmore emerged as a force coming off the edge a year ago, leading the team in tackles for a loss (11.5) and sacks (six).
Safety Sean Williams is solid in run support, but this position suffered a setback when sophomore Alohi Gilman decided to transfer over the summer. Navy needs to improve at the cornerback spot after Tyris Wooten, Elijah Merchant and Jarid Ryan were picked on repeatedly in 2016.
Defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson likes the potential of nose guard Jackson Pittman, a real space eater at 304 pounds. Pittman, who must take on double-teams and hold the point of attack in Navy’s system, will be playing a lot more snaps after moving from a backup role.
Jarvis Polu, who played in all 13 games as a plebe and started all 14 games as a sophomore, is well on the way to becoming one of the best defensive ends in Navy history.
Previewing Navy Football’s Specialists for 2017
Bennett Moehring set a single-season school record by making 65 (out of 68) extra points, and he also converted 8-of-10 field goal attempts in totaling 89 points, third highest in program history for a kicker. Erik Harris proved himself a capable punter in 2016, averaging 45.1 yards on 10 attempts.
Getting swept by service academy rivals Air Force and Army cast a dark shadow over an otherwise successful 2016 season. You can bet that coach Ken Niumatalolo has put increased emphasis on recapturing the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
Navy’s defense, which was porous last season, is expected to be vastly improved and may need to win some games early while a young, inexperienced offense settles in. The Midshipmen have posted winning records in 13 of the last 14 seasons, and there is no reason to believe that remarkable run of success won’t continue in 2017.
National Ranking: 56
AAC West Prediction: 2
(Zach Abey photo courtesy of Navy Athletics)