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As Usual, Hopes Are High, But Navy Has Holes To Fill
By Todd McElwee
|Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo
Coming off an eighth-consecutive winning season and bowl appearance, Navy returns to the gridiron Sept. 3 at home against Delaware, confident that the pieces are in place to extend the program's unprecedented stretch of prosperity.
"The expectations are always the same here," senior quarterback Kriss Proctor said.
Last year the Midshipmen -- viewed by some pundits as a sexy pick for a Bowl Championship Series Bowl -- finished a respectable 9-4 after losing to San Diego State, 35-14, in the Poinsettia Bowl. For the first time in eight years, Navy surrendered the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy, which Air Force won, but did extend its winning streak against archnemesis Army to nine games with a 31-17 victory in Philadelphia. A third victory against Notre Dame in four years was another high point.
Without question, the most perplexing question surrounding the Midshipmen is whether they can replace record-setting quarterback Ricky Dobbs. One of the biggest stars the academy has produced since Roger Staubach, Dobbs finished his career as the program's fifth all-time leading rusher with 2,730 yards, while setting the school benchmark for rushing scores with 49. Last season he ran for a team-high 1,101 yards and 14 touchdowns while also throwing for 1,527 yards and 13 more scores. He was named as the recipient of the Lowe's Senior Class Award.
Luckily for the Midshipmen, they don't have a complete neophyte under center in Proctor. Well versed in the triple option, he rushed for 201 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries while guiding Navy to a 38-37 victory against Central Michigan last November as Dobbs recovered from a concussion. He has accounted for 527 yards and nine touchdowns on 85 carries during his time in Annapolis.
"He's worked hard," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "I'm very excited about Kriss Proctor. He's busted his butt. I'm just so excited to get on the field, because I think he's going to do well."
More often than not, Proctor will be turning around to hand the ball to either senior fullback Alexander Teich or junior slotback Gee Gee Greene. Teich, who has already been named to the list for the Paul Hornung Award -- given to the nation's most versatile player -- was the Midshipmen's second-leading rusher in 2010, gaining 863 yards and five touchdowns on 147 carries. Against the Irish, he became the first Navy fullback to rush for more than 200 yards, finishing with 210 yards on 26 carries. On the Midshipmen's opening drive, he accounted for 90 of 99 yards, including a brilliant one-handed 31-yard touchdown reception.
A change of pace to the bruising Teich, Greene rushed for 492 yards and five touchdowns on 72 carries. Aaron Santiago (204 yards and a touchdown) is another option in the backfield.
Navy quarterbacks don't throw much, but when they did in 2010, they often targeted now-graduated Greg Jones, whose 662 yards and five touchdowns were almost double anyone else's on the team. Santiago and Greene combined for more than 30 receptions and 500 yards. Junior Brandon Turner, who had four catches for 113 yards and a score, is the Midshipmen's most accomplished returning receiver.
Up front, Navy is battle hardened. Left tackle Jeff Battipaglia, a staple of the line for the past four years, is gone, but much of the core group remains. Seniors top the depth chart at every position.
Defensively, Navy has been hit hard, with only a handful of starters remaining. Notable among those gone are linebacker Tyler Simmons, who paced Navy with 131 tackles, as well as defensive Billy Yarborough, who led the team six sacks. Safety Wyatt Middleton, a four-year fixture in the defensive backfield, has also graduated. Would-be-senior linebacker Aaron McCauley, third on the team with 82 tackles, is no longer enrolled in school.
Senior defensive end Jabaree Tuani (72 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and classmate Max Blue, a linebacker with more than 50 stops in 2010, are Navy's most seasoned defenders. Tuani shares captain duties with Teich. Cornerback Kwesi Mitchell, a senior, appeared in all 13 games last year, registering 48 tackles with an interception.
Sept. 3 -- vs. Delaware
Sept. 10 -- @ Western Kentucky
Sept. 17 -- @ South Carolina
Oct. 1 -- vs. Air Force
Oct. 8 -- vs. Southern Miss.
Oct. 15 -- @ Rutgers
Oct. 22 -- vs. East Carolina
Oct. 29 -- @ Notre Dame
Nov. 5 -- vs. Troy
Nov. 12 -- @ SMU
Nov. 19 -- @ San Jose State
Dec. 10 -- vs. Army
Dec. 28 -- Military Bowl
Issue 164: August 2011