When the Navy football team begins its spring practice this afternoon, coach George Chaump promises to take his team through a thorough course of basic training.
"Basic" as in learning basic skills, which Chaump wants to emphasize for a team that finished 1-10 last season, allowing nearly 30 points a game. The Midshipmen, who boasted of their improved strength and quickness before last season, often were victimized by long-gaining offensive plays -- many of them the result of poor tackling. And Chaump knows that if the losing is to stop, that will have to change.
"We're going to go right through the basic fundamentals," said Chaump, whose two-year record at Navy is 6-16. "Tackling on defense is one area we want to work on. Another big concern is the fundamentals of blocking."
Drilling the team will be a restructured coaching staff, including three new members. Greg McMackin, an assistant at Utah last year, is the team's new defensive coordinator. Also new to the staff are Ron Harris, a former Utah assistant who takes over as secondary coach, and Dennis Murphy, the defensive line coach who was an assistant at Maryland a year ago.
"It seems to be a smooth transition," Chaump said of the new staff members. "Everything's going fine and everything has been positive."
Approximately 120 players are expecting to turn out for spring practice, which will culminate with the Blue-Gold game on April 25. Navy returns 31 lettermen and 15 starters from last season -- meaningless numbers considering the team's record.
What is meaningful is the return of experienced players at key positions. Chaump is hoping that strong-armed Jim Kubiak, who completed 94 of 154 passes for 957 yards as a plebe, will bring stability and experience to the position in his sophomore year.
"He's bigger, stronger, wiser and will be going through his first spring practice," Chaump said of Kubiak, who threw 11 interceptions. "We will now put a greater emphasis on the passing game."
Navy's passing game will be helped by the steady play of wide receiver Tom Pritchard and tight end Kevin Hickman. Pritchard, a plebe last season, led the Midshipmen with 35 catches for 569 yards and two touchdowns. Hickman, who was also a plebe, caught 16 passes for 167 yards in the last six games.
Perhaps the most important returning player will be Jason Van Matre, who will play tailback full time after splitting time last season between running back and quarterback. An elusive runner as well as a talented receiver, Van Matre will be teamed in the backfield with fullback Brad Stramanak.
But, again, the key will be patching up a defense that was extremely generous last season. Six defensive starters return, but Chaump will be looking to play the 11 who are best at executing fundamental chores -- such as tackling.
Chaump said he realizes that his third season will be crucial. He came here with a reputation for winning and with a passing philosophy. But Navy, until now a predominantly running team, hasn't won. With more of his recruits soon to get a chance, Chaump is hoping that Navy will soon begin to win.
"This is the telltale year," Chaump said. "We'll see exactly what we've got accomplished in three years.
"We have organization, we have great people, and we have everything in place. Now we have to improve on the field."