Revamped Navy defense set to make show of force

September 11, 1992|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- For Navy defensive tackle Bob Kuberski, the first glimpse of things to come occurred in February when Greg McMackin, the Utah defensive coordinator who was then being wooed by the academy, popped the Utes' defensive highlight tape in the video player. As the action flashed across the screen, defensive players gathered in the Navy meeting room and rocked in their chairs as they watched an aggressive style of play that had been absent here in recent years.

"They had more sacks than we've had in six years, more interceptions than we had in the last three or four years put together," Kuberski said, almost six months after that meeting. "I saw the guys flying around the field and could just envision us looking like that. I got so excited that I jumped out of my chair, gave [McMackin] a big hug and said, 'Coach, I want you to come here. We really need you.' "

Until then McMackin was ready to say "thanks, but no thanks" to Navy and return home to Salt Lake City, where in two years at Utah he had transformed a defense that was last in the country to first in the pass-happy Western Athletic Conference. But his heart-to-heart talks with the returning Navy defensive players -- and surely the embrace from the 6-foot-4, 281-pound Kuberski -- were instrumental in McMackin packing his bags for his first coaching endeavor in the East.

The challenge: resurrect a Navy defense that played as if on life support for much of last season. The first indicator whether McMackin -- who preaches an attacking, pro-style defense -- has made an impact will come tomorrow night when the Midshipmen open at home against No. 23 Virginia.

"I'm very anxious to play Virginia just to see where we are," McMackin said. "They're an excellent program. We'll know right away where we are, and where we have to go."

Judging by the numbers, Navy can only improve. There are 106 Division I-A teams. Last season, Navy's defense ranked No. 101 against the rush (227.55 yards per game) and No. 104 in pass efficiency (allowing 178.9 yards per game, with opponents completing 64 percent of their passes).

"Last year, we changed defenses all the time and it got pretty confusing," said senior anchor/nickel back Chad Chatlos. "We were just sitting back waiting for something to happen. A lot of times, going one-on-one, you were out there alone."

Frustration mounted among the members of the defense, and the Navy players were ready for a change by season's end.

"We needed a defense that we were comfortable in, and we needed a coach who was crazy about his players," said sophomore free safety Chris Hart. "Things just went wrong last year. We made too many changes and the losses didn't help. Guys started pointing fingers at different aspects of the game, and some guys pointed fingers at each other."

So George Chaump, entering his third year as the Mids' head coach, sought out McMackin -- Navy's fourth defensive coordinator in as many years. His defensive scheme is a pro-style attack: a 4-2-5 formation that's right out of the nickel package developed by one-time Washington Redskins coach George Allen.

"We want to be an attacking, swarming defense that makes big plays," McMackin said of his style. "Here, we're not a bend-don't-break type of defense."

"[McMackin] doesn't care who you line up against, he's coming after you," said Javier Zuluaga, a junior linebacker. "I don't think we went after people enough last year, and it was frustrating. But now I'm excited. We're all excited."

Excitement is one thing, but whether Navy players will be able to execute the new defensive package is another.

When McMackin decided to accept Navy's job offer, it was againstthe advice of some close and respected friends.

"[University of Miami coach] Dennis Erickson told me I was crazy," McMackin said. "There's a lot of guys in the coaching profession who think I made a lateral or less move. But I don't believe that, or I wouldn't be here.

"It was a tough decision, emotionally and professionally, but I think it was a great decision. This is real familiar to when I went to Utah. And that's why I feel so comfortable."

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