Midshipmen make gains in spring sessions

Improvements on defense offer Navy hope for '99

April 25, 1999|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

When spring football got under way at the Naval Academy, two objectives were at the forefront.

"First, we want to develop a defense that doesn't give up the big play," said fifth-year coach Charlie Weatherbie.

Ah yes, the big play. It was a back-breaker last year when the Mids went 3-8 and surrendered an average of 34 points per game, 104th-worst among the 112 teams playing NCAA Division I football.

"Secondly," continued the coach, "we've got to have an offense that holds onto the ball better than we did."

Navy moved the ball last season, particularly in rushing, piling up 261 yards per game, fourth-best in the nation. Unfortunately, it coughed up the ball too often, finishing minus-11 in the take-away/giveaway category.

"I think we accomplished our objectives along with a lot of other things," Weatherbie said, "and I think we've got a chance to have a good team.

"Our defense has been good all spring; that is, until today. And we've protected the ball well all spring; that is, until today."

After dominating the offense during three scrimmages and 15 days of practice, the defense was riddled yesterday during the annual Blue and Gold game. Seven times the Blues scored, first-unit quarterback Brian Broadwater having a field day.

The sophomore rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown on eight carries and hit seven of 17 passes for 148 yards and another score. He also threw three interceptions.

Others showing well offensively were backup quarterback Robert Burns, who hit six of 11 passes for 97 yards and ran for a score; Matt O'Donnell, who had a touchdown catch, and Travis Williams, who avoided about two dozen tackles on a 35-yard touchdown romp.

After a shaky start, the defense came on impressively, with free safety Chris Lepore, nose tackle David Ryno and cornerback Bas Williams leading the way.

"Every one of these guys played exceptionally since we started practice," Weatherbie said. "What our defense has done consistently all spring is create turnovers. Even when the offense was driving the ball well today, the defense stepped in and got a few turnovers."

Because of injuries, the coaches decided to play the offense against the defense all day instead of splitting the squad. For the most part, however, the first and second units on both sides of the ball squared off against each other.

"I think both the offense and defense had their moments and this should help their confidence," Weatherbie said.

"Spring practice is for teaching fundamentals, improving your blocking and tackling techniques and running your system. Then, figuring out who can make plays within that system."

The problem with an intrasquad game is that while an offense is moving the ball impressively, the defense is being riddled.

"That's true," said the coach. "But at the same time you're looking for individual plays. And we had a lot of them out there. We had a lot of really good things happen."

There are no promises, understand. Last year, Weatherbie said the team would have a winning season, take the Commander in Chief's Trophy and get a bowl bid. No such claims this time, although there's a lot of time between now and the Mids' opener at home against Georgia Tech on Sept. 4.

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