5

questions for Navy

August 30, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg

Will Navy be better than it was in 2001's 0-10 season?

Absolutely, but it will take time. First-year coach Paul Johnson has won everywhere he has coached, including Navy. Johnson was the offensive coordinator for the Mids in 1996 when they went 9-3, including a victory over Cal in the Aloha Bowl. His spread option offense, a hybrid of the triple option and the run-and-shoot, will put points on the board.

Who has a chance to be an impact player this season?

Sophomore fullback Kyle Eckel. Though Eckel didn't play for the varsity last year, Johnson says he might give him the ball 25 times a game this season. At 5 feet 11, 231 pounds, Eckel has the power to run over people, and with 4.55-second speed in the 40-yard dash, he might run away from a few as well.

Navy had one of the worst defenses in the country in 2001. How will the Mids improve?

The addition of defensive coordinator Buddy Green helps. He held that job at N.C. State last season, and the Wolfpack ranked 25th in the country in points allowed per game at 20.3. At the least, Green should help the Mids improve their red-zone defense. In 2001, opponents scored touchdowns 63 percent of the time they had the ball inside Navy's 20-yard line.

Is Navy's best player really its punter?

Maybe. John Skaggs finished fifth in the country last season in punting, breaking a 60-year-old school record with a 44.8-yard average. An All-America candidate this year as a junior, he has been put on the initial watch list for the Ray Guy Award, given each year to the nation's best punter. Senior defensive tackle Josh Brindel is also on the initial watch list for the Lombardi Award, given to the nation's best lineman.

What can Navy do to get better right away?

Don't give up as many big, momentum-changing plays, and make a few of its own as well. Last season, Army returned a kickoff for a touchdown against the Mids, Temple returned a punt for a score, Tulane ran back an interception for six, and Notre Dame scored on a fumble return. Navy didn't do any of the four all season. In close games, those big plays are difference-makers.

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