Navy coach Johnson wants to speed things up in 2003

Every starting position will be open competition

College Football

March 31, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

It's not his favorite subject, but when pressed, Paul Johnson will say that his first year as Navy's football coach did not go quite as well as he had hoped.

"I think we made progress, and I think we changed some attitudes, but I'm certainly not into moral victories," Johnson said. "I was disappointed with the [2-10] record. It was not what I envisioned."

Year Two under Johnson officially begins today with the start of spring practice, and he has made it clear there is a sense of urgency for a program that has won just three games in three years. Though Navy looked better last season than it had in years - including a 58-12 win over Army - Johnson has declared every starting position up for grabs and put an emphasis on finding speed anywhere he can.

"We don't need big, fat guys," Johnson said. "It sounds good, but it's not the answer. We're already going to be undersized against a lot of teams. But we can't be smaller and slower. That's a deadly combination."

Surprisingly, the open competition also includes the quarterback position, even though Craig Candeto led the Mids with 775 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior last season. Candeto, who set a school record with six touchdowns against Army, also plays for Navy's baseball team and might miss some spring drills as a result.

"Craig's a senior and he knows the deal," Johnson said. "If he's not here and he gets beat out, then he gets beat out. I don't think he's to the point where practice wouldn't help. I think we'll have a nice competition."

Johnson's biggest challenge may be rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines, which were thinned by graduation. Senior tackle Josh Goodin, senior guard Shane Todd, junior center August Roitsch and junior tackle Nick Wilson all return, but only Goodin and Todd have significant experience.

The defense likely will undergo the team's biggest facelift. Statistically, the Mids were the worst team in the country defending the pass last season, and against the run they were not much better. As a result, Navy is switching its base defense from 4-3 to 3-4 next season, though Johnson says defensive coordinator Buddy Green has assured him the Mids will shift in and out of both schemes.

"It's not going to be that different, but we're just trying to get a few more guys that can run on the field," Johnson said. "It's better with our personnel, I think. It doesn't make a big difference. It's all gap control anyway."

Navy will return an experienced group of linebackers in Jeremy Chase, Eddie Carthan, Lane Jackson and Ben Mathews, but all of them still need to get faster and move better laterally if the Mids are going to improve on defense.

"I don't care how big someone is as long as they can run. ... They probably realize by now, the best player is going to play."

NOTES: Navy will hold scrimmages Saturday and April 19 and will conclude spring practices with its Spring Game on April 26. ... Johnson said he's been extremely pleased with running back Eric Roberts this offseason. Roberts was one of Navy's few big-play threats last season, but he was benched at one point because of mental lapses and fumbling. ... Johnson said senior linebacker Andy Sinitiere, who played much of last season with a broken bone in his foot, has decided to end his career because of knee problems. ... Fullback Kyle Eckel will miss all of spring practice after having surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right knee. ... Johnson said wide receiver Brian Yarbrough has been dismissed from the team.

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