Mids strive for stingy defense

Unit allowed 36 points a game in '02

Green looks for ways to improve

Navy notebook

College Football

April 19, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

For Navy football coach Paul Johnson, spring practice has been a welcome opportunity to tweak and tinker with an offense that last season - when it didn't turn the ball over - wasn't that bad.

For defensive coordinator Buddy Green, retooling the defense this spring has been nothing short of a complete restoration project.

"We aren't anywhere close to where we need to be," said Green earlier this week. "We are moving a lot of guys around, taking a look at a lot of young faces. We are hoping individuals get better at certain positions, whether we've moved them [somewhere] or at a position they played last year. We are looking for improvement."

It won't be a quick fix.

For much of last season, the Midshipmen had, at least statistically, one of the worst defenses in the nation. A good effort against Army in the season finale, in which Navy gave up a season-low 241 yards, improved things slightly, but it didn't erase the memories from a frustrating year when the Mids gave up an average of 36 points a game.

To get more speed on the field, Navy will line up with three defensive linemen and four linebackers more often next season. It's a defense that the Mids used against Notre Dame and Rice, two of the Mids' better performances. It's not a drastic change, but with a few personnel changes, Green believes Navy can build off some of what it developed last season.

"I think it's very good that we aren't completely changing schemes," said Navy linebacker Eddie Carthan. "A team like Air Force doesn't have better personnel, but they are so much more sound than we are and they are better technically than we are because they've run the same thing for 20 years. We are just now getting used to this defense. I think our offense is going to be a lot better next year, and I think our defense will be better as well."

A lot of the pressure to get better will land on Carthan's shoulders. Carthan struggled at the start of last season, but by the end, he was one of Navy's few impact players on defense.

"Eddie has had a good spring, and he continues to do things we need leadership-wise," Green said.

Busy spring

As expected, it has been a busy spring for Navy quarterback Craig Candeto. The starter last season, Candeto is also a starting outfielder on the Mids' baseball team, so juggling the two sports requires patience on the part of both coaching staffs. For home baseball games, for example, Candeto goes to football practice, then cuts out early to get to the baseball games.

"I sat down with Coach Johnson and worked out a schedule for this year," Candeto said. "There's going to be days that I miss baseball and days that I miss football. It's a difficult schedule, but we sat down and worked things out."

So far, the balancing act doesn't appear to have affected his baseball swing: Candeto hit two homers in a 17-8 loss to Temple on Wednesday. The situation has also given Johnson a chance to take a look at Aaron Polanco and Lamar Owens, who will likely battle for the right to back up Candeto in the fall.

"They've both been kind of beat up, which has slowed them down some," Johnson said. "Aaron does some great things, and then he will do some bucket-head things. We really haven't gotten a chance to evaluate Lamar as much because he's been banged up."

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