Settling on quarterback is priority for Navy as spring practice begins

Polanco has inside track to be Candeto successor

15 starters set to return

College Football

March 27, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Locating the replacement for record-setting quarterback Craig Candeto and punter John Skaggs and continuing to build on last season's success will be high-priority items when Navy launches spring football practice today.

Coach Paul Johnson will have his entire staff intact, 42 letter-winners returning and 15 starters back, seven on offense and eight on defense. Last year's team registered an 8-5 record and played in the Houston Bowl, its first postseason appearance in seven years.

The Midshipmen will confront an 11-game fall schedule that Johnson labels as "reasonable. It gives us a chance."

Navy opens the season at home against Duke on Sept. 4.

Senior-to-be Aaron Polanco is the favorite to take over for Candeto, with junior Lamar Owens and sophomore Eddie Martin challenging.

"The competition [in the spring] will be most visible at quarterback," Johnson said. "Aaron is as good an athlete as anybody I've had at quarterback. If he makes good decisions, he'll be good."

At this point, the race to become the punter is wide-open, with sophomores Tim Washburn and Russell Cook listed as the top candidates.

Several key players will miss spring practice because of injuries, including fullback Kyle Eckel, the team's leading rusher with 1,249 yards. Eckel is having minor shoulder surgery after having played through pain last season.

Also absent will be linebacker Bobby McClarin (ankle surgery) and offensive tackle Casey Hughes (shoulder). In addition, safety Kevin Newsome was dismissed from the team for missing workouts.

The most notable position change takes linebacker Jeremy Chase to defensive end and Kevin Schwind from the defensive to offensive line, where he can get more snaps.

Linebacker Eddie Carthan, the team's other co-captain with Candeto last season, is gone, but Johnson said "we have a lot of flexibility" at that position.

Johnson said a lot of last year's plebes have chances to become key members of the team. "We took as many as 16 on the road last season," he said.

An attitude adjustment was a major factor in the turnaround of the Midshipmen after they underwent a 3-30 stretch over the previous three years.

"I think last year they were just sick and tired of getting beat," Johnson said. "I don't think there was a bad attitude, but they responded when we challenged them. Now the expectations have changed. The attitude has to be that they're not going to accept mediocre results."

Practice concludes April 24 with the spring game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Navy schedule

Date Opponent

Sept. 4 Duke

Sept. 11 Northeastern

Sept. 18 at Tulsa

Sept. 25 Vanderbilt

Oct. 2 at Air Force

Oct. 16 Notre Dame (at East Rutherford, N.J.)

Oct. 23 Rice

Oct. 30 Delaware

Nov. 6 at Tulane

Nov. 20 Rutgers

Dec. 4 Army (at Philadelphia)

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