Navy hopes kickings ills are cured

Shuey, Bullen lined up as Mids open with Terps

September 02, 2005|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Early last season, Navy's special teams were in such disarray that coach Paul Johnson exclaimed after one victory that "we must have the worst kicking game in the country."

He was referring to all aspects of special teams play - punting, place-kicking and returns - but it was the kicking part that was most troublesome.

Geoff Blumenfeld was having all kinds of difficulties trying to handle both the punting with his rugby-style kick and the place-kicking.

After being relieved of punting duty, he went on to a highly inconsistent season that included a dramatic, game-winning field goal at Air Force, but also four missed extra points and only five of 12 connections on field goal attempts.

But when the Midshipmen meet Maryland tomorrow at M&T Bank Stadium, indications are that Navy's kicking will be less problematic.

Eric Shuey put his best foot forward when he assumed the punting job during the third game of 2004, averaging 36.8 yards on 34 kicks and, as the incumbent, is solidly entrenched as No. 1. Johnson has seldom mentioned Shuey's name during preseason workouts, a strong hint he is not overly concerned about him.

"It was at Air Force that I got comfortable," said Shuey, who kicked for a 48.4 average on five tries in the high-altitude game in Colorado. "We were no longer doing the rugby punt and went to a more conventional kick. After that, I felt good about it."

A senior from Hacienda Heights, Calif., Shuey hit a 49-yarder late in the spring game to help preserve the Blue team's 9-7 win.

"I had come out of the season pretty strong and I knew if I came out working hard in the spring, I had a pretty good chance of holding the job," he said. "John Skaggs [Navy's all-time leading punter] laid the foundation for me last year. Now, I'm pretty much on my own."

Shuey said his goal is to finish in the top 10 in the country. "I know I've got the potential," he said. "I felt I did really well in the last scrimmage."

The place-kicking position was less delineated until early this week when freshman Jake Brownell decided to leave the academy and transfer to Temple.

Johnson had been withholding a decision on that position, but Brownell made it for him. Sophomore Joey Bullen, the starter on the sprint (lightweight) team in 2004, will handle field goals and extra points.

"I think it would be a huge disappointment if I didn't start," Bullen said before Brownell departed. "My goal has been to start for the varsity. Even if I do start against Maryland, I still have a freshman [Matt Harmon] gnawing at the bit for a chance."

Bullen, whose goal is to be a pilot, was recruited to play soccer, beginning at the Naval Academy Prep School. But he got a jolt when he was cut from the soccer squad in Annapolis after the summer and opted for sprint football, in which he finished second on the team with 48 points and was named first-team All-Collegiate Sprint Football League.

He said all the kicking aspirants "were pretty inconsistent" last spring, "but I had the most power. I think I've improved since then."

The one facet of which he must be most aware is trajectory. Instead of short, lightweight players coming on the rush, he'll be facing tall heavyweights in varsity play.

"A lot of that has to do with timing," Bullen said. "The lineup, the snap. I could get away with some low kicks last year, but not now. That's one of the things they're really stressing."

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