Navy outlook, on field at least, is rosy

College Football

March 23, 2006|By KENT BAKER | KENT BAKER,SUN REPORTER

As the Navy football team prepares to launch spring practice next week for the 2006 season, coach Paul Johnson yesterday publicly addressed the charges against former quarterback Lamar Owens for the first time.

"I tend to wait until it's over and see what happens," Johnson said at a luncheon meeting with the media. "Everybody wants to get to the bottom of it. If he [Owens] is guilty, then he'll be punished."

Owens has been charged with rape, assault and conduct unbecoming an officer under military law after an incident Jan. 29 in Bancroft Hall, where players reside. And another unnamed member of the football squad has been accused of rape - but not charged - in a separate incident that allegedly occurred in Georgetown.

Johnson acknowledged that the cases have harmed the image of the football program, which he said "could always be better. It's never good when anything like this happens. But, over the space of the last four years I don't think you can take the last six weeks and say that's how the program is. And all this stuff happened after football was over.

"The Naval Academy is not going to give us [football] a blank check. They're midshipmen first and football players second."

The outlook for the field could not be rosier. Unlike last spring - when Navy had a largely unproven roster - 18 starters and 38 letter-winners return to begin workouts Monday and start the quest for a fourth straight Commander in Chief's Trophy and fourth straight bowl game appearance. In Johnson's past three years, Navy is 26-11.

"I would rather go in with high expectations, but they're just expectations," the coach said. "This team hasn't done anything yet."

Backup Brian Hampton enters the spring as the successor to Owens, and seasoned players abound at virtually every other spot on the offense, particularly with Trey Hines switching back to slotback to help replace the graduating Marco Nelson. The defense has five of the top six tacklers returning, and Joey Bullen is back to handle the place-kicking.

"We're better athletically than we've ever been. Whether that translates into more wins, we have to wait and see," said Johnson, who is entering his fifth season. "The biggest [loss] in my mind is [punter Eric] Shuey."

Four major players will miss the spring drills after undergoing offseason surgery. They are fullback Matt Hall and slotback Karlos Whittaker (knees) and safety Greg Sudderth and offensive tackle Joe Person (shoulders).

Practice leads up to the annual spring game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 21. kent.baker@baltsun.com

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