Smooth sailing?

With likes of Reggie Campbell, Mids will be in running for another bowl berth. But some others must produce.

Navy preview

August 30, 2006|By GARY LAMBRECHT

Will senior Brian Hampton continue a run of strong quarterback play?

During his five-year stint at Georgia Southern that included back-to-back Division I-AA titles and a 62-10 record, Navy coach Paul Johnson had two starting quarterbacks. Hampton is the fourth QB to run the Midshipmen's triple option since Johnson's first year as head coach in 2002, and he follows one-year starters Lamar Owens and Aaron Polanco. Hampton, who began his career as a slotback and kick return man, has riled Johnson at times during the preseason with a tendency to force things. History says Hampton, an elusive and physical runner, will make enough good things happen.

Who will rise to assist Reggie Campbell?

Junior slotback Campbell, coming off a five-touchdown show against Colorado State in the Poinsettia Bowl, is the team's top playmaker, and the Mids want the ball in his hands often. Hampton and junior fullback Adam Ballard also will be major keys to the offense. But a complementary slotback, a Marco Nelson type, has yet to emerge. Before he was dismissed from the academy, sophomore Karlos Whittaker most likely would have been that guy. Among the candidates, junior Zerbin Singleton and sophomore Shun White are impressive, but unproven athletes. And senior Trey Hines, who has excellent speed, has battled injuries and has been in and out of Johnson's doghouse for three years.

Will the kicking game hold up?

Junior kicker Joey Bullen established himself in 2005 by making nine of 12 field-goal attempts and a school-record 52 extra-point chances. He didn't miss an extra point until one was blocked in the Poinsettia Bowl, and he has boomed some long field goals during the preseason. Johnson feels pretty secure with him. The punting game, however, is another story. Neither junior Greg Veteto nor senior Ethan Gouge has ever performed in a college game. Both punters had great and so-so days in camp. Veteto recently took the lead on the depth chart. But this spot might not truly belong to anyone for a few games.

Is the wide receiver corps too thin?

Senior Jason Tomlinson, sure-handed, a strong blocker and route runner, is the dean of what might be a very inexperienced group, thanks to injuries. Junior OJ Washington, the other starter, played in all 12 games last year and has caught one pass in his career. Junior Kyle Kimbro decided to leave after January surgery failed to alleviate the pain in his knee. And sophomore Tyree Barnes, who also had knee surgery last winter, has missed too much practice time lately to be in Johnson's immediate plans. That leaves untested sophomores Curtis Sharp and Logan Coffey and junior Troy Goss, a converted quarterback, to pick up the slack. An injury to Tomlinson would really hurt.

Will the Midshipmen maintain their recent dominance at home?

Over the past three years, the Mids are 14-2 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, after losing 14 straight at home over the previous three seasons. If Navy intends to win eight or more games for the fourth consecutive season, it might have to dominate in Annapolis again, and that does not figure to be easy. Navy's five home opponents include Rutgers, a narrow loser in the Insight Bowl, and Tulsa, which won the Liberty Bowl. East Carolina could be dangerously athletic, and Massachusetts is no I-AA pushover. The Minutemen went 7-4 a year ago and finished second in the Atlantic 10, which is perhaps as deep as some I-A conferences.

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