At Navy, Johnson issues call to action to young defense

Mids must replace nine defensive starters

QB Kaheaku-Enhada leads veteran backfield

College football

March 26, 2007|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun reporter

Navy football coach Paul Johnson has seen it before. Two years ago, after the second straight bowl-game appearance under Johnson, the Midshipmen lost more than two-thirds of their starters to graduation.

When the Mids convene for the start of spring practice today, the reality will sink in once again, especially on the defensive side of the ball. After the senior class wrapped up a perfect, four-year run against service academy rivals Air Force and Army and led Navy to an unprecedented fourth consecutive bowl game, the unknown rules.

Nine starters are gone from a 3-4 defense that allowed 20.1 points per game and 3.6 yards per rush. Three starters are gone from an offensive line that sparked the Mids to their third NCAA rushing title in the past four seasons.

The most familiar faces are at the skill positions, starting with rising junior quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who took over for the injured Brian Hampton in midseason and gives Navy a rare treat in the Johnson era. For the first time since 2003, the Mids project the same player behind center for two straight seasons.

But the next four weeks mostly will be about players who catch the eyes of the coaching staff and move toward claiming starting jobs for the first time.

"The thing about spring ball is that everybody gets to start new. I'm looking for guys that want to compete, guys that will turn it loose and play hard," Johnson said. "By the end of spring ball, I will have a pretty good idea who we can count on.

"Two years ago we had to replace the entire offense, and this year we are replacing most of the defense. I feel like, athletically, we are as good or better than we've ever been. The mental part is a big part of it. Last year's senior class was bound and determined they were going to be successful."

Navy is youngest throughout the front seven of its defense, particularly up front and at outside linebacker, where the Mids hope to discover some run stuffers and pass rushers.

Nose guard Nate Frazier, 6 feet 3 and 285 pounds, is one of the team's more gifted athletes and will get every chance to become a defensive anchor as a sophomore. Seniors to be Chris Kuhar-Pitters and Casey Hebert and rising junior Will Scarle are the leading candidates at end. Each has barely been tested.

Rising senior Irv Spencer and rising junior Clint Sovie are by far the most experienced linebackers and are projected to start inside, although Sovie (5-11, 201) might be more suited outside with his speed. He had 61 tackles last season, tops among returning players. Among the unproven players are seniors to be Jon Alvarado, Matt Humiston and Matt Wimsatt.

With the unexpected departure of safety Jeromy Miles after a fine plebe season, rising junior cornerback Rashawn King is the lone returning starter in the secondary, where Blake Carter should make a significant impact as a sophomore.

On offense, Antron Harper will move from guard to center as a senior, and left tackle Josh Meek will sit out the spring while rehabilitating his injured knee. He should start again as a senior.

The Mids have the most depth among the ball carriers in their spread offense. Slotbacks Reggie Campbell, Zerbin Singleton and Shun White are back. And the fullback position should feature quite a battle between junior to be Eric Kettani and senior to be Adam Ballard, who is coming back from leg and ankle injuries he suffered late in the season. Ballard led the Mids in rushing last season with 792 yards.

Notes -- Johnson said wide receiver Tyree Barnes (leg), projected to start as a junior opposite senior O.J. Washington, will not take part in contact drills while he gets healthy. ... The team will have three scrimmages, culminating in the annual Blue-Gold game on April 21 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial

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