Defensive woes aren't dividing Mids

Offense playing much more effectively, but team believes in `the brotherhood'

October 20, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun reporter

Navy coach Paul Johnson was asked by this week whether he would be searching for someone for the tradition Johnson started in which a Navy student is chosen to be the "12th man" and play on the kickoff team during the last game of the regular season.

"I haven't even thought about it," said Johnson, whose Mids face Wake Forest in the Naval Academy's homecoming game today. "I might start [a search for] defense."

Later, Johnson said he meant for an extra man to play on the defensive team. But either way, the Mids' defense got the message.

At Navy, the defense is struggling to keep pace with the Mids' high-powered offense. From the first day of training camp, the talk has been about the young, inexperienced defense and the expectations for the more productive offense.

And nothing has changed since the season began - except that the defense has gotten younger because of injuries to safety Jeff Deliz, the defensive team captain, and linebacker Clint Sovie, who along with cornerback Rashawn King was Navy's most experienced starter.

The Mids are No. 1 in the nation in rushing offense and 21st overall in total offense. The defense, despite coming up with big plays in the past four games, is still struggling to produce a dependable, 60-minute performance.

Every week, the defense hears how it has to tackle better, how it missed assignments. It heard quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada say after the team's double-overtime, 48-45 victory at Pittsburgh that he felt pressure to get in the end zone with every possession.

Kaheaku-Enhada said it, not in criticism of the defense, but because that simply is what he thinks has to happen for the Mids to win.

"It's a team sport," Kaheaku-Enhada said. "Everyone has their part. I have mine. I can play better. I played a terrible game at Pittsburgh. The defense is out there doing its job. There is no divide between us.

"We all come to Navy from other places, from far away. No one has family here. We spend so much time together, we become like brothers. All of us."

At Navy, there is what sophomore linebacker Tony Haberer called "the brotherhood."

"It's all we've got here," he said. "We're family."

Freshman free safety Wyatt Middleton, who is tied for third on the team in tackles with 36, also acknowledged the bond.

"It's all about the brotherhood," he said. "We've been through plebe summer, basic training, academic classes, football practice, and when we get out we know the military will be there waiting for us. We all get through it together."

Kaheaku-Enhada said when either the defense or offense is struggling, no one jumps on the other's back.

"When things go bad, we don't rag on each other," he said. "We do tease each other if something goes wrong to lighten the mood. Like [rover] Ketric Buffin will give me a nudge on the sidelines after I throw a bad pass and tell me I have a slinky arm."

But the defense and its coaches hear everything.

When defensive coordinator Buddy Green was asked whether he was irked by Johnson's 12th-man comments - joking as they were - Green looked away and said he wasn't.

Asked whether he feels pressure to make the defense better, he said no.

"I've coached the same way a long time," he said. "I try extremely hard to get guys better. I always pressure my players in practice. I put extreme pressure on my players to make practice as hard as I can whether we're 8-0 or where we are today. You give them the toughest situations that they will see in a game. The more you do that, the better they'll get."

And Green said his defense is getting better. He said the attitude has been up, that the effort has improved, that his men are running harder to the ball and that they have proved they won't quit.

Middleton said he can feel the defense coming together.

"It's midseason," he said. "We're actually bonding. There's always a point where that happens. Yes, we have things to improve. It's always the small things, the little things that get you. We've had trouble tackling. What we have to do is just stay low, keep our hips and legs under us.

"But the defense is doing its job. The offense is doing a great job. Against Wake Forest, it's our time to step up."

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