Wednesday, May 10, 2006

ESPN.com Preview

ESPN.com, the world's leader in overhyped big name schools, has released its Spring Preview of the I-A Independent Programs for Football. Navy, of course, is on there, and ESPN actually had some nice things to say without mentioning our "horrible schedule." Here is what the "experts" felt so inclined to tell the greater public:

Spring answers: QB Brian Hampton was anointed the starter before the spring and only strengthened his hold on the job during the spring. While not as quick as his predecessor, Lamar Owens, the senior is strong and hard to bring down. Keep in mind, this isn't completely new stuff to Hampton. He's been groomed for this moment for the last three years. In 2005 he threw a TD pass at Notre Dame, came in during a key situation against Maryland and led a fourth-quarter scoring drive in a tight contest with Stanford. The Middies aren't worried about the quarterback position. … The injury bug bit throughout the four-week camp. Although nearly all were non-major injuries, there were still a whopping 22 players knocked out of the spring game alone. So it was tough to gather many answers on the competitive front, but there was depth-chart movement on the defensive side. At nose guard, senior David Wright grabbed the position away from Larry Cylc. At left end, senior Tye Adams survived an early injury and then made a late push to topple Andrew Tattersall. And at inside linebacker, sophomore Clint Sovie beat out senior Joe Cylc with his speed and aggressiveness. Sovie will occupy the spot vacated by Jake Biles, in what should continue to be a tremendous linebacking corps. … Under the guidance of continually underrated coach Paul Johnson, Navy lost 17 starters last year and still went to -- and won -- a bowl game. The team loses just six starters this time around. We're not into predictions, but this one doesn't seem too hard to figure out.

Fall questions: Not a lot of starters are missing, so there aren't a lot of overriding questions. There is, however, a tight -- and important -- competition going on for the No. 2 spot at QB. Johnson doesn't mind throwing in the backup to occasionally mix things up. Right now, it's a spirited duel between junior Troy Goss and freshman Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, an intriguing prospect with 4.4 speed. It's been whispered the Hawaiian might be utilized some at wide receiver. … Another competition to watch is the one at right tackle, where sophomore Andrew McGinn emerged from camp as the starter over senior Joe Person, who sat out the spring recovering from surgery. Once healthy, Person will be back on equal footing. … While neither took part in spring drills, everything seems to be progressing well with the recoveries of slot back Karlos Whittaker and FB Matt Hall. But you just never know how a player responds to an ACL tear until you see him in game action. No doubt, Navy is eagerly awaiting that day. If those two are back in the fold and showing no ill effects, there's no reason the Midshipmen can't finish in the nation's top 3 in rushing for the fifth straight year. Remember Adam Ballard in Hall's absence? All he did was rush for a school-record 488 yards in a three-game span. Remember Whittaker before he went down late in the season? He was the freshman sensation who was an honest-to-goodness threat to score just about every time he touched the ball, including on kickoffs. It's been many, many years since the Middies boasted a player like that. … One of the few places that isn't set is punter, where Eric Shuey left a vacancy. Greg Veteto might be a slight favorite, but it's fairly wide open.

Overall, a fairly favorable assessment by the big guys up at ESPN. While one has to question if these assessments come off actually watching film, or if say from CFN.com, they nevertheless show the general picture we have seen all off-season. One thing this preview does is silence the idea that Navy players are somehow below the athletic level of other mid major programs. Kaipo has obviously gotten a lot of attention because of his speed and ability, and frankly I think ESPN was wowed when it saw Ballard carry CSU defenders on his back. It has been interesting, for a while now GoMids.com has been full of chatter between Navy and ECU fans, with ECU fans contending that they are going to take down Navy and establish themselves as what one would assume as the Conf.-USA champs. At least from a national perspective, I think Navy is expected to go 9-2 or 10-2, and really assert themselves as a power against the weaker conferences. It'll be interesting to see, and I think overall the program is being viewed more and more favorably by the Big Names in sports.

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