Now that we've collectively vented, it's time to turn our attention to the central question of the the 2007 season; Why does Navy's defense suck so much? Well, to attempt to explain this question I thought it apt to look into some of the known contributing factors as well as to explore the possibility of others, with the most notable of these being the job performance of defensive coordinator Buddy Green. As usual (in fact more than usual) I'm interested to hear the opinions of other fans on this assessment, and hope that maybe we can come to a uniform understanding of how the Midshipmen could be giving up 460 yards per game and more than 38 points per game against I-A opposition that has a combined .500 winning percentage.
Injuries- Don't get me wrong, Navy's defense still wouldn't be very good had the Midshipmen not lost Jeff Deliz, Clint Sovie, and Ketric Buffin, but chances are the defense doesn't sink into the depths of the Division 1 ranks had those three veteran players not gone down. Losing Sovie was huge not only because he called the plays and set up the defense, but because he had playmaking ability. With all due respect to Tony Haberer (who will get better with age), the sophomore has been badly exposed in zone coverage and doesn't play with near the same motor Sovie does. Deliz going down took away one of Navy's most sure tacklers, and with respect to Wyatt Middleton put the Navy defense in a bind. Middleton has talent, but he doesn't have the consistency or experience this defense badly needs. The loss of Ketric Buffin to a broken arm against Pitt deprived the defense of yet another good, disciplined tackler and took away maybe the only player on Navy's defense who is capable of jumping routes and picking passes off. Losing any one of those guys hurts enough with an inexperienced defense, but losing all three players virtually deprives the defense of it's most clutch assets. And it's shown too, as Navy has been hard pressed coming up with turnovers and has been absolutely dreadful on third down this season.
Youth- Coming into the year we all realized Navy's inexperienced defense would struggle. That defense, already fairly young to begin with, got a lot younger with the early season injuries to Deliz and Sovie, and continues to be dominated by either young players with no experience, or older players with limited experience. Any way you cut it, the point is that we're playing more underclassman than in previous years. Obviously, this is a problem at any school, but particularly at Navy, where players need the time to physically develop and to learn the scheme and systems. Take away a year or two of that process before a player has to go in, and you're naturally going to have guys learning on the fly and in the process struggling to contain offenses.
Leadership- In the past we've had continuity in terms of class and guys who lead collectively. Even in 2005, when the defense was very much inexperienced, did we see guys step up and take a leadership role. In that case it was the players from the Class of 2006. This year the defense is playing numerous players from all four classes, and although the sophomore class appears to be filled with some talent, no group of players has yet to really assert a leadership role. Irv Spencer and Matt Wimsatt have stepped up with individual efforts and shown flashes of team leadership, but I still don't think they've been able to pull the entire unit together and establish cohesiveness or continuity. Again, part of this comes back to the fact that Coach Green has been playing basically everyone on the three deep at one point or another.
Effort- This is not an opinion call on my part. Not only has Paul Johnson publicly questioned the effort of this Navy defense (after the Ball State loss) but the media and fans has started to wonder whether or not the drive and determination that were hallmarks of previous Navy teams are there at all this season. Theoretically this Navy defense should be the most talented under Coach Green, yet we're learning first hand that the fight and heart given by previous Navy defenses far outweighs any advantage in 40 times or shuttle runs that this defense has. But then again, I guess it's hard to give the maximum amount of effort when there is no unit cohesiveness and your getting pulled out every other series for an underclassman who is just as lost as you are.
Personnel?- Buddy Green did a good job in previous seasons of masking Navy's obvious talent deficiencies on defense with his zone coverages and relatively simple defensive gameplan. This hasn't been the case this year, as Navy's defense has been out-hustled, out-worked, and just plain out-athleted on numerous occasions this season. Part of this has to do with the teams Navy has played this year compared to previous years, but to explain away the problem to just playing better teams with better athletes isn't going to work. Part of the problem, as I've alluded to, is the constant rotating of players in and out. Basically everyone on the three deep has played at some point this year, and aside from rocks like Irv Spencer and Rashawn King, most players have come out in different packages. Also, I'm no recruiting expert and I honestly have no idea what goes on at NAPS, but one has to wonder if the team is just not getting the right kinds of players. David Mahoney, Rob Caldwell, and Tyler Tidwell weren't exactly hot recruits, but they matured into good players who got the job done. Is it simply a case of waiting on players to develop, or is there a problem in the development process? I don't know, but all I'm saying is that from watching this team is seems more apparent then ever that they are just physically being dominated. I'm hoping this goes back to the inexperience issue, because if it doesn't we're in real trouble.
Coaching?- All throughout this season, I've defended Buddy Green and explained away the defenses lack of production to injuries, youth, and bad fortune. But if your not at least entertaining the thought that Buddy Green has done a less than impressive job at the helm of the defense, than your probably smoking something illegal. I thought John Feinstein made a great point on the postgame show yesterday when he said that nobody expects Navy's defense to be good, but that we should have expected it to be showing at least some improvement by now. The mere fact that Navy's defense has progressively gotten worse, coupled with the idea that their is no unit cohesiveness and the aforementioned questionable effort, lead me to think that some of the blame could, and perhaps should, be leveled at Coach Green. Obviously there are factors like injuries he can't control, but then again there are other factors, like play calls and personnel packages, which are entirely in his control. Of certain concern is the issue of blitzing, in particular when to blitz and who to blitz. Has anyone else questioned why Ram Vela is constantly blitzing from the edge, only to run into a tackle who easily redirects him out of the play? I sure have. In addition to questions over scheme, there are also questions regarding personnel. Why, can someone explain to me, was Greg Thrasher playing free safety yesterday? Not only is he a cornerback by nature, but he isn't a very good tackler and has barely played since his decent 2005 season. I know Keven Snyder is no Josh Smith, but it makes more sense to stick with the guy who went in when Ketric went down and has shown some promise in run support. After all, he's going to be around in the offseason when the team is trying to get better, as opposed to Thrasher, who will graduate in May. Now, I want to be careful with the implications of all this, as I'm not by any means advocating the firing of Coach Green that I've heard some fans at games call for. To often in today's sporting environment do we assign all the blame on the coach or coaches, and are quick to dismiss them without giving them a chance to adjust. And adjust is exactly what Coach Green needs to do. This defense needs to show some improvement by seasons end, and, once more, needs to be better next season. We've afforded him and factored in the excuses, but after a certain amount of time I don't think it's unreasonable to expect the play of the entire unit to be raised and for improvement to be made.
The scary part of all of this is that we're witnessing these defensive deficiencies through the eyes of the 16th ranked offense in Division I-A (nomenclature back by popular demand.) Could you imagine the course of events had the offense not played so well up to this point, and if, God forbid, we'd had to punt more than once per game? Even more pressing is the question of whether or not their is any silver lining to be taken from this, or if we're in line for further digression and struggles both this year and next year. I don't have the answers, but if the above problems cannot be addressed at some point, then I fear that even games against Northern Illinois and North Texas will come down to the wire.