It has been a trying year for the United States Naval Academy football team. The Midshipmen and fifth-year head coach Ken Niumatalolo lost five games last season by a combined five points, missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2002. They finished 5-7 overall in 2011 — Niumatalolo’s first losing season — and will attempt to get back on a winning course with 11 returning starts (six on defense and five on offense).
That is if Niumatalolo can keep all hands on deck. On the first day of practice, Niumatalolo announced that junior cornerback Albrey Felder, sophomore outside linebacker Josh Tate and senior wide receiver Josh Turner had failed their physical readiness tests and were suspended from practice until classes resumed on Aug. 20. They were to be allowed to retake the tests then.
“With those losses it’s kind of a mixed bag, said Patrick Stevens, a Navy beat writer for the Washington Times. “You look at a guy like Brandon Turner, a guy who has started 14 games at wideout for them, and has made himself into a pretty good blocker. You combine that with the fact that they just lost Matt Aiken (junior) to a knee injury — not quite certain how severe that is — and suddenly they’re a little down on wideouts at this stage. If they had to play today, they would have gone with Casey Bolena (junior), who had one start last season, and Shawn Lynch (junior), who came to the Academy as a receiver, switched to safety and started five games last year, and then switched back to receiver.”
It was announced on Tuesday that Turner would not be making the trip to Dublin for violating team rules. Turner led Navy in receiving last season with 14 catches for 300 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior was also one of the team's best perimeter blockers.
Navy has to replace last year’s starters at quarterback and fullback. Junior QB Trey Miller (6-0, 199 pounds) has filled Kriss Proctor’s void and is expected to be more of a passing threat leading a run-dominated triple-option attack. Sophomore Noah Copeland (5-10, 215) takes over for Alexander Teich, who rushed for 2,122 yards and nine scores over three seasons.
Miller appeared in seven contests last fall and his only start was in a 56-14 loss at Notre Dame on Oct. 29. He completed five of his 13 passes for 33 yards, including a nine-yard TD pass, and carried the ball 19 times for a career-high 55 yards against the Irish.
“I think Miller is settling in okay,” Stevens said. “I wouldn’t sit here and say he’s a guy that’s been outstanding. He has struggled at times in scrimmage. At the same time, you look behind him and you’ve got a sophomore No. 2 guy (Greg Bryant) and a freshman as the No. 3 guy (Keenan Reynolds). It’s certainly Miller’s job. He has some experience; he knows what it’s like to go against Notre Dame. They also know he needs to get better to have a realistic chance to pull off a victory out in Ireland.
“I think they’re going to throw more than they did last year with Kriss Proctor (787 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011), but I don’t think they’ll throw as much as they did with [Ricky] Dobbs (1,527 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2010). I don’t think he’s quite that good. Niumatalolo has made it a point to say that he’s kind of in the middle of those two skill sets.”
Copeland mostly saw action on special teams as a freshman, and his success this year will be predicated on how the offensive line, which returns only two starters in senior left guard Josh Cabral and senior right tackle Andrew Barker, comes together.