As spring football season draws to a close across the country, BlueandGold.com will be providing a breakdown of how things wrapped up for each of Notre Dame’s 2012 opponents courtesy of the reporters that cover them on a regular basis.
Jon Teague finished a shaky season by hitting a pair of clutch field goal in Navy's 27-21 win over Army last December. His departure leaves a major question mark on the depth chart that the Midshipmen have yet to solve.
Sept. 1, 2012 — 9 a.m. EST
Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland
Head coach:Ken Niumatalolo (32-21 record heading into his fifth full season)
2011 record: 5-7
The Midshipmen missed a bowl game last fall for the first time since 2002. They were blown away by Notre Dame in South Bend 56-14, but most of their margins of defeat were razor thin. Navy lost five games by a combined total of 11 points before ending the season on a high note by beating archrival Army in December.
Patrick Stevens, the Washington Times’ college sports reporter, said Niumatalolo put his troops to work this spring, running nearly as many reps in the month-long practice period as they did during all 12 games last year.
“Last year was pretty sobering for these guys,” Stevens said. “I think the idea that [a bowl game] is not guaranteed is definitely something that sticks with this bunch. It’s a team that probably had a little bit of water thrown in their face last year.”
Team morale peaked at the end of the spring, though, thanks to an impromptu talent show during practice that called on local media and trainers as judges, and a break dancing competition that even Niumatalolo joined.
Biggest Strength After Spring: Linebackers
Navy returns its leading tackler in senior Matt Warrick. He’ll be joined in the middle by Brye French, who is expected to shift inside after making 55 tackles as an outside linebacker last season. The two players likely to start outside, according to Stevens, are senior Keegan Wetzel and sophomore Josh Tate.
“They’re in pretty good shape at linebacker,” he said. “Wetzel is a guy that certainly draws some interest, and they moved Josh Tate from safety to outside linebacker. He’s a guy they’re really excited about.”
Biggest Question Mark After Spring: Kickers
Former Midshipmen Jon Teague missed five of his 15 field goal attempts last season, including several in close games. With no one behind him on the depth chart, Teague was forced to ride out his inconsistencies before sealing a win over Army with two successful attempts in the fourth quarter.
This season Teague is gone and the Navy coaching staff has yet to find a replacement. Stevens said there are a few players currently on the roster that have a shot to win the job, but he also expects a pack of incoming freshman to compete to fill the weak spot.
“They’re looking at having six or seven kickers just duel it out — or whatever a seven-way duel is called,” he said.
Biggest Surprise of the Spring: Nose Guard Travis Bridges
Bridges, a 6-0, 318-pound Florida product, converted from offensive guard to nose guard this spring while turning heads in the process. He made seven tackles in the spring game and appears to have won the starting job.
“At 6-foot, 318 there aren’t many guys that are quite that big playing for Navy. He had a good spring game. He played pretty well throughout the spring. I think that’s a guy who stands out,” Stevens said.
Bridges helps add some oomph to a defensive line that was sure to take a step back by losing senior Jabaree Tuani. Tuani led the team with 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss last year.
Summer Storyline: The New QB
Notre Dame got a sneak peek at Trey Miller last fall when he made his first career start in place of an injured Kriss Proctor. Miller ran for 55 yards and completed five of his 13 passes against the Irish last year. He won the starting job early in spring camp this season. Now, without talented fullback Alexander Teich, he’ll have to step up his game. Stevens said Miller doesn’t have the same arm as former Navy starter Ricky Dobbs, but he expects to see a little bit more passing than last season — especially with three talented wide receivers and a pair of veteran slot backs.
“I think it’s fair to say that Miller’s arm strength is a bit better than Proctor’s,” he said. “I don’t think he is quite as elusive as Proctor was. I would think you’ll see a little bit more [passing], but certainly they’re not going to come out with four wide receivers or anything like that.”