Filling the slot
Replacing graduating slotback Gee Gee Greene, the team’s leading rusher and second-leading receiver last season, will likely be done by committee – at least at the start. Three players who have shown flashes of potential stardom – Darius Staten, Geoffrey Whiteside and Ryan Williams-Jenkins – will all get a serious look in the spring while another, Marcus Thomas, sits out to shore up his grades.
Going bigger at fullback
Noah Copeland, the team’s second-leading rusher behind Greene, will start and likely finish the spring as the incumbent, after having some pretty good performances last season. But the 5-10, 205-pound Copeland is not built along the same lines of the traditional triple-option fullback. Chris Swain is, and the 5-11, 220-pounder produced more than 10 yards a carry on his 15 attempts as a freshman last season.
Getting it right
With right tackle Jake Zuzek and right guard Graham Vickers recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, Matthew Van Halanger and Thomas Stone will get plenty of time in the spring. Stone started at center last season against VMI and also saw extensive time against Troy, while Van Halanger has been mostly a practice player to date.
Reloading at linebacker
The graduation of Matt Warrick, Brye French and Keegan Wetzel leaves a void, but one that should be filled by Cody Peterson, a senior who started eight games a year ago and was selected a team captain for 2013; also Vinny Mauro, a fellow senior who came to the academy as one of its top recruits but finally seems to be healthy after various injuries. Josh Tate proved to be a playmaker last season by forcing fumbles against Air Force and Army. Jordan Drake is out for the spring.
Less pressure on Niumatalolo
Though he will never admit it, there has to be less scrutiny on Niumatalolo than there was a year ago when the Midshipmen were coming off their first losing season since 2002. Being able to overcome a 1-3 start behind the play of freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds might prove to be a crossroad of sorts for Niumatalolo, who needs six victories this year to pass his mentor, Paul Johnson, for third place among Navy coaches all-time.