Buddy Green, the defensive coordinator for Navy's football team, has a steadfast policy of refraining from publicly assessing any unit of the defense until season's end.
"Ask me on Dec. 31," he said when approached about the development of the pass defense.
Junior free safety Parrish Gaines, however, does not share his coach's reservations.
"We're getting better week by week," said Gaines, who shifted from cornerback in the team's victory over Pittsburgh on Oct. 26. "We still have guys in new positions. So getting drops and stuff, we're still trying to see everything , but I think we're getting better and better every week."
That progress will be tested Friday night when the Midshipmen (6-4) pay a visit to San Jose State (5-5) and quarterback David Fales.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior is ninth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing, throwing for 3,202 yards. He ranks 12th in completions per game at 23.3 and is tied for 15th in passing touchdowns with 22.
"He's a really good quarterback," Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "He makes all the throws. He's very accurate. It's going to be a tough game for us, because when he plays against man-to-man [defenses], he throws back-shoulder balls, throws it in tight windows. We're a zone team. So I'm sure he's licking his chops. We've just got to try our best to get some pressure and play good zone coverage."
Fortunately for Navy, Fales is not an unknown commodity. These teams met on Sept. 9, 2012, and Fales completed 29-of-34 passes for 276 yards and was intercepted once in a 12-0 win by the Spartans.
But Green said Navy should be prepared to face a different Fales and San Jose State offense than the one they saw that day.
"They're different offensively with what they're doing," he said. "They do a great job of spreading you out. They make you defend the whole field, and they've got some great receivers that can run and make you cover guys in open space, which is hard to do. They've got an athletic offensive line that can get out on corners and safeties and get you on the ground."
Another development in Fales' game is a fondness for throwing the deep ball.
"The thing I've noticed about him this year is he's thrown a lot of what I call game-changers. Big throws from 80 yards that make you go, 'Wow,'" Green said. "He's thrown a lot of deep balls that they have turned into touchdowns. So we've got to keep the ball in front of us. We need to keep the ball in front of us all night long, and if you're a corner or a safety, it's critical that you do that."
That point has been emphasized in practice and secondary meetings, but freshman cornerback Brendon Clements said the defense wants to cut down on the short and intermediate routes, too.
"A deep ball is just another route," he said. "That's a cardinal sin, don't let up the deep ball. But as much as you want to stick the deep ball, you want to stick every other route, too."
Gaines and Clements have two interceptions each for a unit that has picked off opposing quarterbacks nine times this fall. To be successful, Navy knows it also needs to pressure Fales when he is in the pocket. The Midshipmen have just nine sacks this season.
"If you look at any quarterback, a good quarterback, [you want to] get in his face, apply pressure," Niumatalolo said. "Obviously, sacking him would be great, but applying pressure is always the best remedy along with coverage."
Navy's secondary is still finding its identity and its footing. Sophomore Myer Krah made his first career start at left cornerback in the team's 42-14 rout of South Alabama on Saturday, but sophomore Kwazel Bertrand — who started six games at left cornerback — could return Friday. The Midshipmen know they'll finish the season without junior safety Chris Ferguson, who is stepping away from football after suffering multiple concussions.
But Clements said the potential is there for the secondary to blossom in the final three games.
"I think we're better off than where we were before," he said. "We're starting to mesh more. We only have one senior in the entire DB group, which is [safety] Wave Ryder. So I feel that we'll continue to communicate better and mesh better as a secondary and it will carry on to the following seasons."
NAVY (6-4) @ SAN JOSE STATE (5-5)
When: Friday, 9:30 p.m.
Site: Spartan Stadium, San Jose, Calif.
Radio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM
Series: San Jose State leads, 2-0
Line: San Jose State by 2
Navy offense vs. San Jose State defense: Senior slotback Darius Staten rushed for a career-high 127 yards and one touchdown on just seven carries in Saturday's 42-14 thrashing of South Alabama, with which the Midshipmen became bowl-eligible for the 11th time in the past 12 years. But the offense continues to revolve around sophomore quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who ranks second in the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing touchdowns (19) and has run and thrown for a score in each of his past five starts. The Midshipmen rank fifth in the country in rushing (311.0 yards per game) and should be a formidable challenge for a Spartans defense that has surrendered 485 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground over its past two contests. San Jose State senior linebacker Keith Smith leads the nation in tackles per game (13.7).
Navy defense vs. South Alabama offense: After allowing an average of 33 points per game in its previous four games, the Midshipmen limited South Alabama to a season-low 14 points. The defense has held six of its 10 opponents to under their scoring average, and senior inside linebacker Cody Peterson ranks second in the country in solo tackles per game (7.4). But the group figures to get quite a workout against Spartans senior quarterback David Fales, who ranks ninth in the nation in passing (3,202 yards) and needs just two passing touchdowns to become the school's all-time leader.