Navy promises to be much better-problem is, so does the competition


For a team whose defense was often victimized last season by big plays at crucial times, the 1992 football season for Navy brings promise of what coaches say will be a more aggressive and attacking style.

And for a team whose offense often sputtered, a remedy is also expected from the strong arm of a sophomore quarterback who played well toward the end of last season.

In theory, it adds up to an improvement for a team that finished 1-10 last season. But those improvements for Navy, whose players report for practice today, might be for naught with one of the team's most difficult schedules in recent years on the horizon. The season opens at home on Sept. 12 against Virginia.

"We're playing good football teams, and some of the teams have really turned their programs around," said coach George Chaump, who is entering his third season at the Naval Academy. "I'm looking forward to the challenge."

And what a challenge it will be with three bowl teams from a year ago (Virginia, Air Force, Notre Dame), and an NCAA Division I-AA playoff team (Delaware) on the schedule. Also scheduled are improving teams such as Boston College (which won three of its last five games last season, with a 19-14 season-ending loss to defending national champ Miami), Rutgers (coming off its first winning season since 1987) and North Carolina (7-4 last season).

Which is why the play of the defense will be important. Last season, the Midshipmen gave up 29.1 points per game. This year, under new defensive coordinator Greg McMackin, who held the same position last year at Utah, the unit will use a 4-2 alignment that uses five defensive backs.

"Last year we just allowed big plays at terrible times," Chaump said. "Hopefully, the defensive changes will make things happen."

Offensively, Jim Kubiak has been given the reins, marking the first time in Chaump's three years at Navy that he has no quarterback battle going into the season. Kubiak started five games as a plebe and completed 60 percent of his passes (93 of 154 for 957 yards), giving Chaump the kind of quarterback he has wanted.

"After just a few games, he played great," Chaump said. "Jim Kubiak is ready to make a mark. But our receivers are going to have to come along. We have some kids who have been around, but who haven't played much."

Those youngsters are going to have to come around under some tough circumstances, with three of the first five games on the road. It shapes up to be a difficult year for the Midshipmen, who will attempt to ride the high achieved in last year's season-ending win over Army.

"I have a lot of confidence, and I think our group will surprise a lot of people," Chaump said. "We're a year older, and we're $H light-years ahead of where we were a year ago. I think our guys will give a good account of themselves."

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