Navy's Tama Tuitele pressures East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Annapolis, M.D. (Paul W. Gillespie/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Navy's Tama Tuitele pressures East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Annapolis, M.D. (Paul W. Gillespie/The Baltimore Sun via AP) (Paul W. Gillespie/AP)

First-year Navy defensive coordinator Brian Newberry sent a strong message to his troops that no one should ever feel comfortable with their status on the depth chart.

Newberry shook up the starting lineup for Saturday’s second game of the season against East Carolina.

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Sophomore Tony Brown started instead of junior Jacob Springer at the outside position known as striker. Promising freshman Tama Tuitele started at the WILL inside linebacker spot over senior Walter Little. Sophomore Kevin Brennan started in place of senior Elan Nash at bandit safety.

“It’s a week-to-week deal and those decisions are based off practice performance,” Newberry said after Navy routed East Carolina, 42-10, in the American Athletic Conference opener for both schools.

“We always reward those guys that practice the best. That is when players need to show up. That is something I’ll never compromise on,” Newberry added.

Brennan, Brown and Tuitele, who were all making their first career starts, showed up on game day as well. Brennan recorded three tackles, a critical interception and a pass breakup. Tuitele, who saw significant action off the bench in the opener versus Holy Cross, responded with five tackles -- one of which went for a loss. Brown made three tackles and was also credited with half a tackle for loss.

Nash still saw significant action in the secondary and wound up having a huge game, establishing a career-high with nine tackles. Nash, who got one of Navy’s seven tackles for loss, demurred when asked if he was motivated by losing the starting spot.

“We don’t worry about that in our room, especially at the bandit position,” he said. “Kevin is an amazing player. We battle, we compete, we make each other better every day in practice. It doesn’t matter who starts.”

Navy now employs a new-look dime package under Newberry, who came from Kennesaw State. Nash and Brennan are both part of that alignment.

“We’re both going to get a lot of opportunity to play, especially with the dime package. It’s awesome because it gets us both on the field,” Nash said. “Whenever our number is called, we’re going to do everything we can to make the most of our opportunity.”

Springer also played a lot of snaps on Saturday and contributed three unassisted tackles, earning half a tackle for loss in the process.

Newberry and inside linebackers coach P.J. Volker are high on the potential of Tuitele, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound product of Regis Jesuit High in Aurora, Colorado. After gaining a year of seasoning at the Naval Academy Prep School, the plebe arrived in Annapolis ready to contribute immediately.

Perry Passing: Malcolm Perry completed just 10 of 27 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown in five starts at quarterback last season.

Perry has already surpassed those totals in all categories through just two games this season, clear evidence the emphasis the Midshipmen have placed on the passing game has paid off.

Perry has completed 11 of 16 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns, posting an impressive 243.35 efficiency rating. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound senior had his best game throwing the ball on Saturday, connecting on 5 of 7 attempts for 151 yards and two scores.

“We’ve got to be able to throw the ball like that. People are pretty aggressive up the field and we have to be able to back them up,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said afterward. “It’s not like we’re going to be Washington State, but we have to throw the ball more and keep people honest.”

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Perry appears to be developing a special connection with slotback CJ Williams, who had three receptions for 117 yards and both touchdowns. Williams was wide-open on an inside slant route and Perry hit him in stride for a 29-yard catch and run early in the second period.

Those two hooked up again to complete the blowout with Williams getting into the clear again on a go route down the seam and Perry dropping the pass right into his arms. Williams already had a 5-yard cushion on the nearest chasing defender and never broke stride in racing 80 yards to the end zone.

That was Navy’s longest pass completion since quarterback Ricky Dobbs tossed an 85-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Greg Jones in 2010.

“I feel like the wide-open passes are a lot harder because you get really excited so you have to make sure you focus,” Williams admitted.

Post-game praise was heaped upon Perry, who is much more confident and decisive as a passer. Quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper has improved Perry’s mechanics and the ball is coming out on time and on target.

“Passing for 150 feels good. That’s what I worked on all summer. That was the weakness of my game last year. It feels good that all the practice showed up on game day,” Perry said.

Navy still has not shown a whole lot of its new run-and-shoot passing package. Against both Holy Cross and East Carolina, the Midshipmen seemed to use the traditional routes that have always been part of the play-action passing game part of the triple-option offense.

Both touchdown tosses from Perry to Williams were the result of catching the ECU secondary pushing up to support the run. Having a slotback fake blocking then release down the field has always been part of the Navy repertoire.

“I think it was just great play-calling. We recognized what they were doing and found a way to make it hurt,” Perry opined.

However, Perry did not hesitate when asked if Niumatalolo’s declaration that he was the clear-cut starting quarterback was a confidence booster.

“Coming into spring workouts, that’s when it really made the most difference. Recognizing that I am the quarterback and leader of the team,” he said. “I’m the focal point of the offense and making decisions. Knowing that and accepting that helped a lot.”

Special Change: Williams served as the punt returner instead of Springer, who handled that duty in the opener. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound speedster returned two punts with a long gain of 11 yards.

Williams previously served as the punt returner against Cincinnati last season. He had seven opportunities on Saturday, but five of Jonn Young’s punts were either downed or fair caught.

Mid Bits: Plebe Perry Olsen replaced Perry at quarterback late in the third quarter and went the rest of the way, rushing for 30 yards on 10 carries and completing a 2-yard pass to slotback Myles Fells. Olsen gained 12 yards on one run, but lost 11 yards on a sack and tackle for loss…. Reserve slotback Travis Brannan received his first career carry against East Carolina and picked up 20 yards.

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