Coach Brian Newberry stated from the moment he was hired that Navy’s offense would continue to be based on triple-option principles, but would expand to include many new elements.
Newberry hired Grant Chesnut as offensive coordinator because he was “creative” and “innovative.” Chesnut has expanded the offense to include a short passing game, quarterbacks switching seamlessly between operating under or center or out of the shotgun, and more formations and motion.
Navy’s ability to operate a more diverse attack is completely predicated on the offensive line’s ability to create openings for the running game and prevent pass rushers from disrupting the passing game.
“It all starts with us up front. If we can’t block and protect and be able to do everything we’re supposed to up front, we really won’t be able to do a lot of the different stuff Coach Chesnut wants to do,” starting center and captain Lirion Murtezi said. “We have some really tough dudes up front and a whole new mindset as far as the offensive line. We will get the job done.”
On paper, the Navy offensive line has the potential to be a team strength this season. The Midshipmen return four of five starters and several backups with game experience.
Murtezi, who started the last six games of the 2022 season at center, has emerged as the leader of the group. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound senior has led by example with his work ethic and toughness.
Ashley Ingram, now in his 16th season coaching the offensive line, believes Murtezi is due for a breakout season.
“I would expect Lirion to take a big step forward this season. We really need him to do that,” Ingram said.
Sam Glover started 11 of 12 games at left tackle last season and graded fairly well. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound senior has shifted to right tackle to replace Kip Frankland, the lone starter lost to graduation.
Ingram, who now holds the title of assistant head coach after previously being the running game coordinator, believes Glover has yet to reach his full potential.
“Sam has played a lot of football. He’s got some length and can run. I think he’s taken a huge step from where he was in spring ball. He has more energy,” Ingram said.
Glover, who has appeared in 21 total games, did not hesitate when asked what he needed to improve upon.
“Effort. Just giving more of myself and not holding back. Working harder and pushing harder than ever before,” he said. “Being dead tired after practice is the goal for all of us.”
Sort of the unsung hero of the offensive line is Josh Pena, another senior entering his third season as starting right guard. Pena (6-2, 278) has 20 career starts under his belt and is the most experienced member of the unit.
Fellow offensive linemen praise Pena for providing pointers on techniques and helping them correct mistakes. Ingram said the Arizona native ranks alongside Murtezi as a veteran leader the other linemen look up to.
Ingram and Chesnut, who are coaching the offensive line together, believe left tackle Connor McMahon can blossom into an All-American Athletic Conference performer. The 6-foot-3, 279-pound junior emerged as an effective blocker last season while starting the last 10 games at left guard.
Ingram said McMahon is talented and versatile enough to play all five positions along the offensive line. Tall and rangy with long arms, the Pennsylvania native added weight and strength during the offseason.
“Our expectations for Connor are super-high. He’s a very talented, athletic and tough kid,” Ingram said.
Ingram said McMahon has been impressive during preseason camp and sees the second-year starter getting better with every practice.
“If Connor wants to take his game to the next level it’s all about the little details,” Ingram said. “Being more precise with his footwork, doing a better job with hands, playing with better pad level — those types of things.”
At this point, it appears the new member of the offensive line is sophomore Ben Purvis, who has been getting the first team practice repetitions at left guard. Purvis, a product of Bishop Carroll Catholic in Kansas, did not see any varsity action as a plebe.
Ingram described Purvis (6-3, 293) as a “big, physical kid” who is “very conscientious and works hard,” and further developed while attending the Naval Academy Prep School.
Midway through preseason camp, Ingram likes what he sees out of the starting offensive line and believes the Mids are developing chemistry and cohesion within the unit.
“It’s a great group of guys that is very unselfish, which is typical of offensive linemen,” he said. “They’ve embraced the changes and all the new things we’re doing. They’re working hard, plugging away and trying to get better. We’re looking for guys we can win with and depend upon.”
Junior Javan Bouton, who was listed atop the depth chart at left guard following camp, is back competing at that spot after auditioning at center. Ingram said Bouton and sophomore Alistair Larson are both in the mix for playing time at guard.
Junior Brent Self seems to have solidified the backup center job, while classmate Trey Cummings and sophomore Greyson Crawford are battling to be the first tackle off the bench. Ingram said a pair of plebes — Hoke Smith and Cam Nichols — have caught the coaching staff’s attention.
“Everything is a competition and everything is a work in progress. We shuffle guys around to make sure we’re ready for any scenario that could happen in a game,” Ingram said. “We’re trying to figure out how we get the best five on the field and how we get the right guys in the right places.”
Chesnut has brought a renewed emphasis on fundamentals as he teaches the offensive linemen some new blocking schemes and techniques. McMahon said there are eight practice periods per day in which the linemen work exclusively on footwork.
Ingram has said many times that agility and mobility are prerequisites of playing offensive line for Navy. To succeed as a triple-option offense, the Midshipmen need the men in the trenches to be explosive coming off the football and extremely physical at the point of attack. It all starts with being in superb physical condition and possessing tremendous stamina.
“We play a different style of offense. These guys have to strain their bodies and run a lot. There’s a ton of physical contact. It’s not natural what we ask them to do,” Ingram said. “And we want them to do it play after play after play. We need all these guys to potentially play 70 snaps like that and we want to be able to win in the fourth quarter. That is why we’re pushing them hard and demanding a lot.”