College Football

Navy football captain John Marshall says the Midshipmen have a ‘no-name’ defense | NOTES

Diego Fagot was the dominant figure for the Navy football defense for three seasons. The standout inside linebacker was a three-time All-American Athletic Conference selection.

Fagot graduated and is currently in training camp with the Baltimore Ravens.


Meanwhile, the Midshipmen lost another marquee defender in Michael McMorris, a four-year starter at cornerback. McMorris earned an invitation to the rookie/free agent minicamp of the Washington Commanders.

Navy has a large contingent of returning players on defense, but is lacking the star power Fagot and McMorris brought. Starting outside linebacker and captain John Marshall has seized upon the fact the unit does not have any recognizable names — even within the AAC.


“We’re kind of a no-name defense, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to play like a no-name defense. I think by the end of the season we’ll all have a name,” said Marshall, a third-year starter at striker.

Defensive coordinator Brian Newberry agreed, believing there are several defenders who could make a name for themself before all is said and done.

Marshall is a multi-talented player who will be featured and asked to do more things this season. Nicholas Straw, a returning starter at the other hybrid outside linebacker position known as raider, is capable of a breakout senior season.

Newberry believes junior nose guard Donald Berniard Jr. is vastly underrated and sophomore safety Rayuan Lane has a chance to become an impact player after gaining valuable experience in 2021.

“There’s no preseason all-conference players. That doesn’t mean we won’t have some at the end of the season,” Newberry said. “I think we have a lot of good players. We’re just a bunch of guys who have a chip on the shoulder. I think they care more about winning than individual accolades.”

Navy has five full-time returning starters on defense in Berniard, Marshall, Straw, Lane and end Jacob Busic. However, six more Midshipmen started games last season and seven more saw significant action.

“We have a lot of guys coming back who played a lot of meaningful snaps,” Newberry said. “We’ve seen a lot of progress from the end of last season to now with regard to the size, speed and strength of our players.”

Navy linebacker Nicholas Straw is going to be looked upon as one of the leaders of the team's defense this season.

Defensive leaders

Marshall was the lone defensive player voted a team captain. Newberry believes the Highland resident was an ideal choice for that role.

Marshall started 20 games the past two seasons and totaled 116 tackles, including nine for loss. Newberry said he is one of the team’s most improved players going into August camp.

“I think John’s teammates voted for him because of the way he carries himself and the work he’s put in. The guys just have a lot of respect for him,” Newberry said. “John doesn’t talk a ton, but when he speaks, guys listen. He’s just been a solid, steady guy throughout his whole career. He’s a guy that comes to work every day and sets a good example for the other players.”

Straw may not hold the title of captain, but Newberry considers him a consummate leader on par with Marshall. He’s made 15 career starts and sets a fine example for the younger players in all areas.

“I think the guys certainly look at Nick like he is a captain,” Newberry said. “I don’t think we have a player on our team with a better work ethic, a better attitude and is as tough as Nick Straw.”

Marshall and Straw are the only senior starters on defense. Raider Max Sandlin and safety Josh Adams are the only other seniors listed on the three-deep.

Navy safety Rayuan Lane defends against Cincinnati during the second half of a game last season.

Impact player?

Newberry was asked recently which Navy defender was so talented and versatile they could be utilized in a variety of ways — a Swiss army knife so to speak.

Newberry felt Lane best fit the description and mentioned he will be used in a variety of roles as well. The Gilman School graduate was pressed into a starting role at free safety as a plebe due to the season-ending injury of senior Kevin Brennan and just got better as the season went along.

“From an athletic ability standpoint, Ray Lane can do a lot of things. He’s a guy you can move around a lot,” Newberry said.

Lane recorded 37 tackles and finished tied for second on the squad with four pass breakups. The Jessup resident made plenty of mistakes along the way and sometimes got caught out of position.


“Like a lot of young guys, Ray is still learning. However, his football knowledge has grown tremendously from having played meaningful snaps and having gone through spring camp,” Newberry said.

Navy defensive coordinator Brian Newberry, right, works with the defense during warmups before a game Oct. 9 against SMU.

Points of emphasis

Newberry has talked a lot about developing Navy defenders into “four-dimensional” performers.

According to the fourth-year defensive coordinator, a one-dimensional player only knows his own responsibilities, while a two-dimensional player also knows the assignments for those positions around him. An individual who develops a thorough understanding of the entire defense reaches the third dimension.

Newberry said Navy needs more defenders to move into the fourth dimension, which means they can recognize or anticipate what the offense wants to do in certain situations.

“We had a lot of one- and two-dimensional players last season and a handful of threes, but not many fours,” Newberry said.

Newberry has not been pleased with the “situational awareness” of the Midshipmen the past two seasons. He said too many members of the defense did not understand the difference between third and short, third and medium and third and long.


Newberry cited first down efficiency and third down effectiveness as particular areas that must improve this season.

“We want to give up three yards or less on first down around 65% of the time and we didn’t do that. We also weren’t very good on third and medium,” he said. “We have to be more disruptive in the early downs. That’s been a major focus this offseason. We need to get teams in third-and-long more often.”

Navy linebacker Tyler Fletcher covers his ground against SMU during the second half of last season's game.

Close competition

One of the better battles during preseason camp has come at the Will inside linebacker position between sophomores Tyler Fletcher and Colin Ramos.

Fletcher started four games and finished sixth on the team with 47 tackles. Fletcher bulked up during the offseason and now checks in at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. Ramos started the last two games of the season and was impressive.


Finding a home

Matthew Peters was recruited as a quarterback out of Cairo High in Florala, Alabama. He was switched to cornerback after not seeing any varsity action as a freshman or sophomore.

Peters seems to have found a niche as a defensive player and opened preseason camp atop the depth chart at boundary corner.

Newberry loves the length and overall athleticism of Peters, who is still learning on the job.

“I’m excited by the ability of Matthew Peters. He’s got a long way to go, but has all the tools we want at that position,” Newberry said.