Aug. 10, 2012
By Bob Socci
We are who we are. We do what we do.
Those two sentences have been repeated the last decade around Annapolis in the voices of two head coaches, their assistants and even many of their players. Each is a reminder serving as a safeguard, ensuring that the Navy Midshipmen don't ever experience a case of mistaken identity.
What Navy has been, while enjoying eight winning seasons in 10 years under Paul Johnson and Ken Niumatalolo, is a team succeeding largely on toughness and discipline. What the Mids have done is continually frustrate opponents with a run-first option offense and a defense to complement it, shortening games by limiting possessions.
Don't expect that to change this fall. But while the Mids aren't about to abandon what they do best, there are times this season they'll likely to do it a bit differently.
In recent years, the most obvious way Navy altered its M.O. on offense, without betraying its fundamental self, was by eschewing a huddle. Still, since the Mids first did so vs. Missouri in the 2009 Texas Bowl, they haven't foolishly tried to reinvent the K-Gun of the Jim Kelly-led Buffalo Bills or emulate the fast-break Oregon Ducks of Chip Kelly.
They've continued to march downfield to their own beat. For them, the no-huddle isn't necessarily a hurry-up.
To the contrary, it's meant to allow for more rather than less time. After each down, coordinator Ivin Jasper calls the next play from the press box, as Navy proceeds directly to the new line of scrimmage. Surveying the defensive alignment, Jasper then communicates any necessary audibles to the quarterback -- relayed via signals from assistant Mike Judge on the sideline -- before the play clock expires.
A year ago at Rutgers, the Mids introduced another adjustment in plain sight. For the first time under either Johnson or Niumatalolo, with exception of a pooch punt at South Carolina last September, Navy's quarterback stood in shotgun formation.
On 3rd-and-15 from the Scarlet Knights' 44-yard line, Kriss Proctor gathered in the snap and, as a lefty rolling right, connected with Gee Gee Greene for a 27-yard gain. For a quarterback far more adept at running than passing, it was arguably the most impressive of Proctor's 52 completions overall.
It was also one of the few instances the Mids of 2011 set up in the so-called gun.
Preparing for this season, however, they have a quarterback in Trey Miller who represents a consistent threat to throw. His dozen completions last year averaged 17-plus yards. In relief against East Carolina, he struck for scores on passes covering 59 and 37 yards.
True to Navy's recent past, Miller still figures to start most plays by meshing with the fullback, then going from there; to either hand the ball off, pitch it to a slot back or keep it himself. Again, the triple option is what the Mids do.
But with Miller, much like when Ricky Dobbs was here, Navy's offense truly features a fourth dimension. And to take advantage of it, the Mids are expected to make more use of the shotgun in 2012. They've certainly invested both travel and time in it during the past offseason and current preseason.
Navy's staff studied how other teams -- specifically those using variations of the spread-option offense prevalent today in college football -- use the shotgun. Assistant Ashley Ingram visited Michigan, while colleagues met with counterparts from BYU.
"We're going to try to expand a little bit more," Niumatalolo said last Saturday. "I think it will help us in the passing game from a protection standpoint, having the quarterback further back."
Eliminating a few steps of a drop back buys a quarterback an extra second or two in the face of a pass rush. It also gives opponents a lot more to think about, long before the ball is snapped.
"The main thing is we want to do what we do, and not get away from it," says Jasper, invoking a familiar thought. "At the same time, being able to get in the gun and being able to do some things is going to make people prepare for that...It will help us to be more effective and harder to defend."
"The thing I realize watching someone like Oregon, they beat you with volume and the (number of) things that they do," Niumatalolo explains, recognizing that the Ducks swim swiftly, despite pulling a larger play book than most. "I wouldn't mind doing that ourselves."
As if opponents aren't already challenged enough, trying to prepare in one week for an uncommon offense like Navy's, they now have something else to account for.
"We present problems for people because of our option game, and hopefully we can keep that the same," Niumatalolo says. "You've got to prepare for the option (and) you've got to prepare for elements of the gun."
Meanwhile, Jasper is also giving Miller and his fellow quarterbacks more to consider. Too often in 2011, when opposing defenders counteracted Jasper's audibles with adjustments of their own, the Mids were at a loss.
"What people started doing was wait until we check, then they'd switch (their alignment)," he said. "Our quarterbacks didn't know (if we) wanted them to change the play, because they were just so used to us calling the plays from the box. We got caught a couple of times like that last year where we didn't get in the right play."
Jasper wants Miller et al to recognize those last-second shifts, and act accordingly. Consider it a system of checks and balances, giving the quarterback final say over the coordinator.
"If defenses change on us, (Trey) has to get us in the right play," Jasper stresses with a snap of his fingers. "If you see something, bam! Get us in the right play."
The best way is by seeing that something before it happens.
"We give him a lot of tests," Jasper says of Miller. "Not so much the stuff that I write down; it's visual. Sometimes we'll just sit there and talk. (I'll say,) `Close your eyes, let's see the game, what they're lined up in.' He has to be able to see it.
"During the game he's on the sideline (and) I'm in the box. When we talk, I'm not down there with a (chalk) board. We have to be able to visualize everything. A lot of that on him will be visual. Visual, visual, visual. He has to be able to see, because when he gets in the game, that's it. I'm really big this fall with him on making everything visual, and him telling me what he sees."
All that being said, the rest of us will ultimately see once again -- huddle or not, regardless of formation -- that the more the Mids change, the more they'll stay the same.