A recent conversation with Navy outside linebackers coach Tony Grantham, who breaks in two new starters (seniors Jarred Shannon and Mason Graham) at a position that’s looked a bit like a revolving door the last few years:
Q: How far has Jarred Shannon come? I know he’s had a lot of injuries along the way.
Grantham: Jarred is a guy, we moved him to outside linebacker a couple years ago. He had some injury issues. He’s always a guy [where] we were trying to find a way to get him on the field. The thing was we couldn’t keep him healthy. We got him fixed and then he hurt his other arm. He got behind the eight ball a little bit there.
His work ethic has been tremendous. He’s overcome a lot. He’s a great student of the game because he’s had to switch positions. Now, he’s in a position where he’s been in the room a couple years and is very comfortable. He’s a leader by example. He’s very serious in meetings. He has a good time with the guys, but he’s a guy the young guys can really look up to and respect because he’s overcome so many obstacles to get to where he is right now.
Q: Where he’s at right now, given the history of the position where you have new guys come in, play a year and then new guys come in again, can you see him having a similar sort of impact as some of the guys we’ve seen the last few years?
Grantham: I can. He has the skillset we’re looking for at that position. He’s athletic enough. He can cover receivers. He can cover running backs out of the backfield. He’s physical enough to play on tight ends and to be able to take on fullbacks and that kind of thing. We’re really expecting big things out of him.
The position itself is one that when we’ve had success on defense, we’ve been able to have success and make big plays at that position with some of the guys we’ve had in the past.
Q: What do you think has been conducive about having guys cycled in? Is there something about the spot or has it just been the quality of the guys you’ve been able to plug in?
Grantham: I think it’s the quality of the guys we’ve been fortunate enough to recruit. A lot of them have played other positions and we’ve labeled them as guys that we think are difference-makers. Coach [Buddy] Green does a great job with the defense of scheming, trying to put our best players in a position to be successful. [Shannon]’s one of our better players on defense, and that’s what we’re trying to do right now.
Q: Mason Graham, maybe not the same surgery history as Shannon, but otherwise his career arc isn’t that dissimilar. What do you see from him heading into the year?
Grantham: Mason is a fighter. He has fought for everything he’s gotten here. He’s a guy that started on special teams a couple years ago and has worked his way into the rotation a little bit last year and played a few snaps for us in scrimmage downs.
He’s a guy whose motor is non-stop. He’s relentless in his pursuit of the ball. He takes coaching very well. You correct a mistake and he goes out there and he listens to what you tell him. He’s really a student of the game as well.
Q: Among the reserves, what sort of guys stand out to you?
Grantham: We’re really fortunate this year. We have a young group that we’re really, really excited about. I think as a whole, this could be a group that could special, not only this year, but in years to come. Keegan Wetzel is a guy who could play either side of the ball. Brye French, he’s a lacrosse player who comes out in the fall and plays with us, is an unbelievable football player as well. We have a couple young kids who are coming. Cody Peterson is the one who comes to mind that we think has a chance. A huge upside on all these guys.
Q: Do you view it as becoming a significant rotation throughout the season?
Grantham: It’s going to have to be. With the schedule we play, we’re going to have to get more guys than one or two out there and getting multiple guys a chance to get on the field and keep fresh legs. Just keep throwing guys at people, trying to wear them down and physically always have a fresh guy in the game.