ANNAPOLIS – John Howell averaged 9.7 yards per carry last year. Gee Gee Greene checked in at 7.8 yards a rush. Bo Snelson had a solid 5.4 yards a carry.
All three are back. So while Navy’s slotback corps will miss Aaron Santiago (8.3 yards per rush), there are a lot of options for the Midshipmen to work with at the critical position.
To delve deeper into it, here are five(ish) questions with slotbacks coach Danny O’Rourke …
1a. Gee Gee is about as established as anyone on the roster. What have you seen out of him that’s grown what he’s been able to do over the last couple years.
DOR: I think he’s grown as a leader. Over the summer and the last few days of practice, he’s starting to realize that he has a voice and that people listen to him and he can lead and can pull guys in the right direction. He’s one of those guys that if he were to choose to go and be lazy and do that, he’d pull a bunch of people to be lazy because they look up to him.
If he’s going to work hard, be on time, bust his butt and do those things, other people will do that and he’s definitely done that. He’s been a great leader for us.
1b. How long do you think it took him to find that voice?
DOR: He’s a quiet guy by nature, so it’s not easy for him to say ‘This is how we’re going to do it.’ I think he’s realized this is his last time through. This is it. We have to find a way to get it done. If he can bring other guys with him and he realizes if he can make other guys work as hard as he does, then we’ll going to be all right.
2. When Aaron Santiago was out last year, John Howell got a little more time. How much do you think those five or six starts have helped him?
DOR: It helped. He realized he could play. He’s a good player. He did some really good things in big games. He’s a hard worker. Smart football guy. He’s a great leader and great for the young guys. I think it’s helped him a ton. Obviously, we didn’t want to lose Aaron for those games, and other guys stepped up and played. I think he did, Bo did, Darius [Staten] did, some other guys had to step in and play.
3. What have you seen from Snelson so far this camp? With the whole captain issue, there was maybe a little bit of extra attention on him.
DOR: He’s the same. He’s the same as he’s been since he arrived day one. He always works hard. He always wants to be good. He always wants to do things the right way. He wants to bring other guys with him. I think he hasn’t changed. He’s the same. He doesn’t have his head down. It is what it is. He’s a leader. He’s the leader of the team and guys follow him.
4. Like you said, Staten got some time last year. How much of an advance have you seen from him since the end of last year?
DOR: Big time. He came in out of shape last year. He came in in shape this year. That’s been the biggest difference. He came ready to play, he had a great summer and did a great job in summer school. He did a great job off the field taking care of his stuff. He did a great job out here. He’s learning what to do football-wise. He’s got a chance to be really good. He has a skillset that we don’t get a lot of guys who have [it]. He’s strong, he’s fast. He’s not very tall, but he makes up for it in a lot of different areas.
5. Marcus Thomas played a lot in the return game last year. Can you see him making a bigger impact?
DOR: No question. Looking at the depth chart, the last couple days, going through special teams, I think he’s starting on just about every special team. He’s going to be a huge special teams player for us and he’s going to help us at A-back. He’s grown up a ton just in the fact he knows what to do now, not as immature. He’s always been mature and always handled himself the right way. I just think he knows what to do now.
He’s playing with great confidence. He’s not scared to make a mistake because he knows what to do. If he makes a mistake, [maybe] I didn’t do a good enough job of teaching him, but it’s something where he knows he made a mistake and he’ll get it corrected and that kind of stuff. He’s definitely going to help us.
5b. Beyond those five guys, has anyone stood out here so far?
DOR: It’s going to be up in the air. Those guys have played a lot of plays. I talked to my young guys, especially the freshmen coming in: You’re not stepping into a position where we’re not returning any starters or we don’t have any reps back. They’re going to have to pay the price and put their time in to get up to those guys when they leave. Ryan Williams[-Jenkins] did a good job for us last year and he’s had a good camp for us so far. We have some other young guys, a couple freshmen who are doing a good job.