Part of a position-by-position look at Navy football this spring
Starters returning (3): ILB Matt Warrick (103 tackles, 4 TFL. 1 sack, 12 starts), ILB Matt Brewer (61 tackles, 2 TFL, 4 forced fumbles, 10 starts), OLB Brye French (56 tackles, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 9 starts)
Other notable returnees: OLB Keegan Wetzel (6 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 start)
Starters lost (0): None; OLB Tra’ves Bush shifts back to safety
Other notable departures: ILB Caleb King (graduation; 31 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 2 starts), OLB Jarred Shannon (graduation; 28 tackles, 1 TFL, 3 starts), OLB Mason Graham (graduation; 11 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 starts), ILB Max Blue (graduation; 6 tackles)
Emerging names to know: OLB Jordan Drake (sophomore), OLB Josh Tate (sophomore), OLB Obi Uzoma (sophomore, ILB John Michael Nurthen (senior)
Career starts returning: 35 (Warrick 14, Brewer 10, French 9, Wetzel 2)
Career starts lost: 16 (King 6, Blue 5, Shannon 3, Graham 2)
Instead of virtually no certainties at linebacker, as was the case last spring, Navy has the middle of its 3-4 effectively figured out already.
Granted, what combination of Matt Brewer, Matt Warrick and Brye French (the latter of whom was moved from the outside entering spring ball) ultimately winds up starting Sept. 1 is still to be determined. Warrick, the Midshipmen’s leading tackler, probably will get the nod at one of the spots. French, the defensive captain, and Brewer are listed at the other.
Regardless of how that shakes out, Navy has some established options on the inside.
The outside is less certain, but curiously every bit as promising.
There was a sense of optimism throughout last season about Jordan Drake, who was immediately a stalwart on special teams and will likely step into a larger role if he remains healthy as a sophomore. That Navy has listed a guy with four career tackles as a starter speaks both to his talent and the lack of experience at the position, but arguably more the former than the latter.
On the other side, Keegan Wetzel remains an interesting possibility. He earned his first career start in September when Jarred Shannon’s tough luck continued. Yet Wetzel suffered a concussion, opening the door for the Mids to get creative and shift Tra’ves Bush to an outside linebacker spot and go with nickel personnel (if not technically a typical approach with five defensive backs on the field) for much of the second half of the season.
Bush is back in the secondary, and that means some of Navy’s younger linebackers have an extra spot to fill. As usual, the Mids will plug-and-play at outside linebacker until they figure out the best combination. That certainly means the likes of Josh Tate, Obi Uzoma and even converted quarterback Jarvis Cummings could earn a shot.
Even with those possibilities, Navy isn’t quite in the same search for answers this spring as last. The 2011 team returned all of 11 starts at linebacker. With three established seniors back, the puzzle probably won’t be quite as challenging to figure out in the spring.