- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 17, 2009

In the aftermath of Navy’s euphoric victory over Air Force two weeks ago emerged a legitimate problem. The Midshipmen’s top three nose guards suffered injuries against the Falcons, and Navy’s staff wasn’t sure whether any would be able to play the next week.

So midway through practice last week, defensive coordinator Buddy Green asked defensive ends Mike Walsh and Billy Yarborough to fill in at the position. Undersized but still one of Navy’s strongest players, Walsh (6-foot-2, 251 pounds) stood out against Rice, repeatedly collapsing the pocket and getting a tip on a red-zone pass.

It was just another week of the kind of lineup shuffling that Navy (4-2) has been forced into on defense this year. Navy’s staff was so impressed by Walsh’s performance that he likely will again be featured heavily at the position Saturday against SMU (3-2).

“Our mentality is just do what [the coaches] tell you and let everyone be successful,” Walsh said. “They always tell you to just do your job; whatever your job is that week, you just deal with it.”

That attitude has provided Green a flexibility he has needed when planning for Navy’s opponents all year.

The losses started in the preseason, when senior nose guard Nate Frazier was expelled. His replacements - Chase Burge, Jordan Stephens, Shane Bothel and now Walsh and Yarborough - have filled in ably. Navy could afford to move Walsh and Yarborough because of the standout play of sophomore defensive end Jabaree Tuani, who has become the Mids’ most disruptive lineman.

“I’m really pleased with our D-line,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We were really concerned when we lost Nate. He was our best player, a true nose guard, but our defense has played great this season.”

Injuries started to mount during the Mids’ Sept. 19 game at Pittsburgh. Starting outside linebackers Clint Sovie and Ram Vela left that game and missed the following week. In need of a pair of sure tacklers, Green moved safety Wyatt Middleton to outside linebacker.

Navy’s defense was back at full strength against Air Force, and the Mids had their most impressive showing of the season - holding the Falcons’ offense out of the end zone. Then the nose guards went down, and Green was back in reshuffle mode.

Through it all, the Mids have accepted their assignments.

“We have that training back from the hall and school, that military training to do whatever it takes to get it done,” Middleton said. “If you have to change something, do what you have to do, but make sure you get the job done. That’s kinda how we go about it.”

The Mids have seen better results than they did two years ago in a similar situation when injuries forced Middleton and Co. into action as freshmen. They bottomed out that year against North Texas, a pass-first team similar to SMU, when the Mids gave up 478 yards and eight touchdowns through the air in a wild 74-62 victory.

This year, however, Green and his staff are better equipped to handle the constant lineup changes.

“Coach Green has done a great job with it,” Middleton said. “He’s working with what he has because of injuries, but he’s still setting people up to be in the right position and make plays.”