- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2011

ANNAPOLIS Shawn Lynch’s first game action at free safety will come Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Well, maybe not his first. But it’ll be awfully close.

“I played a little bit in high school - third-and-longs at safety, so I kind of knew a little bit about coverages,” the Navy sophomore said this week.

He knows a lot more now.

The receiver-turned-safety is one of nine expected starters on defense who started no more than twice a year ago for the Midshipmen, who play host to Delaware in their season opener. Few have come as far, or as quick, as the Pelham, Ala., native.

Navy’s defense was especially depleted in the secondary after last season. Veterans Kevin Edwards and Wyatt Middleton graduated, while De’Von Richardson was dismissed from the academy. There were few certainties remaining on the depth chart.

It prompted coach Ken Niumatalolo and defensive coordinator Buddy Green to look to the other side of the ball. Lynch played four snaps over two games as a plebe, and Niumatalolo felt comfortable with the Mids’ veteran options at wide receiver.

“He’s a guy we talked about after last season,” Green said. “With our depth and the number of guys in the secondary, he was a guy we could move in and not depend solely on a freshman to come in and play. We made the move, and it was a good move for us.”

Lynch didn’t resist the change, knowing he could see the field more quickly. But initially, it was predictably rocky. The undefined roles in the secondary meant everyone - even returning starter Kwesi Mitchell - tried to figure things out in the spring as the unit’s wholesale changes were sorted out.

A summer of film study and workouts prepared Lynch for the chance to make a push in camp. He opened the preseason as the backup free safety and soon worked his way into a starting gig.

The transition caught the attention of Mitchell, who will start at rover Saturday after spending most of his junior season at cornerback.

“He’s adjusted really fast,” Mitchell said. “I guess the system is forcing him to grow up really fast. Sometimes it takes guys a year, maybe a year and a half to get a grasp of safety. He’s done it basically in about three or four months.”

Some of Lynch’s skills as a wide receiver transferred easily enough. The quick 6-foot, 188-pounder can cover plenty of range, and the need for Navy’s wideouts to block effectively suggested Lynch could handle the physical components of the position.

Every now and then, though, Lynch could channel his old position, much to the benefit of the Mids.

“He’s still able to go up and catch balls and jump,” Mitchell said. “He looks just like a wide receiver out there still.”

The Mids just need him to be a solid safety, and a solid camp suggests he’ll be just that. Lynch credits teammates for helping him with a smooth shift that’s landed him a prominent role earlier than even he would have predicted.

“It was pretty exciting because I really wasn’t expecting to start, but I am,” Lynch said. “I’m pretty happy. I just want to make the best of it.”