Part of a position-by-position look at Navy football this spring
NAVY DEFENSIVE LINE
Starters returning (0): None of Navy’s three primary starters are back
Other notable returnees: DE Wes Henderson (26 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 3 starts), NG Alex Doolittle (3 tackles, 2 starts), DE Josh Dowling-Fitzpatrick (10 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 0.5 sack, 2 starts)
Starters lost (3): DE Jabaree Tuani (graduation; 52 tackles, 13 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 12 starts), NG Jared Marks (graduation; 24 tackles, 10 starts), DE Joshua Jones (left program; 25 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 5 starts)
Other notable departures: DE Jamel Dobbs (left academy; 18 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 3 starts)
Emerging names to know: DE Collin Sturdivant (senior; 3 tackles, 1 sack), DE Ryan Paulson (senior; 2 tackles, 0.5 TFL), DE Dan Ring (sophomore), DE Evan Palelei (junior), NG Barry Dabney (junior), NG Drew Kinsella (junior)
Career starts returning: 7 (Henderson 3, Doolittle 2, Dowling-Fitzpatrick 2)
Career starts lost: 65 (Tuani 47, Marks 10, Jones 5, Dobbs 3)
So, who exactly are these guys?
It’s the question of the spring for the Navy defense, and will probably be the question of the summer as well regardless of how things unfold over the next few weeks.
The key for Navy will be making sure it isn’t the question of the fall.
The loss of Jabaree Tuani changes things quite a bit. Both coach Ken Niumatalolo and defensive line coach Dale Pehrson said at junctures last season that Tuani was the best defensive lineman to come through the program while they’ve been a part of it.
So there needs to be some acceptance the Midshipmen won’t just plug someone in and be merrily on their way. Players of Tuani’s caliber aren’t just sitting around the academy, and it will be tougher for Navy to bring down guys behind the line of scrimmage next season.
The other defensive end spot rotated among four players last season, with no returnee holding onto a starting gig for more than three straight games. Joshua Jones‘ decision to give up the sport before spring ball takes away Navy’s second-most experienced defensive end.
Things aren’t any more established inside, where Alex Doolittle had extended time only when the graduated Jared Marks was either suspended or injured. Navy moved offensive lineman Travis Bridges over to compete at nose guard, a sign there is an active search for answers along the defensive line.
It would be ideal to have a couple solutions solidified before August camp. Regardless, there will be some uncertainty with such an untested bunch until there are actual games played.
For now, it’s an entirely anonymous unit. Whether that’s an ominous sign or merely just a reflection of a group that collectively has not received many extended opportunities remains to be seen. Navy won’t know for sure by next month. It will, one way or another, in September and October.
—- Patrick Stevens