- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2003

ANNAPOLIS — More important to the Navy football team than returning seven offensive starters or a senior quarterback who produced seven touchdowns against Army last year is the return of a system.

For the first time in any current Midshipman’s varsity career, the coach and both coordinators return for consecutive seasons. For a senior class that is 3-30 and without a victory on its home field, familiarity is a good start.

Coach Paul Johnson, coming off a 2-10 record in his first season in Annapolis, doubles as the offensive coordinator, returning his triple-option offense that averaged more than 24 points last year — a touchdown more than in 2001. Buddy Green presides over a defense officially switching to a 3-4 this season, though the transformation began in the middle of last year.

Five games into the season, the Mids were allowing an average of 271 rushing yards a game. In the sixth game, a 17-10 loss to Rice, the coaching staff began looking for ways to get its best athletes on the field by replacing a lineman with a quicker linebacker or defensive back. Though results didn’t come immediately, the Mids allowed an average of 139.5 rushing yards in the final four games, including 68 against Notre Dame in a game Navy led by eight with 4 minutes to play before falling 30-23.

“The new defense gets more speed on the field,” said junior Lane Jackson, one of many linebackers who are expected to see action this season. “We’re rolling along from last year. This year’s just a continuation.”

The 5-foot-11, 213-pound Jackson is a prime beneficiary of the speed-oriented defense. Despite being undersized at his position, Jackson came on strong at season’s end, including an 11-tackle effort against the Fighting Irish.

Adding to the team speed is a class of freshmen ready to make an immediate impact. Johnson expects to dress at least a dozen of them for Saturday’s opener against Virginia Military Institute, with more than half likely to see significant action. The freshmen are most prominent in the secondary, where cornerback Keenan Little and free safety Kevin Newsome have worked their way up to second on the depth chart.

But the revamped defense will rely on its core of linebackers to be the playmakers. If the Mids can use their speed to keep opponents from running wild on the outside, they stand a chance at stopping the rush up the middle.

One of the keys to that containment is senior co-captain Eddie Carthan. Like Jackson, Carthan’s 5-11, 218-pound frame does not fit the Division I-A linebacker blueprint, yet he was a defensive catalyst last season when he led the Mids with eight tackles for losses and three fumble recoveries. He provides the Mids with experience and depth at the position.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve had a different defense every year,” said Carthan. “Every season you can see that we get better on defense as the year goes on, but then the very next year we would switch to something else and then we would start all over again.”

Senior quarterback Craig Candeto knows plenty about starting over. He initially learned an option-based offense under former coach Charlie Weatherbie. In his sophomore season, Candeto adopted a spread offense under then-offensive coordinator Mark Hudspeth. That offense was shelved last season and he had to learn Johnson’s triple option in his first season as starter.

Early on, the offensive results were as expected: 19 lost fumbles through seven games and a lone win over Southern Methodist. The offense improved in the final five games, losing four fumbles, and had a breakthrough in the finale against Army.

A season of growing pains was temporarily eased as Candeto led Navy to a record-setting 58-12 victory over the Black Knights. The Mids’ point total was the most in series history, with Candeto rushing for a school-record six touchdowns and passing for another. With that victory to build on, Candeto enters his final season in Annapolis learning the intricacies of an offense instead of its basic concepts.

The same is true in the backfield, where last season’s top four running backs return. With junior fullbacks Michael Brimmage and Kyle Eckel nursing injuries, senior Bronston Carroll is the favorite to start at that position. Carroll played in seven games last year as a slotback but did not get a carry.

But Johnson believes a little familiarity will go a long way.

“Last year, especially early, we had four or five basic plays that we ran, and if we needed to make a little tweak here or a little tweak there, sometimes it would blow peoples’ minds,” Johnson said. “This year I think the guys that have played have a good enough understanding that it’s easier to adjust.”

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