- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 3, 2005

The raw numbers put Navy’s task of repeating last season’s 10-2 season into perspective.

The Midshipmen must replace 85 percent of the production from the nation’s third-best rushing attack. Returning players account for six of the team’s 41 touchdowns, and one of those was Mick Yokitis’ fumble recovery in the end zone. A departed slotback (Frank Divis) completed as many passes (two) as new starting quarterback Lamar Owens.

There are many questions for the Mids, who open the season tonight against Maryland at Baltimore’s M&T; Bank Stadium, most notably an entirely new offensive backfield. It might be called a rebuilding year except coach Paul Johnson dismisses questions that include the “R” word.

“I just look at it as another season. I don’t look at anything as rebuilding or maintaining,” Johnson said. “Every team is different. This is just another season. It wouldn’t be fair to tell 19 seniors that it’s a rebuilding year, would it? I hope they don’t think like that.”

Filling in the blanks on offense is tricky because of Johnson’s option offense. How a defense decides to play the option will determine the number of touches for players. Quarterback Aaron Polanco had 33 carries against Rice last year but only seven against Rutgers.

Owens doesn’t have to replicate Polanco’s more than 2,000 yards of total offense for the Mids to be successful, but he does need to match Polanco’s option-reading expertise. And he must keep turnovers to a minimum.

“I don’t have to do anything too spectacular for us to win,” Owens said. “I’ve just got to do what I’ve been doing out here on the practice field for the past three years and do it right. … One of [quarterbacks] Coach [Ivin] Jasper’s biggest quotes is, ‘Just put us in position to win the game. You don’t have the win the game for us. Just don’t lose it.’ ”

Neither Matt Hall nor Adam Ballard is expected to make up for the departure of star fullback Kyle Eckel, but they — with possibly some help from Trey Hines — will need to make opposing defenses respect the dive. They will be expected to gain tough yards, help keep the offense out of third-and-long situations and wear down defenses.

“These guys need to embrace the mantle that is the fullback position in this offense, and that’s what is required and what is expected of them,” fullbacks coach Chris Culton said. “When they do, this is going to be awesome. We’ve got some great guys who have the potential to be great fullbacks, but none of them have gotten significant playing time.”

The Mids will depend on big plays from slotbacks Marco Nelson and Reggie Campbell and wideout Jason Tomlinson, who are among the Mids’ most explosive players and dangerous in open space.

There also are some wild cards. Hines could see time at both fullback and slotback. Freshman wide receiver Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada and junior slotback Eddie Martin are converted quarterbacks and provide Johnson with interesting options for his deep bag of trick plays. The Mids did not resort to trickery often last year, but Johnson is never afraid of utilizing the unconventional.

While the Mids’ schedule appears to be tougher with the inclusion of Maryland and Stanford and the absence of Division I-AA teams, they don’t face an opponent that finished above .500 last season. However, Maryland, Stanford, Notre Dame, Air Force and Army all are expected to be better.

“We just need to play hard every snap,” inside linebacker Rob Caldwell said. “We’re a little smaller than most teams. We’re not the best athletes, but we have to outwork everyone. That’s how we win games here.”

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