- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

When Navy football coach Paul Johnson met with members of the media last week to discuss the Midshipmen’s upcoming spring practice, the first few questions were inevitably about last season’s most prominent figure.

Former starting quarterback and co-captain Lamar Owens was charged last month with rape, indecent assault and conduct unbecoming an officer, and this was the first time Johnson addressed the situation.

“I would tend to wait and see what happens,” Johnson said. “Everybody wants to get to the bottom of it and to have the truth come out. If [Owens] is guilty, he’ll be punished. If not, hopefully he can move on.”

When the team opens spring practice today, it will be a chance to move forward and focus on football. After entering the 2005 season with new faces and questions, the 2006 team will be quite the opposite.

The Mids return 18 starters and 38 lettermen from a 2005 squad that went 8-4 and blasted Colorado State 51-30 in the Poinsettia Bowl. There will be a few key players missing during the spring. Fullback Matt Hall and slotback Karlos Whittaker are rehabbing torn knee ligaments. Offensive tackle Joe Person and defensive back Greg Sudderth will not participate because of shoulder ailments.

The biggest story line of the spring will be the competition to replace Owens at quarterback. Senior Brian Hampton, who saw action as Owens’ backup in every game last season, leads a contingent of youthful signal callers.

Among the other candidates are junior Troy Goss, who struggled with injuries last season, and sophomores Jarrod Bryant, Joe Taylor and Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who saw playing time at wide receiver in 2005.

“We’ll have to see. Two weeks into the spring, we’ll have an idea of the separation,” Johnson said.

The Mids need to find replacements at left tackle and one at each of the defensive end, inside linebacker and wide receiver positions. With Whittaker out and Marco Nelson graduating, one of the slotback spots is open. Hall’s absence will let the coaches see more of the young fullbacks behind him and Adam Ballard.

Given the recent success and amount of returning experience, expectations will be higher than at any time in Johnson’s five seasons.

“I would rather go in with high expectations than no expectations, but that’s just what they are — expectations,” Johnson said. “This team hasn’t won a game.”

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