- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

ANNAPOLIS, Md. | The practice field isn’t the best place to determine Navy has limited experience returning in the secondary. Instead, position meetings provide the best glimpse of how raw the Midshipmen really are in the defensive backfield. That’s when all eyes turn to cornerback Kwesi Mitchell.

“In the room when a question arises, people look to him for answers because he’s the only one who’s really played back there,” senior Gary Myers said.

Mitchell started every game a year ago as the Midshipmen enjoyed a 9-4 season. But safety Wyatt Middleton and cornerback Kevin Edwards graduated, taking with them a combined 81 career starts. Then safety De’Von Richardson was dismissed from the academy, leaving Navy with just one returning starter.

This spring functions as a bit of a transition. Edwards and Middleton are still at Navy practices as student assistants, providing guidance whenever possible. However, the safety net will soon disappear, a reality Mitchell is well-aware of.

“They’ve been around for it seems like forever,” Mitchell said. “Since I started prep school, they’ve been leading us since they were freshmen. It’s really big shoes to fill, but somebody has to do it.”

It falls to Mitchell by default.

Cornerback David Wright started just one game last fall, a one-game cameo at Louisiana Tech. Tra’ves Bush is an early co-starter at rover, Middleton’s old position. Jordan Fraser, a junior listed as the starter at free safety, played in seven games a year ago.

Then there’s Myers, a converted wide receiver who served as Navy’s primary punt returner last season. He already is listed as a co-starter with Bush and Wright, and it’s uncertain exactly which position he’ll wind up at in the fall.

Beyond that is mostly a cast of promising sophomores - Albrey Felder, Shawn Lynch and Wave Ryder - as well as junior David Sperry.

It adds up to few concrete answers beyond Mitchell, and it’s ensured a patience-testing spring for secondary coach Keith Jones. He knows as much as anyone a little separation by the time Navy’s spring game concludes April 22 would be helpful in preparing for the fall.

“It’s very critical,” Jones said. “It’s hard when you’re young, especially in the secondary to be a puppy or be young. You’ve got to be a veteran from Day One.”

At least with Mitchell, Navy knows precisely what it will get. He made 48 tackles, broke up three passes and recorded one interception a year ago, and the 5-foot-10, 189-pounder is poised to improve in the fall.

Who will be around him, though, is anyone’s guess.

“It’s really not who’s going to be given a job, but who’s going to take one,” Mitchell said. “That’s where we’re at at this point.”

However the defensive backfield takes shape, it will take its cues from Mitchell. He is the only full-time defensive starter from last year participating in spring practice (defensive end Jabaree Tuani is injured), making Mitchell a vital piece of Navy’s offseason development.

“He’s got to teach them that this is what we do and this is how we play,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “I’ve been encouraged by his demeanor. Kwesi’s done a great job of leading us. More than anything, yeah, he’s got to improve his play, but he also has to be the leader back there.”

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