ANNAPOLIS — Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo knew he needed to make changes after the Midshipmen endured their first losing season in nine years last fall.
One of the most immediate will be seen Monday when Navy begins spring practice: Everyone, including presumptive starting quarterback Trey Miller, will be full contact.
“I’m taking a big risk and making our quarterbacks live this spring, but we need some work,” Niumatalolo said. “Not only him, but the guys tackling him need some work. Our team needs some work.”
The Mids went 5-7 in 2011, missing a bowl game for the first time since 2002. Miller, the only quarterback on the roster with experience, started a blowout loss at Notre Dame and played in six other games as Kriss Proctor’s backup.
Miller, though, is hardly the only new starter. Navy returns only two starters on its offensive line, must replace fullback Alexander Teich and also graduates slotback Aaron Santiago.
Defensive end Jabaree Tuani is one of three starters gone on the other side of the ball. Altogether, six sophomores sit atop the pre-spring depth chart, only two of whom started games last season.
“I feel like we just need to play,” Niumatalolo said. “We’re a young team. Our quarterback needs to know this is what it’s like.”
Navy’s quarterback options beyond Miller are decidedly untested. Junior Jarvis Cummings, last year’s third-stringer, was moved to linebacker after the staff concluded he was unlikely to play quarterback. That leaves sophomores Josh Hendrick and Cody West as Miller’s backups entering the spring.
Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper told Niumatalolo he would focus primarily on quarterbacks this spring, preparing Miller to become Navy’s third starting quarterback in as many years. That said, Navy might look a bit different in the fall than it did last year.
“We’re not going to throw the ball a million times, but I see us being along the lines of when Ricky [Dobbs] was the quarterback,” Niumatalolo said. “Kriss had his strengths running the football. I see Trey as faster than Ricky and probably not as good an arm as Ricky has, but can throw the ball. Schematically, I think we’ll be more that type of team, [like] the ‘09 or ‘10 team.”
Either way, next week provides a new beginning for a team Niumatalolo believes somewhat moved away from its hallmark toughness last year.
Navy wasn’t too far away from a bowl (five losses came by a combined 11 points), but it was enough to put an end to the program’s bowl streak.
“I think all of us are embarrassed and all of us, our pride’s been hurt,” said Niumatalolo, whose team’s spring game is April 14. “The senior class wants to get back on a winning streak, a winning track, and they understand it starts now.”
Notes: Defensive end Jamel Dobbs, who missed Navy’s victory over Army in December because of a medical issue, is no longer at the academy. Dobbs started three games last season.
“That wasn’t a fun way to start the Army game,” Niumatalolo said. “Nobody really knew what happened to him. The sad thing about it is, I don’t think anybody still knows.”
Navy moved Shawn Lynch from safety back to wide receiver. The junior started five games at safety last season before his playing time dwindled in the second half of the season.
• Niumatalolo said offensive lineman Travis Bridges (foot) is expected to miss the spring, while wide receiver Matt Aiken (knee surgery) could be limited.