Being in the media spotlight is one thing the Navy football team does not have to worry about. The Midshipmen typically slip in and out of spring practice without making many headlines and this spring was no different.
Even by Navy's standards, their 2013 spring practice season was "uneventful" according to Bill Wagner, who covers the Mids for the Capital Gazette. The biggest move head coach Ken Niumatalolo made this spring was ending Navy's tradition of Saturday scrimmages. Navy used to go live in front of the public each week, but the head coach decided the time could be better utilized in other ways.
"They used to have Saturday morning scrimmages where they would go one versus one and two versus two and go over the stadium and do it," Wagner explained. "It was a great way to find out who was a player.
Wagner says the team did still set aside a part of practice during the week for live scrimmages. All of Navy's practices were open to the media as well.
Niumatalolo made use of the spring to try to add some new dimensions to his offense. The head coach is tinkering with things a bit to try to play to the strengths of quarterback Keenan Reynolds.
"Expanding the passing game would be the best term," Wagner explained. "(They are) trying to do some things with rolling him out of the pocket. They found out last year that he can throw on the run and that he can really break down defenses by getting out of the pocket and forcing teams to scramble a little bit. They were trying to implement that a little bit during the spring."
Reynolds played in all 13 Navy games and started the final eight as a freshman last season. He passed for 898 yards and nine touchdowns and two interceptions and also added 649 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Navy's most significant skill position loss is slot back Gee Gee Greene, who ran for a team-best 877 yards with three touchdowns as a senior in 2012. Greene also had 18 receptions for 309 yards and two TDs. Wagner says Geoffrey Whiteside will be the likely slot man heading into the 2013 season.
"Whenever Whiteside played last year he made some big plays," said Wagner. "He showed playmaking ability. He was terrific in the spring and it's quite clear that he's definitely going to be the new go-to guy at the slot."
"He was listed number one on the depth chart at one of the slot back positions going in and then he had a tremendous spring," Wagner continued. "He certainly showed that he deserved to be a starter."
Whiteside had 115 rushing attempts for 111 yards and four receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown as Greene's understudy last fall. He also returned five kickoffs for 104 yards.
The other listed slot back starter is 5'6, 196 pound Darius Staten, whom Wagner calls a "bowling ball". The Midshipmen listed 16 slot backs on their 2012 roster though and Wagner expects several to see action next season.
"I think beyond Whiteside there should be quite a rotation," Wagner estimated. "They will probably travel with six or seven slots and they probably will use them all in games. From what I saw (in the spring) beyond Whiteside there's not a whole lot of difference amongst the rest of the group."
Navy's other question offensively heading into the spring was replacing the left side of the offensive line. The coaching staff came out of spring practice very excited about E.K. Binns, who will replace Josh Cabral at left guard.
"He's been compared to Cabral in a lot of ways," Wagner said. "Especially with regard to the intelligence and understanding football concepts. Cabral was pretty much a three-year starter at that position and now it looks like they may have found another three-year starter."
Binns saw action in just three games last season and it was all on special teams units. He was the only offensive lineman who is expected to start next season that played during the spring. The rest of the linemen were out due to various bumps and bruises as a precautionary measure.
Graham Vickers is likely to move into the left tackle spot next season. He and Braden Heap both saw action at right tackle in 2012.
"Both of them have experience and played a decent amount with some starts," said Wagner. "Vickers had been more of a right tackle and they shifted him to the left side and Heap is going to move in at right tackle."
The biggest spring question Navy had on defense was at an inside linebacker spot. They moved two players, including James Britton, there during the spring.
"Britton was a safety who played some nickel back situations last year," Wagner began. "He's kind of gotten a little bigger and grown out of the safety spot, so they moved him inside and he was very good in the spring. He has emerged as the starter at the other inside linebacker position."
The other player to switch to linebacker this spring was Maika Polamalu - the cousin of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu - who moved over after two seasons at fullback.
"They liked his athleticism, but he really wasn't moving anywhere on the fullback depth chart," said Wagner. "So they moved him over there and he also looked very good. He's definitely going to get playing time."
"They kind of helped their inside linebacker depth by moving two players and both players fit the position pretty well. They're going to play."
The Mids must also replace outside linebacker Keegan Wetzel, whose 79 tackles were the fourth-most by a Mid defender last year. There are two young players, A.K. Akpunku and Obi Uzoma, who stood out during spring practice.
"These guys are athletes," Wagner proclaimed. "They're both about 6'3, 235 pounds. They run well. These guys are the changing face of Navy football. Navy never had anybody that looked like this at outside linebacker in years past."
"They look like almost identical twins in terms of their size," Wagner continued. "They're both pretty athletic and run well, so they're pleased with both of them and feel they've got a nice little tandem there."
Navy opens its 2013 season on Sept. 7 at Indiana. The Midshipmen visit Notre Dame on Nov. 2.