O’Rourke tack­les new marching or­ders

As­sis­tant coach takes on fifth po­si­tion group as­sign­ment with Mids

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS - By Bill Wag­ner

Navy coach Ken Ni­u­mat­alolo be­lieves a good as­sis­tant should be able to coach any po­si­tion. Danny O’Rourke is proof pos­i­tive that can be the case.

O’Rourke is work­ing with his fifth po­si­tion group since join­ing the Navy coach­ing staff in 2003. He is help­ing Ash­ley In­gram with the of­fen­sive line af­ter spend­ing the past six sea­sons coach­ing slot­backs.

“Foot­ball is foot­ball. It re­ally comes down to teach­ing guys what to do and how to play with great ef­fort,” O’Rourke said.

Ni­u­mat­alolo needed to make ad­just­ments to the coach­ing staff af­ter los­ing Bryce McDon­ald, who is leav­ing Navy to take an ad­min­is­tra­tive po­si­tion at UCLA un­der first-year coach Chip Kelly.

Ni­u­mat­alolo brought back former Navy as­sis­tant Joe DuPaix to re­place McDon­ald and it made sense to as­sign him the slot­backs. That is the po­si­tion group DuPaix coached dur­ing his pre­vi­ous stint in An­napo­lis from 2008 through 2010.

To fill the void at of­fen­sive line, Ni­u­mat­alolo turned to O’Rourke, who has dis­played ver­sa­til­ity dur­ing his 16-year stint at Navy. Former head coach Paul John­son orig­i­nally hired O’Rourke to coach the sec­ondary, which he did from 2003 through 2006.

O’Rourke had coached safeties while work­ing for John­son at Ge­or­gia South­ern and over­saw the sec­ondary while at Val­dosta State.

O’Rourke spent two sea­sons tu­tor­ing the in­side lineback­ers be­fore switch­ing to the of­fen­sive side as wide re­ceivers coach for three years. The Ge­or­gia na­tive was out­stand­ing as the slot­backs coach, groom­ing a steady stream of stand­out per­form­ers and al­ways de­vel­op­ing tre­men­dous depth.

“I was com­fort­able coach­ing the slots, I loved coach­ing the slots, had kind of found my rhythm coach­ing the slots,” O’Rourke said. “That be­ing said, I have the ut­most re­spect for Coach Ni­u­mat and his de­ci­sions. So when the head coach comes and asks you to move, my re­ac­tion is ‘OK, let’s do it.”

O’Rourke spent the first cou­ple of weeks of spring prac­tice ac­cli­mat­ing to coach­ing the of­fen­sive line. While In­gram has al­ways taught in­te­rior line­men, he is specif­i­cally work­ing with the of­fen­sive tack­les.

“It’s fun to work with the guys up front who make it all go and just see how they live and how they work,” O’Rourke said.

Ni­u­mat­alolo said the proven abil­ity to coach any po­si­tion at a high level will ul­ti­mately ben­e­fit O’Rourke in his ca­reer. The 42-year-old cer­tainly has the knowl­edge to serve as an of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in a triple-op­tion sys­tem af­ter coach­ing three dif­fer­ent po­si­tions on that side of the ball.

“It’s been in­ter­est­ing for me to go through the play­book from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive,” he said. “Hope­fully, down the road it will be good for me to have seen the of­fense from all sides.”

O’Rourke noted the lan­guage of the of­fen­sive line­man is slightly dif­fer­ent from that used with the slot­backs.

“Struc­turally and fun­da­men­tally I know what’s go­ing on,” he said. “A lot of it is the ter­mi­nol­ogy and ver­biage we use here, just get­ting on the same page with Coach In­gram and the play­ers on that.”

O’Rourke has the lux­ury of work­ing with a pair of vet­eran of­fen­sive tack­les dur­ing his first spring camp as that po­si­tion coach. Ris­ing se­nior An­drew Wood is en­ter­ing his third sea­son as the starter on the right side while class­mate Jake Hawk is a re­turn­ing starter at left tackle.

Nei­ther Wood nor Hawk was flaw­less last sea­son. They missed block­ing as­sign­ments at times or oc­ca­sion­ally com­mit­ted costly penal­ties.

“Just get­ting them to be more con­sis­tent and to take own­er­ship of the group,” O’Rourke said when asked what he wants out of Hawk and Wood.

This is an im­por­tant spring with re­gard to iden­ti­fy­ing some backup tack­les. Ford Hig­gins, who saw sig­nif­i­cant ac­tion last sea­son as a sub­sti­tute for both Hawk and Wood, is mak­ing the tran­si­tion to cen­ter.

Se­nior Adam Amosa-Tago­v­ailoa and ju­nior Ken­del Wright are listed as the back­ups and O’Rourke said both have made progress this spring. Wright, who cer­tainly looks the part at 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds, did not see var­sity ac­tion as a fresh­man and did not take any mean­ing­ful of­fen­sive snaps as a sopho­more.

“Ken­dal Wright has done a re­ally good job. Hope­fully, this is the year he comes out of his shell,” O’Rourke said.

Amosa-Tago­v­ailoa also has po­ten­tial that must be re­al­ized in 2018 as there is no to­mor­row for the 6-foot-2, 268-pounder from Hawaii.

“This is his last go-round so it’s time for Adam to step up and get it done. He just needs to be­lieve that he can do it,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke is coach­ing the of­fen­sive tack­les in much the same man­ner as he did the wide re­ceivers and slot­backs: Teach them what do do and how to play hard.

For their part, the tack­les have been re­cep­tive to tak­ing in­struc­tions from an as­sis­tant they have al­ways known as the slot­back coach.

“Danny’s not re­ally a slot­backs coach. He’s an of­fen­sive line coach at heart,” In­gram said with a wide grin. “Danny is do­ing a great job. He un­der­stands the of­fense com­pletely and has the per­fect tem­per­a­ment for this po­si­tion. He’s go­ing to be a great ad­di­tion and we’re fired up to have him.”

PHIL HOFF­MANN/NAVAL ACADEMY

Navy as­sis­tant coach Danny O'Rourke is work­ing with the Mids’ of­fen­sive line­men.

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