Te­ich-type full­backs key to Navy’s perime­ter run game

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY PA­TRICK STEVENS

AN­NAPO­LIS | It’s not a mi­rage. Navy’s full­backs re­ally are get­ting smaller.

Gone (for now, any­way) are the days of the beefy bruiser. In­stead, the Mid­ship­men are look­ing for rush­ers in the mold of Alexan­der Te­ich, one of their big­gest depar­tures from last sea­son.

At 6 feet and 217 pounds, Te­ich was a more com­pact full­back than Navy was ac­cus­tomed to us­ing. Just four years ago, Eric Ket­tani started at an im­pos­ing 6-foot-1 and 243 pounds.

Now? Sopho­more Noah Copeland is the nom­i­nal starter dur­ing the first week of spring prac­tice and checks in at 5-foot10 and 210 pounds. None of the other five full­backs on the ros­ter is listed at more than 220 pounds.

“With [for­mer quar­ter­back] Kriss Proc­tor, we were a faster team. We needed a faster guy to keep up with him,” full­backs coach Mike Judge said. “We’re do­ing some dif­fer­ent things. In the past — six, seven, eight years ago, be­fore I was ever here — we were an in­side run­ning team. We’re do­ing things dif­fer­ently now. We’re get­ting the ball on the perime­ter. We’ve in­creased our out­side run­ning game.”

Copeland is an in­ter­est­ing case. He at­tended the academy’s prep school and ar­rived as a slot­back. He was 205 pounds at the time, heftier than a slot­back typ­i­cally is in Navy’s triple-op­tion of­fense, and coaches moved him to full­back.

It’s a less-than-gl­itzy po­si­tion at most schools. Some­times it’s a de facto sixth of­fen­sive line­man, only with a run­ning start be­fore plow­ing into and block­ing a de­fender. At Navy, it’s just as rugged, though there is the ben­e­fit of ac­tu­ally earn­ing car­ries, which ap­pealed to Copeland when he was asked to make the switch.

“It just in­ter­ests me to touch the ball the whole en­tire time,” said Copeland, who added five pounds af­ter mak­ing the po­si­tion switch. “You could pos­si­bly get the ball ev­ery sin­gle play. That’s what in­ter­ests me, just get­ting the ball and mak­ing plays.”

Who­ever emerges as Te­ich’s even­tual re­place­ment will have the op­por­tu­nity to do so. The evo­lu­tion of the po­si­tion in Navy’s of­fense was ev­i­dent in the Mids’ fi­nale last sea­son against Army when Te­ich col­lected an op­tion pitch from Proc­tor and scored from 10 yards out in the first half.

That wasn’t a wrin­kle past full­backs like Ket­tani, Adam Bal­lard and Kyle Eckel were likely to pull off. But it could be­come more com­mon with Navy’s shift in re­cruit­ing the po­si­tion.

“You still have to be tough enough to hit in­side be­tween the tack­les, but also do some stuff on the edge, just to try to ex­pand our game a lit­tle bit,” coach Ken Ni­u­mat­alolo said.

What’s less cer­tain than how the Mids will use their full­backs next fall is who will emerge as their top op­tion at the po­si­tion.

The six full­backs on the spring ros­ter have com­bined for 17 ca­reer car­ries. Copeland, who was a sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tor on Navy’s spe­cial teams last sea­son, had just two rushes as a fresh­man. Ju­nior Mike Pa­trick had 15 car­ries for 96 yards.

“There’s not a name tag on the board,” Judge said. “Nor­mally, you have them ranked, like one through six. There’s not even one on the board.”

So, what, are the Mids work­ing off an al­pha­bet­i­cal list­ing?

“That may not even be fair,” Judge said. “It’s wide open.”

That sense seeps down to the smaller-but-spright­lier full­backs, who have an­other 13 work­outs to sort things out be­fore spring prac­tice ends.

“I think it does feel like a free-for-all,” Copeland said. “You just have to go out there and make sure you don’t mess up like the last day and cor­rect your prob­lems and try to be bet­ter.”

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