It's time for some triple option talk. In fact, it's the start of two straight weeks of option talk with Army on deck next Monday. The 2016 Middies lost perhaps their best player since Roger Staubach and have to replace even more than a quarterback on offense.
Starters Returning: 1/11
Key Losses: QB Keenan Reynolds, SB DeBrandon Sanders, SB Demond Brown, FB Chris Swain, FB Quentin Ezell, WR Thomas Wilson, LT Joey Gaston, LG E.K. Binns, C Blaze Ryder, RG Ben Tamburello, RT Brandon Greene
Key Returnees: QB Tago Smith, SB Dishan Romine, FB Shawn White, WR Jamir Tillman, RT Robert Lindsey, RT Blake Copeland
FEI Offense Rank: 3
S&P Offense Rank: 20
S&P Rushing Rank: 5
S&P Passing Rank: 40
Turnovers: 8 (2 INT)
An End of an Era
You can't say Keenan Reynolds didn't peak as an athlete while at Navy. The long-time quarterback leaves behind 4,559 rushing yards, a NCAA-record 88 rushing touchdowns, as well as 119 total touchdowns.
Not only did he finish 5th in the Heisman voting in 2015 but Reynolds was selected with the 182nd overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Ravens and was granted a waiver from the Navy to pursue his professional football career.
Now, the Middies have to start over but not completely. Rising senior Tago Smith has gained plenty of experience over the years when Reynolds was banged up and even rushed for 47 yards on 9 carries last year in South Bend on the way to leading two touchdown drives that tied the game at 21-21 shortly before halftime.
Smith may not be the devastating playmaker of his former teammate but he's blessed with really good speed and will still be a dangerous quarterback.
Yes, the Navy offense is in a scary position having to replace 10 full-time starters. In addition to Reynolds the whole backfield is gone as well as the offensive line.
The loss of both starting fullbacks will also be tough to overcome. Swain rushed for over 1,000 yards last year alone which says a lot. Ezell was no slouch finishing 4th on the team with 317 yards.
Navy did have one position on the offensive line unsettled last year which allows a couple players to come back with some starting experience. Still, losing a combined 58 starts up front in one off-season can be frightening for any team, let alone a program that puts so much importance on running the ball.
Leaning on a Trio
Tago Smith teams up with slotback Dishan Romine and receiver Jamir Tillman as the big-time playmakers heading into the season. Romine didn't start any games but did finish first among all slot-backs with 378 yards last year.
Tillman is the unquestioned leader at receiver and the only true returning starter on the entire offense. He's been a big playmaker throughout his career and finished with an impressive 597 receiving yards last year.
It'll be imperative that Navy builds a foundation of fullbacks and line play around these players during August camp.
There's a frustration that comes with previewing Navy and the other military academies because so little is known about their roster and the kids who haven't played yet. In fact, the freshmen class doesn't officially report and Navy doesn't talk about them until July. So we have no way of knowing who will be coming to Annapolis or going to the Navy prep school in Rhode Island.
The above three stars in the making are a nice group to build around but this looks like it's going to be a tough year for Navy's offense. They are losing so many important players from a program that has sustained itself off their production and I can't see them staying nearly as potent.
That seems obvious as Navy was by all accounts one of the best offenses in the country last year. They rushed for 5.68 yards per carry (1 spot ahead of Notre Dame) and their 6.35 yards per play mark (28th nationally) is outstanding for a triple option team.
By the time Navy suits up against Notre Dame they should have their offense plenty figured out and some pieces starting to click. Yet, a not-insignificant downturn in production looks quite likely for the Middies this year.