Navy's always known for their offense but with 7 starters back on defense this side of the ball has to lend a hand to keep the Middies near the top of the AAC.
Starters Returning: 7/11
Key Losses: DE Will Anthony, NG Bernard Sarra, S Kwazel Bertrand, CB Quincy Adams, S Lorentz Barbour
Key Returnees: DE Amos Mason, LB Daniel Gonzales, LB Micah Thomas, LB D.J. Palmore, LB Josiah Powell, LB Ted Colburn, S Daiquan Thomasson, CB Brendon Clements
FEI Defensive Ranking: 69
S&P Defensive Ranking: 49
S&P Rushing Ranking: 30
S&P Passing Ranking: 59
Turnover Forced: 27 (12 INT)
Navy has some holes on defense but where they don't is at linebacker. All of the primary starters are back, including rising junior Micah Thomas who blossomed with 73 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss last year.
Additionally, a full 8 players all come back at linebacker after logging at least one start last year. There are so many bodies--even in a 3-4 system--that you have to wonder if Navy plans on bulking some of them up for the defensive line.
D-Line Next Man In
Navy loses 2 out of 3 starters up front as Will Anthony and Bernard Sarra have moved on. These two played a lot of football for the Middies and Anthony especially will be missed as he leaves behind 11.5 tackles for loss.
The good news for Navy is that even without much depth they should be okay next year. Looking at their disruption 68.5% of their tackles for loss and 63.7% of their sacks are coming back--again they are a linebacker-heavy defense. They also do a good job of grooming bigger bodies (all nose guards on the roster have ample size) to plug holes in the middle, although to be fair Navy's backfield disruption numbers are pretty poor to begin with.
Losing Adams and Barbour in the secondary leaves Navy with some important off-season changes. Last year, true freshman Sean Williams got some playing time and even logged a start which isn't a great sign for depth.
Plus, the passing defense lagged behind it's counterpart against the run. We know Navy can field a bunch of 215 pound linebackers who are aggressive and can attack the line of scrimmage. As the Middies progress through the AAC and face teams like Notre Dame can they improve against more potent passing attacks that can protect the quarterback?
Navy's defense last year was mediocre at best, which is to be expected. They always make their hay with an efficient and deadly offense.
The defense allowed 4.11 yards per carry on the ground last year which finished 51st in the nation. Altogether not bad but the 5.65 yards per play surrendered fell in 72nd place. For as good as their offense was that only left Navy with a +0.7 YPP differential--enough to threaten some truly historic modern records but ultimately not quite good enough to win the conference.
One thing that absolutely sticks out was how well Navy protected the ball on offense last year, but more so, that they recovered 15 fumbles! That finished tied for first nationally in fumble recoveries and is a big reason why they were No. 3 nationally with a +19 turnover differential.
Odds are, the Middies aren't recovering anything close to 15 fumbles again and it's always difficult to keep offensive turnovers under double digits. Rebuilding offense and turnovers likely becoming more of a problem--can this defense fight through that possible struggle?