Navy on its fourth different center since preseason

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Navy has gone through four different centers

The snap is one of the most taken for granted aspects of football. For Navy, however, crisp execution of the exchange from center to quarterback is even more essential as it triggers an offense more dependent than most on precise timing and execution.

As the usually disciplined Midshipmen (1-2) have struggled to find rhythm, committing an uncharacteristic 10 turnovers and 16 penalties, scrutiny has fallen on the center position, where Navy has started four different players since the preseason.

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San Jose State at Navy
When » Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where » Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
TV » CBS Sports Network

After Saturday's 41-3 victory over Virginia Military Institute, Navy has settled on sophomore Tanner Fleming, at least for now.

"Tanner needs to be the starting center," assistant coach Ashley Ingram said. "He's the best center we've got here. As far as knocking people off the ball, maybe the most talented center we've ever had since I've been here."

Saturday when Navy takes on a tough challenge in visiting San Jose State (3-1), the Mids look for more consistency. It all starts with the center's snap and interior blocking. In the triple-option offense, center is the most demanding and critical position on the line.

"The nose [guards] try to play up because how quick-hitting our offense is," Fleming said. "In this offense, you've got to be firing on the guy the same time you're snapping the football."

Fleming started the preseason behind sophomore Bradyn Heap. When Navy faced Notre Dame in its opener, the Mids swapped their most athletic blocker, Graham Vickers, from tackle to center to deal with Irish All-American middle linebacker Manti Te'o.

When Navy traveled to Penn State for game two, Vickers returned to tackle and Fleming got his first college start. In noisy Happy Valley, the Mids struggled with snap counts and converted only one of six red-zone opportunities. Junior Thomas Stone started at center Saturday against VMI, but he and quarterback Trey Miller botched an exchange on the first series and Fleming was back on the field by the second period and played well.

"I just focused on my job, doing all the little things the coaches have taught me -- the footwork, the steps and really just firing off the ball," Fleming said.

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kevin Dunleavy

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner