Navy defense lines up in numbers

Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Midshipmen use 11 players to fill the three spots

Navy defensive line coach Dale Pehrson sounded disappointed that he worked only eight of his players into the lineup in Saturday's 24-17 victory over Florida Atlantic. In most games this year, Pehrson has found playing time for all 11 of those currently in the busy defensive line rotation of the Midshipmen.

It's highly unusual to rotate so many players at three spots. But this season the Navy defensive line has discovered quality through quantity.

Up next
Navy at Troy
When » Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where » Veterans Memorial
Stadium, Troy, Ala.
Radio » 1500 AM

On Saturday, Mids ends came up with the two biggest defensive plays. Senior Wes Henderson forced a fumble that led to a third quarter field goal. Later, with FAU threatening to tie the game deep in Navy territory, sophomore Paul Quessenberry forced incompletions on the Owls' final two downs of the game.

"You have your legs under you the whole game," Quessenberry said of the Mids' deep rotation. "The other guys are getting tired and fatigued, and it doesn't seem to affect us. We tend to get better throughout the game, while the other guys are falling off."

Bowl-bound Navy (6-3) came up with the scheme after graduating nose guard Jared Marks and four-year standout defensive end Jabaree Tuani. At the other end spot, the Mids unexpectedly lost co-starters Joshua Jones, who left the team to concentrate on academics, and Jamel Dobbs, who departed the academy with a mysterious physical ailment.

Pehrson and defensive coordinator Buddy Green didn't see much separation between the candidates in the spring or the preseason, so they devised a plan to rotate three deep at each spot. At end, the rotation has grown as other young players have emerged, thanks in part to the mentoring efforts of senior ends Henderson, Collin Sturdivant and Josh Dowling-Fitzpatrick.

"They've brought those [young] guys along," Pehrson said. "I've got really good leadership in the room, and we have more depth than we've ever had before. There's not a big drop-off, so we can play more guys."

In the past, it was not uncommon for Navy defensive ends to play 70-plus snaps. This year, the most snaps a Navy defensive end has played in a game is 51 by Henderson. For the ends, Pehrson typically opens the game with a preplanned rotation for the first few series but then follows with more situational moves.

"I have some who can play both the run and the pass," Pehrson said. "Other guys are more run. Other guys are more pass."

Part of the strategy is for self-preservation. None of the eight in the rotation at defensive end weighs more than 260 pounds. At Maryland, for example, which also plays a 3-4 defense, starters A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano weigh 305 and 285, respectively.

"We're small, but I think the rotation makes it tough on the O-linemen," Henderson said. "They've got different guys coming at them with different moves."

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo says the defensive ends are succeeding as much for their effort as their talent.

"They have a great motor. The guys have just been playing hard. Very happy with them," Niumatalolo said. "They're just humble guys. They're grinders. They come to work every day."

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