Navy head football coach Ken Niumatalolo is far more comfortable with where the Midshipmen stand in terms of their preparation for the 2021 season than he was this time last year without spring ball … and that’s especially true at the quarterback position.
This time last year, Niumatalolo and his staff were trying to figure out who would take over for Malcolm Perry, who had a wildly productive year at quarterback as a senior in 2019. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic exploding across the country, college football coaches had to work with their players remotely. Any on-field work had to wait until the summer.
Dalen Morris ended up starting the 2020 season at quarterback and appeared in nine games for the Mids. Xavier Arline (five games) and Tyger Goslin (four) played the position as well. But nobody truly distinguished himself in Navy’s triple-option offense, and the Mids finished 3-7 overall and 3-4 in the AAC.
Niumatalolo believes the lack of spring ball — typically 15 practices — hurt the development of those three quarterbacks. The coach explained that in the spring of 2019, Perry had a chance to practice against defensive coordinator Brian Newberry’s unit, setting the stage for a breakout senior campaign later in the year (2,017 rushing yards, tops in NCAA history for a quarterback in a single season).
“[Perry] had a great senior year but as I look back at it now, going against Newberry’s defense for 15 practices was great preparation for him in the season because we don’t see all those looks,” Niumatalolo said on Glenn Clark Radio May 28. “Those looks that we see going against Newberry, in 15 days we’ll see [more fronts and coverages] than we see in 12 games. It’s great preparation offensively for us going against our defense.”
Entering summer camp last year, Perry Olsen was the frontrunner to be the starting quarterback but was beaten out by the senior Morris. Olsen ultimately transferred. Morris ran for 46 yards and two touchdowns on 68 carries and threw for 579 yards and three touchdowns on 50.8 percent throwing.
Goslin, now a senior, and Arline, now a sophomore, got opportunities as well. Goslin ran for 31 yards on 24 carries and threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns on 42.9 percent throwing. Arline ran for 210 yards on 59 carries but threw just 12 times.
Goslin is now a slot back, but Arline, Tai Lavatai and Maasai Maynor will compete for the starting quarterback job this summer. Maynor is behind Arline and Lavatai at the moment, but not by much, according to Niumatalolo. The competition for the starting nod against Marshall Sept. 4 is wide open.
“They recognize what [offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper] and I have told them going into the summer — ‘Hey guys, whoever has the best summer, the best camp is going to start [against] Marshall,'” Niumatalolo said. “We don’t know who that is right now. … We’re going to need the guy that’s going to be able to fight through this competition to be our quarterback because you need a tough sucker physically and mentally be any signal-caller, to be any quarterback.”
Niumatalolo explained that his quarterbacks will be in a much better place entering fall camp having faced Newberry’s defense during those 15 spring practices. Niumatalolo doesn’t dictate what Newberry, his defensive coordinator since 2019, can run during practice, whereas other coaches prefer to keep it simple to work on fundamentals.
That’s because Niumatalolo wants his offense working in game-like situations during practice.
“I don’t want to limit anybody. It makes it tough, but to me, that’s the game,” the coach said. “It’s not like you can yell across the sidelines, ‘Hey, can you guys get an odd front for us on this play? It works better against an odd front.’ You’ve got to adjust during the game.”
Navy never quite recovered from its unorthodox offseason last year. In addition to no spring ball, Niumatalolo decided to not hold full-contact practices during fall camp due to COVID-19 concerns. The Mids lost their season opener in blowout fashion to BYU, though to be fair, nobody knew at the time that Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson would be the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft eight months later.
Navy’s offense never got on track in the first year of the post-Perry era. The Mids averaged 16.6 points and 275.0 yards per game last year, both last in the AAC. Niumatalolo is much more comfortable with how his offense will enter fall camp this year.
“Coach Jasper and I are just so ecstatic coming out of spring ball this year,” Niumatalolo said. “Where we are right now in May compared to last year, it’s night and day.”
Update: A previous version of this story incorrectly indicated that Goslin would be part of the quarterback competition and did not mention Tai Lavatai. That has been corrected.
For more from Niumatalolo, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox