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Navy’s first practice kicks into high gear

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Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo paces the sidelines as his team plays Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011. Notre Dame defeated Navy 56-14. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

ANNAPOLIS — One snap and isolated thud after another, what felt like the longest period of Navy’s first preseason football practice unfolded Wednesday.

It took a while for all of the Midshipmen’s kickers to take a turn trying field goals, the initial foray in what sets up as Navy’s most wide-open position battle.

“We have seven guys trying out,” special teams coordinator Steve Johns said. “It’s a free-for-all. No one has the advantage right now.”

To add another chaotic element as the Mids move closer to their Sept. 1 opener against Notre Dame in Dublin, Ireland, none of the candidates has any college experience.

Navy brought in four freshman kickers, a cornucopia at a position where only one or two guys likely will see the field on a weekly basis. The Mids also have two juniors and a sophomore who never came close to unseating Jon Teague last season.

That was despite Teague enduring his share of struggles. He was 10 for 15 on field goals, but during one stretch missed five of eight attempts, and a long extra-point attempt was blocked in overtime in a loss to Air Force. Nonetheless, he rebounded to make his final four field goals, including two in the fourth quarter against Army.

With Teague’s graduation, it was little wonder there was no clear answer at kicker. Junior Stephen Picchini handled the field goal duties during the spring game, missing twice from more than 40 yards while making three extra points. He occupies a precarious spot atop the depth chart.

“We really don’t know what to expect,” Picchini said. “We’re doing our best, and we’re going to be prepared as best we can. Whatever they throw at us, we’re going to do our best.”

Rest assured, Navy’s staff plans to vet the competition thoroughly in the next month. Coach Ken Niumatalolo even joked over the summer about the possibility of setting up a tournament bracket with his kickers.

It might not come to that, but there will be no shortage of scrutiny at the end of practice each day.

“We’re going to have a kick-off every day to see who the final guy is,” Niumatalolo said. “Every day we’re going to do that. We’re going to move the ball around and put some pressure on those guys. Hopefully, by the end of this, we’ll have somebody we feel good about.”

The Mids worked on kickoffs as well Wednesday, which provided Niumatalolo some encouragement about the strength of the freshmen’s legs even after a month of plebe summer. Johns said he would provide the newcomers a few practices to adjust before serious evaluations begin Monday.

When they do, an especially fluid depth chart is a distinct possibility.

“Everyone here is a good kicker, so you have to do your best at all times,” Picchini said. “If you don’t perform [for] a day or two, you don’t know what can happen.”

Indeed, uncertainty figures to be one of the themes of Navy’s kicking competition. The Mids just hope the unpredictability ends once the season commences.

“I’m just excited to see who can do it,” Johns said. “Out of seven, you ought to be able to find one who can be halfway decent. We’re playing the odds there.”

NOTE: Cornerback Albrey Felder, outside linebacker Josh Tate and wide receiver Brandon Turner were sent home after failing their physical readiness tests and a subsequent backup. Niumatalolo said they would be allowed to try the conditioning test again Aug. 20 when classes begin. Turner has 14 career starts, and Tate was listed as a starter coming out of spring.

About the Author

Patrick Stevens

Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at 64plus4@gmail.com.

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