Independents spring recap

Originally Published: April 26, 2005
By Brett Edgerton | Special to ESPN.com

Army Black Knights
2005 Schedule
9/10 at Boston College
9/17 Baylor
9/24 Iowa State
10/1 Connecticut
10/8 Central Michigan
10/15 at TCU
10/22 at Akron
11/5 at Air Force
11/12 Massachusetts
11/19 Arkansas State
12/3 vs. Navy

2004 overall record:
2-9
Conference record:
2-6 (C-USA)

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 4, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Carlton Jones* (1,269 yds)
Passing: Zac Dahman* (1,767 yds)
Receiving: Aaron Alexander (505 yds)
Tackles: Greg Washington (149)
Sacks: Cameron Craig* (4)
Interceptions: Ray Stith* and Will Sullivan (2 each)

Spring answers: FB Tielor Robinson was an important cog in the offense, and finding his replacement was key. So the Knights went out and found two, just in case. Seth Gulsby is a good pass-catching threat, while Mike Viti is more of a between-the-tackles bruiser. ... Coach Bobby Ross was pleased with the play of his defensive ends this spring and believes they'll bring some much-needed pressure, which might relieve the beleaguered secondary just a bit. In fact, overall Ross was thrilled with the offseason improvement of a defense that trailed the entire nation in giving up 491 yards per game last year. He was particularly pleased with converted safety Charlie Rockwood at linebacker. ... There's never been a concern about Dion Tarver, who recently moved from safety to corner and didn't skip a beat. Ross says Tarver is one of the hardest hitters he has ever coached at any level -- and that's saying something.

Fall questions: The offensive line loses four of five starters, and the replacements have very little experience. Even the one guy who does return is switching positions. Suffice to say this is a problem area for the Knights. ... That's not good news for whoever ends up being the quarterback. For a guy fewer than 500 yards short of Army's all-time passing mark, Dahman doesn't exactly have the strongest hold on this position. Senior Connor Crehan, Jr., sophomore David Pevoto and junior Chase Laws all showed flashes this spring and could make things interesting if Dahman struggles. ... Tarver is a legitimate star, but the rest of the secondary was torched last year and it doesn't look much better this go-around. ... And the special teams aren't exactly special. Punter Owen Tollson might hold on to his job, but the No. 1 kicker changed at least three times this spring. And surely the Knights can average at least five yards a punt return this year, can't they?

Navy Midshipmen
2005 Schedule
9/3 vs. Maryland*
9/10 Stanford
9/24 at Rice
10/1 at Duke
10/8 Air Force
10/15 Kent State
10/29 at Rutgers
11/5 Tulane
11/12 at Notre Dame
11/19 Temple
12/3 Army
*at Baltimore

2004 overall record: 10-2

Returning starters
Offense: 2, Defense: 4, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Kyle Eckel (1,151 yds)
Passing: Aaron Polanco (1,131 yds)
Receiving: Eric Roberts (291 yds)
Tackles: Josh Smith (119)
Sacks: David Mahoney (5)
Interceptions: Hunter Reddick* and DuJuan Price (3 each)

Spring answers: Lamar Owens answered any doubts as to who the quarterback would be this fall. The shifty senior doesn't have a big arm, but do you really need one of those running the Navy offense? ... No matter where Owens throws it, it's likely to be caught by WR Jason Tomlinson, who coach Paul Johnson said was nearly always the team's best player on the field this spring. On a rebuilding offensive unit, it's essential Tomlinson continue making big plays. ... In order to get the best four athletes in the secondary, Reddick was moved from safety to corner and made his usual array of plays. ... Two sophomores that did nothing more than special teams work last season have turned some heads this spring at linebacker. As a result, both Rob Caldwell and speedy Tye Adams are in line for starting positions.

Fall questions: In 2004, the Midshipmen won 10 games for the first time in 99 years. If they can pull it off for the second year in a row, anoint Johnson as Navy Secretary. It would be that big a miracle. The program loses 17 starters, and while some questions were given decent answers in the spring, several more remain. ... Chief among them is the all-important fullback question. None of the three remaining candidates to replace Eckel, the leading rusher on the third-leading rushing team in America, showed anything during the 15 practices. Marvin Dingle quit before practice even started. Matt Hill is probably the best of the bunch, but he can't seem to get over a pesky fumbling problem. Could a true freshman end up getting the job? ... When healthy, WR Trey Hines is serviceable, but there's basically nothing behind him. And Johnson has publicly said there's not a No. 2 at quarterback. ... Meanwhile, the placekicking competition is sloppy at best, the offensive line is without four starters from last year and the Middies get to open the season with what should be improved squads from Maryland and Stanford. Fun stuff.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2005 Schedule
9/3 at Pittsburgh
9/10 at Michigan
9/17 Michigan State
9/24 at Washington
10/1 at Purdue
10/15 USC
10/22 BYU
11/5 Tennessee
11/12 Navy
11/19 Syracuse
11/26 at Stanford

2004 overall record: 6-6

Returning starters
Offense: 10, Defense: 3, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Darius Walker* (786 yds)
Passing: Brady Quinn* (2,586 yds)
Receiving: Rhema McKnight* (610 yds)
Tackles: Mike Goolsby (97)
Sacks: Jason Tuck (6)
Interceptions: Goolsby, D. Curry and D. Ellick (2 each)

Spring answers: If there's anyone who will benefit most from new coach Charlie Weis' offensive expertise, it's Brady Quinn. With quarterbacks coach David Cutcliffe recovering from triple-bypass surgery this spring, Weis and the third-year QB were basically joined at the hip for the majority of practice time. Quinn's confidence is consequently off the charts, and it could make for a breakthrough fall. ... He'll certainly have a true weapon in TE Anthony Fasano, who looked solid as usual in the spring and has to be considered a legitimate contender for the Mackey Award. ... Quinn also has back every starting wide receiver and O-lineman, and the offense played the part this spring. ... Stable leadership shouldn't be an issue this fall. Unlike under Tyrone Willingham, when the captains changed by the week, the Irish were allowed to vote in permanent captains in the spring, along with a "House of Representatives" that includes a leader of each position group. There's no question who the leader of this team is, though. With his NFL pedigree and "blinders to the past" approach to the depth chart, Weis has the ultimate respect from his players.

Fall questions: While Weis might have the alumni and student body ready to start the season tomorrow, it wouldn't exactly be an advisable move for the team. As much excitement as there is, plenty of questions do remain. ... For one, even though Weis seems flexible and insists he'll let personnel dictate things, no one can be completely certain how well these offensive players can run a whole new system when it actually matters in the fall. It won't take long to find out, though. The Irish open at Pitt and at Michigan. ... Notre Dame has lacked toughness and consistency in the running game lately, and everyone is anxious to see how Walker handles the pressure now that Ryan Grant is gone and he has the show all to himself. ... Will the putrid return game show any signs of life? Speedy walk-on Brandon Harris is getting a long look, but this is still a work in progress. ... Not only do the Irish lose longtime starters Goolsby and Derek Curry at linebacker but they also lose three of four on the D-line. Coming into spring, it appeared Notre Dame might be deep at defensive end, but Ronald Talley was suspended and Dwight Stephenson was moved to tackle. So now, inexperienced Travis Leitko and Chris Frome are battling for the chance to replace Tuck, only the school's all-time sack leader. ... Just one team in the country gave up more passing yards than Notre Dame last season, and that remains an issue. Safety Tom Zbikowski is outstanding, but question marks surround everyone else.

Temple Owls
2005 Schedule
9/1 at Arizona State
9/10 NC State
9/17 Toledo
9/24 Middle Tennessee
10/1 at Bowling Green
10/8 Maryland
10/15 Miami (Fla.)
10/22 at Clemson
11/5 at Virginia
11/12 Miami (Ohio)
11/19 at Navy

2004 overall record: 2-9
Conference record: 1-5 (Big East)

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Walter Washington (889 yds)
Passing: Washington (2,207 yds)
Receiving: Phil Goodman (677 yds)
Tackles: Rian Wallace (101)
Sacks: Mike Mendenhall* (3.5)
Interceptions: Andrew Turner* and Jermaine Hargraves* (2 each)

Spring answers: After losing his job to Washington, fifth-year senior QB Mike McGann is back at No. 1 and looked fantastic this spring. Remember, this is a guy who started as a true freshman and has 26 starts under his belt. Insisting he learned a lot from watching on the sidelines, McGann won't be running around like Washington, but he has a nice arm and is unquestionably the team's leader. ... He'll be helped out by the return of four starting O-linemen, along with redshirt freshman Alex Derenthal, who won his position battle and drew rave reviews from the coaching staff. ... New coordinator Willie Slater insists the tailbacks will be getting more carries in his offense as it shifts from more of a spread, no-huddle to a two-back set. He has two promising backs in Tim Brown, more of an elusive jitterbug, and Umar Ferguson, more of a north-south type. ... Coach Bobby Wallace thinks there will be increased pressure up front, which was certainly lacking last season. Led by Mendenhall and Antwon Burton, who returned from a broken foot and looked great in the spring, the defensive line could very well be the strength of the team.

Fall questions: The injury bug has struck McGann in each of the last two seasons. If it hits again, Temple might want to reconsider that whole "staying in Division I-A" thing. As of now, a converted defensive end is the backup. That's usually not the most ideal situation. ... It also doesn't help that TU lost its top three wide receivers. There's not a lot of size left, and no one exactly stood up in the spring and acted as though he wanted a job in the fall. ... The D-line should be solid, but don't let that fool you. This is still a defense that gave up 36 points a game last season and now has to replace stud LB Rian Wallace and about half the secondary. Throw out three-year starter Troy Wallace at linebacker, too. Yes, there are still plenty of questions in the back seven. ... Who says the Owls don't have a conference to call their own? Apparently it's the Mid-American Conference. Temple not only faces the best of the MAC but also basically plays a full ACC schedule. Just brutal. When you consider that coach Wallace is in the final year of his contract, this schedule seems even crueler.

Brett Edgerton is a researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at Brett.M.Edgerton.-ND@espn.com.

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