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Navy likes depth at raider position as captain Palmore has two solid backups

Navy assistant coach Justin Davis instructs defensive captain D.J. Palmore during a game against Louisiana Tech on December 23, 2016.

U.S. NAVY FOOTBALL PHOTO

By BILL WAGNER | The Capital (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 6, 2017

D.J. Palmore is Navy’s defensive captain and clearly one of its best overall football players. The 6-foot-3, 236-pound senior has proven he can be a disruptive force by breaking into the backfield on both passing and running plays.

So it’s somewhat surprising to hear assistant coach Justin Davis say it doesn’t really matter whether Palmore or his two backups are in the game. Davis coaches the outside linebacker position known as “raider” and said this week he has as much confidence in Kevin McCoy and Myles Davenport as he does in Palmore.

“To be honest, there’s not a ton of difference between the three of them. I don’t care what the scenario is, I don’t specifically subsitute. I believe all can three can play,” Davis said this week.

As expected, Palmore saw the bulk of action at raider during the season opener at Florida Atlantic, logging 32 plays. Davis did not have the exact breakdown in front of him, but guessed that McCoy and Davenport got into the game for 16 and 10 plays, respectively.

“I played them all and will continue to play them all. I feel like I have three pretty good football players that can all help us win football games,” Davis said. “D.J. is the most experienced of the three and has earned it so when D.J. is fresh I’m going to go with him. At the same time, Kevin and Myles have shown in practice that they deserve playing time. It’s a very nice luxury to have three good players at one position.”

Palmore looks more like a traditional defensive end, possessing the size and strength to take on an offensive tackle coming off the edge. The Tennessee native led Navy in both sacks (six) and tackles for loss (11.5) despite missing a game with an injury.

“D.J. is definitely an outstanding pass rusher. He’s got pretty good speed for someon almost 240 pounds, has a lot of upper body power and is good with his hands,” Davis said. “D.J. is a very smart football player with excellent instincts.”

McCoy, who is No. 2 on the depth chart, added 10 pounds and considerable strength during the off-season to better fit what Navy is now looking for from the raider position. The 6-foot-4, 222-pounder is a different type of pass rusher than Palmore, relying on speed more than power.

“D.J. doesn’t have Kevin’s speed coming off the edge. Kevin is very explosive and gets off the ball very quickly,” Davis said.

McCoy suffered a preseason injury as a junior and was surpassed on the depth chart as a result. He wound up playing in eight games and making eight tackles after appearing in all 13 games with one start as a sophomore.

“I think Kevin is very hungry and seems poised to have a big senior season,” Davis said.

Davis describes Davenport as somewhat of a cross between Palmore and McCoy in terms of size and speed. The 6-foot-2, 233-pound senior moved from inside linebacker during the 2016 campaign and was still learning the raider position.

“We’ve been trying to find a way to get Myles on the field because he’s a talented player and I think this fits him well,” Davis said. “Myles has been very good on special teams and we’re hoping that translates over to defense.”

Davenport, who currently plays on both the kickoff and punt coverage units, has been a key figure on special teams since he was a sophomore. McCoy also originally made his mark on special teams and still plays on punt coverage.

“Kevin and Myles have the speed and athleticism to run with receivers. I’d say they’re both better in open space than D.J.,” Davis said.

McCoy and Davenport both grew up in Fayetteville and have known each other since attending Douglas Byrd and Terry Sanford high schools, respectively. Those two North Carolinians have bonded well Palmore over

“They’re all good friends that push each other hard and help each other out,” Davis said.

Davis works closely with defensive line coach Shaun Nua during practice since the raider is often asked to put his hand in the dirt to give Navy a four-man front. However, there are many times when the raider is forced into man-to-man pass coverage responsibilities.

Davis plans to give Palmore, McCoy and Davenport plenty of playing time and said the rotation may vary from game-to-game.

“I sub based off feel. I don’t keep track of how many plays each guy is getting. I’ll guage the reps based off how the game is going and sometimes I’ll go with the hot hand,” Davis said. “Guys have good weeks and bad weeks, good games and bad games. The deck will be shuffled based off performance, both in practice and games.”

Palmore, McCoy and Davenport are all seniors so Navy will be rebuilding at raider next year. Davis said sophomore Carter Bankston (6-3, 235) is probably fourth on the depth chart at this point and noted there are several promising freshmen projected to play the position.

INJURY REPORT: Navy had three players sustain ankle injuries during the opener at Florida Atlantic. Starting right guard Evan Martin, backup strong safety Juan Hailey and backup defensive end Nizaire Cromartie all left the game and did not return.

Head coach Ken Niumatalolo listed all three as questionable for Saturday’s home opener against Tulane. They dressed for practice on Tuesday, but wore yellow jerseys signifying non-contact.

Martin, who is probably the team’s best offensive lineman, did not seem to be favoring the ankle while jogging to different stations between periods on Tuesday afternoon. Niumatalolo told the audience at Navy’s football luncheon on Tuesday that he thought Martin would be able to go on Saturday.

Junior Laurent Njiki (6-3, 306) and sophomore David Forney (6-3, 318) both played guard during the second half against Florida Atlantic. Forney, a Walkersville resident who attended Georgetown Prep, is listed as the backup right guard.

PLEBES PLAY: Navy traveled eight freshmen to Florida Atlantic and three wound up getting into the game. Outside linebacker Dean Sise along with defensive backs Micah Farrer and Cameron Kinley all saw action on special teams during the second half.

Sise, who comes from Kirkland, Washington, is one of several players featured on the opening episode of “A Season With Navy Football.” Showtime producers decided to focus on certain players and Sise was chosen for a storyline about the plebe class.

Sise is initially seen in the first episode while being woken up in his dormitory room at Bancroft Hall by Gunnery Sergeant Timothy Owens, assistant director of player development for Navy football. Sise is also shown getting instructions on shaving from former Navy football player and current graduate assistant Daniel Gonzales.

An emotional moment comes when Sise is reunited with his anxious mother at Rip Miller Field upon conclusion of plebe summer. A few weeks later, Sise uses FaceTime to inform his mother, Joanna Levin, that he made the travel squad and will be going to Boca Raton for the opener.

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