The Navy Midshipmen are working on installing a new offense during spring practice.

The Navy Midshipmen are working on installing a new offense during spring practice. (Navy Football/X)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — By far the biggest story line of Navy football spring camp has been the installation of a new offensive by first-year offensive coordinator Drew Cronic.

Cronic is implementing what he describes as the “millennial version” of the Wing-T offense. Cronic is one of the few collegiate coaches still running the unique attack, which he learned while playing quarterback for his father at East Coweta High in Sharpsburg, Ga.

Danny Cronic was a devoted practitioner of what was originally known as the Delaware Wing-T during his 35 years as a high school coach. He later brought the offense with him after being hired to coach Reinhardt University in Waleska, Georgia.

Drew Cronic served as offensive coordinator for his father at Reinhardt before succeeding him as head coach. Together, father and son were always on the cutting edge of evolving the offense to incorporate spread option principles, run-pass option schemes and much more.

The younger Cronic continued to adapt the attack to fit the available personnel while serving as offensive coordinator at Furman, then head coach at Lenoir-Rhyne and Mercer. Always, the bottom line goal was to force all 11 defensive players to cover the entire field.

“It’s going to be a hybrid Wing-T offense, but it’s going to marry up with the triple-option and it’s going to marry up with the spread option,” Cronic said during his introductory press conference in January. “You may see a few RPOs here and there. It all depends on what the defense is giving us and what the players do well.”

Navy had only completed a couple padded practices when Cronic was asked last week how the process of installing the new offense is coming along. He estimated that 25% of the schemes have been implemented and said the coaching staff got a head start by teaching players during walk-through sessions prior to spring break.

“We’ve got smart kids and they pick up things quickly. At the same time, it’s a new style and their brains are swimming a little bit,” Cronic said. “We’re making progress. We just have to clean up a lot of little things.”

As a career defensive coordinator, Navy head coach Brian Newberry evaluates various offenses in terms of how difficult they are to defend. When reviewing tape from Cronic’s previous stops, Newberry noticed a lot of different elements with wrinkles sprinkled in to keep opposing defenses off balance. He also noted there are a lot of similarities to what the Midshipmen are doing now and what they have done in the past.

“I look at everything from a defensive perspective and I think what we’re doing is challenging. There are some Wing-T elements, but there are also some triple-option elements. I really like what we’re doing in the passing game as well,” Newberry said. “Whether it’s the quick passing game or the play-action bootleg stuff, it’s all really challenging. We have to be unique and different here. This offense certainly provides that because it’s non-traditional.”

This marks the second straight spring the Mids are installing a new offense. Meanwhile, the same defensive system has been in place ever since Newberry took over as defensive coordinator in 2019. While the offensive players are learning new plays, new language and new techniques, the defensive players know exactly what they are doing.

Cronic acknowledged that dynamic has made it difficult for the offense to execute and move the ball at times. Current defensive coordinator P.J. Volker is throwing a lot of looks at the offensive personnel to cause confusion.

“They’ve had this system in place for five years and done a great job defensively. So it’s very challenging, which is good for us offensively,” Cronic said. “I was giving Coach Volker a hard time because on our first day in pads they were lined up in a bunch of different stuff and were doing a lot of things. They’re going to move around and slant and bring guys off the edge. We’ve got to be able to adapt to all that.”

Newberry believes the Navy offense is seeing more formations, more stunts, more blitzes and more disguises than it will at any point during the 2024 season. He said Cronic was forced to slow down the installation process to ensure the offense mastered the basics before moving forward.

That said, the offense has broken numerous big plays so far this spring because defenders got fooled by motion or misdirection and caught out of position.

“I’ve already heard some of the defensive guys say this Wing-T is hard to defend because there are so many elements and so much moving around,” quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper said.

“I’ve been really, really encouraged. There have been some big plays made. Usually it’s tough sledding for the offense in the spring,” Newberry said. “When you look at the tape, there’s a misstep here or a blown assignment here from being a lot more big plays that hit. I really like what we’re doing and I really like how we’re doing it even more. We’re going out there flying around and competing.”

Cronic said learning the new offense is tougher on the offensive linemen than the skill position players because the line has to work as a five-man unit with chemistry and timing taking time to develop. He’s been impressed with some of the offensive weapons such as fullbacks Daba Fofana and Alex Tecza along with slotbacks Brandon Chatman and Eli Heidenreich to name a few.

Tecza led the Mids with 758 rushing yards and five touchdowns last season, while Heidenreich topped the team with 19 receptions for 382 yards and four scores. Tecza averaged six yards per carry, while his former Mount Lebanon High teammate averaged 20 yards per catch.

“I think the one thing Drew has done a great job of is being able to evolve and grow with the players he has and take advantage of what they do well,” Newberry said. “He’s trying to figure out exactly what that looks like right now. We’ve got some really good players on offense; we’ve got some weapons on that side of the football.”

(c)2024 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)

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