Defensive changes in spotlight as Navy begins spring football camp

By BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: March 19, 2019

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Navy opened spring football camp on Monday, which meant the transition to a new defensive system began in earnest.

Head coach Ken Niumatalolo completely overhauled the defensive staff, hiring five new assistants on that side of the ball.

Dale Pehrson retired after serving four years as defensive coordinator and spending a total of 23 years in Annapolis. He was replaced by Brian Newberry, who was previously defensive coordinator at Kennesaw State for four years.

Newberry has overseen staff meetings and spoken to the defensive unit as a whole. Players have met individually and as a group with their position coaches to discuss how things will be different.

However, spring camp provides Newberry and the defensive staff with 15 practices to implement the new system.

“Obviously, the big thing this spring is that we have a new defensive scheme,” Niumatalolo said. “It’s important that Coach Newberry installs his defense schematically, but also establishes the culture of what he’s looking for and how he wants the defense to play. Spring will be important for establishing that foundation.”

During an interview with The Capital in January, Newberry acknowledged he plans to install a more aggressive defensive system that is rooted in an attacking mindset.

“We’re going to be dynamic. We’re going to do a lot of things pre-snap and post-snap. We’re going to mix up coverages and design,” Newberry said. “We want it to look chaotic to the offense, but be simple to the players on defense.”

In searching for a new defensive coordinator, Niumatalolo knew Navy needed to develop a system that was capable of dealing with the spread passing offenses that predominate the American Athletic Conference while also being able to stop the option attacks of service academy rivals Army and Air Force.

“Schematically, in my mind, I knew what I wanted to do defensively. So I kind of zeroed in on certain people,” Niumatalolo said during a media luncheon on Monday in downtown Annapolis.

Newberry arrived in Annapolis at the beginning of January and therefore has spent more than three months interacting with Niumatalolo, the other assistants and returning players.

“I’ve already seen that Brian Newberry is a phenomenal coach. Brian has a real presence about him and I like the way he teaches,” Niumatalolo said.

Newberry felt it was important to bring two key assistants with him from Kennesaw State in Kevin Downing and P.J. Volker. Downing will oversee the defensive ends and outside linebackers known as “raiders” while Volker will tutor the inside linebackers. Those are clearly key positions in Newberry’s scheme and he wanted people he trusted teaching the techniques required.

Navy also hired Jerrick Hall as defensive line coach and Brian Norwood as co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach. Newberry will instruct the safeties himself as he’s coached that particular position at every stop of his collegiate career.

Steve Johns (outside linebackers) and Robert Green (no specific position assigned) are the only holdovers from the defensive staff. Johns previously coached inside linebackers while Green worked with the cornerbacks.

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