Spring Chat: Buddy Green

Navy DB Wyatt Middleton

It wasn't long ago that some Navy fans were calling for Buddy Green's job. But after a woeful 2007 in which his injury-riddled defense dropped to the bottom of the NCAA rankings, Green has since reestablished himself as one of the best defensive minds in the entire college game. I caught up with Green last week, and got the inside scoop on his defensive plans going into spring practice.

Adam Nettina (AN): Can you explain the move of Mario Washington from wide receiver to defensive back? What was the driving force behind it, and what are you expecting from Mario this spring?

Buddy Green (BG):Numbers wise we have three guys who are obviously coming back who started last year, but as far as tremendous depth at defensive back, we don't have that many numbers compared to other positions on defense. I've got him listed on the first line going into the spring. Bottom line is that if he can come over – and Mario is athletic and he has played corner before – and if he can help us at that spot and fight for a starting job it would be a tremendous asset for our team.

AN: When did he play corner? In high school or NAPS?

BG:Yes, he played in high school. He was really a good corner, and had been a starter since his sophomore year. He played corner and wide receiver in high school.

AN: So does that mean he is even with Kwesi Mitchell on the depth chart right now? How do you see that competition playing out over the next few weeks?

BG:I hope we have a lot of competition. Kwesi played nickel for us in the bowl game, and even played safety for us in quite a few games last year. He has experience at both safety and corner. David Wright, who got some experience with us on special teams last year, is another guy who I think is going to battle. We'll have to see what takes place at that other corner spot…with Kevin out this spring, and rehabbing with his shoulder, it's going to really give us a chance to look at two guys at the right and left corner spot. I think it'll be a good competition in the spring.

AN: I think most people recognize that Emmett Merchant and Wyatt Middleton give you one of the best safety combinations seen at the Academy in recent memory, but there doesn't seem to be much established depth behind them. Who are some of the players that could emerge as your future starters?

BG:I think the key guy – and the one guy who played a lot for us and was solid on special teams – is Tra'ves Bush. He made a lot of plays for us on the kickoff team and on special teams so he will be one guy competing. Brian Blick is another guy who has worked very hard. He played some special teams last year. We also have some young guys. Jordan Fraser, a plebe, has some good size and we're looking for him to compete. He played in JV games last year. There are some other guys…De'Von Richardson played corner a year ago and dressed in a lot of ball games and played special teams. He is going to get work at corner and safety. Same way with Caleb Lucas. Both those guys traveled a lot last year and Caleb played on special teams. Both of those guys have good size. I'm going to look at quite a few of those guys at both corner and safety. Eric Stein is going to compete, as is Jason Wright. I think with the amount of playing time Tra'ves had last year on special teams he will be in the hunt, as will Brian Blick. Without a doubt I'm going to take a look at both Caleb and Richardson at corner and safety.

AN: What about the defensive line? There was a lot of depth there last year, and it really gave you and coach Pehrson the luxury of being able to rotate different guys in and out. It that something you can continue to do with the players on the line now, and which players should fans keep their eye out for?

BG:There are a lot of guys and a lot of unanswered questions. That was really an ideal situation in which we were able to rotate [Matt] Nechak and [Michael] Walsh and bring Jordan [Stephens] in. Chase [Burge] played a lot with Shane Bothel on the nose, so we were able to keep guys fresh. With the guys coming back we are going to look at Shane Bothel as not only a nose guard but as an end as well. Burge is the same way and we'll look at him at defensive end as well. Jabaree will of course stay at end, and Billy Yarborough will come back as a defensive end. Collin Sturdivant is a young guy and Josh Jones is a young guy…we've got a list of guys who played in JV games but don't have any varsity experience, so that is a major concern in spring ball – to find depth at that position.

AN: What's more important in your outlook for spring ball? Determining depth, or developing scheme?

BG:Our number one goal is to always come out of the spring being fundamentally sound and technique wise to have every guy who has the chance to play in the top 22 to understand how to play the game full speed. One of the keys this spring is to come out of spring practice and identify our best 22. If we need to move an outside linebacker to D-end or a safety to outside linebacker, we're going to make sure we get the guys in place to get our best 22 on the field. I think that's why it's going to be a very competitive spring at all positions. We are looking for two deep at some positions, and there will be guys who will be playing for the first time. We lost some guys up front and we lost almost all of our linebackers. Tyler Simmons is really the only guy, but the other spots are wide open.

AN: Max Blue and Caleb King really stepped up during the spring and summer last year. Are they in the running for that ILB spot opposite Simmons, or are there others plays who are going to compete for that spot as well as the two outside positions?

BG:We're looking for [Caleb and Max] to step up because they have had game experience. Trey Grissom has had some special teams experience as well. Then you look at some young guys who we think have a chance to compete. As we go into the spring at both the inside and outside I see that as wide open. It is going to be a competitive spring and there are some young guys that haven't played a whole lot. Jarrod Shannon has been banged up but if he can stay healthy we're going to take a look at him on the outside. You look at the other size and we have [Neil] Doogan and [Josh] Fitzpatrick and Adam Johnson…athletically we think they have some tools, and those guys that I mentioned are going to be out there the first ball game. Learning the system and getting fundamentally sound, I look for both our inside and outside backers to have a very competitive spring.

AN: Obviously there is an experience dropoff when you lose guys like Ross Pospisil, Clint Sovie and Tony Haberer, but how do some of the younger guys stack up physically when compared to the graduating seniors?

BG:If you look size wise -- with Ram [Vela] and Clint last year – we are probably a little bigger at both striker and raider on the outside. Athletically we'll just have to see how the spring develops, but I think we have some athletic guys who just haven't had that playing experience yet. They can be good players at that position, and I use [former Navy linebacker] Craig Schaefer as a prime example. He was a guy who just worked extremely hard until he got a chance, and really flourished his senior year. From midseason through the bowl game he was our best pass rusher and came up with some big plays. The best way to put it is we're looking for some guys like Schaefer – it's there time now and they need to step up. We're looking for those guys this spring so we can have some confidence when we line up next fall.

AN: Guys like Jerry Hauburgar?

BG:I'm glad you said his name, actually. I have Hauburgar right up there with Doogan. We think Hauburgar has really good speed and athletically he has talent. He's been banged up. Injuries have prevented him from playing as much as we would have wanted him to play the last couple of years. He's been limited but he is a guy who we want to step up like Schaefer did his senior year. We think he can be a guy who can give us solid play at that position.

AN: You lost coach Joe Speed to Georgia Tech a couple weeks ago, but also promoted coach Davis and picked up Napoleon Sykes. What are you expecting from coach Sykes, and what are your thoughts on the defensive staff moves?

BG:Coach Sykes brings a lot to the program. He played at Wake Forest and has coached at Wake Forest. As far this area goes recruiting wise, we think he'll do a great job recruiting in the Baltimore/Virginia area. He has been with us about three weeks and I have been tremendously impressed. He came highly recommended from coach Grobe and a lot of other coaches on the Wake staff which I know real well. Through his first three weeks I think he has proven that he'll be a tremendous asset. I wish Joe the best luck in the world and we're going to miss him, but coach Sykes is going to be good for our program. I think coach Davis has been vital to us in working with coach Pehrson and the defensive line, which he'll continue to do. He is also a big part of our special teams.

AN: You came up with a rather unorthodox approach to defending Missouri's spread offense in the Texas Bowl. Do you plan on tinkering with that scheme at all this spring, and maybe using it again in the future? Also, have you and your staff been in contact with other staffs in learning new wrinkles for the defense?

BG: [The look against Missouri] was based on something with what they did. They go empty with no backs all the time, and with how quickly they threw the football, I was just trying to get an advantage some way with the scheme. But it is something that we can look at in the future. We are going to face a lot of passing teams that may be similar in some of the teams we play this coming year. They are going to go with no backs and throw it around and spread it around, so to get some extra DBs on the field it may be something we do again in the future.

BG:And yes, in the offseason we spend a lot of time looking at what other teams have done defensively -- basically with teams that run a 3-4. Whether it's teams in college or in the NFL, we're asking them to try to critique us and try to get us better for next year. Most certainly that's something we've done in the offseason already.

AN: Let's talk about recruiting for a moment. A lot of Navy fans are already talking up this incoming high school class as "the best" recruiting class the current staff has brought in. Is that a fair label? How do you feel about the team's recruiting efforts this offseason?

BG:I am extremely pleased with our recruiting. I think it's one of the best classes that we have had. With the guy we have going to NAPS we think we have a great group defensively. The guys we have coming in direct, and with the guys coming in from NAPS this coming year, we think we have some guys on defense who are going to help us. I think they can be in the mix this coming fall. To say that about a freshman class -- you sometimes have to be careful because you never know making that step to the college level – but I really feel like we have signed a group of guys and have some guys coming from NAPS who are going to be ready to help us right away….either in the mix for playing time or playing special teams during their first year.

AN: Was it a new experience for you as a staff to land some of these players against some pretty big-time schools? A couple guys who committed had offers from multiple BCS programs…

BG:I think we were very fortunate to sign the class that we signed. In this class we have some size and we have some speed that, just looking on paper, says that these guys have a chance to help us coming in. I think the credit first goes to the product we're trying to sell, and that's the Academy. The young men we signed see the tremendous opportunities at the Naval Academy, and the coaches in charge of those areas did a tremendous job in recruiting those guys.

AN: One area of concern at times last season seemed to be the run defense. I know it finished high from a ranking standpoint, but there were games against Western Kentucky and Temple where it looked like your defense struggled against the zone blocking scheme. Do you think your defense struggles against zone blocking schemes, and if so why is that and how are you trying to fix it?

BG:I think those two teams that you mentioned did a really good job. Temple did a great job up front with blocking us and they have a great tailback. Western Kentucky had great movement up front and created some seams and both those teams had success. They did a good job running a football against us, and if I remember those two games – which I can – we didn't tackle as well as we needed to. We didn't get off blocks. Thing is with our guys, we have to do a good job tackling and swarming to the ball. We've got to do a great job of getting off blocks and getting penetration, and in those two games we just didn't do that as well as we did in other games.

AN: Are there any other players fans should keep their eyes out for this spring?

BG:Ryan Green and David Sperry are two other guys in the secondary who have shown some flashes. They have definite promise in the future, along with David Wright. A guy at nose who we are hoping can help -- because he has the best size of anyone on defense -- is Jared Marks. He played on special teams last year, but we're hoping that he develops and can give us time at nose guard so we do have the flexibility of playing Chase and Shane at the end spots. It's important that [Jared] has a good spring and gets better, because nose guards a critical spot for us.

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