Midshipmen will tailor offense to QB's skills

Over lunch Tuesday at a seafood restaurant in Annapolis, the subject was shrimp. No, not the crustacean, but the quarterback variety. Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said that his 5-foot-11 quarterback, Keenan Reynolds, reminded him of 5-11 Seattle Seahawks star Russell Wilson.

Aside from height, the comparison has merit as both did amazing work last fall as rookies on the next level. While Wilson lifted the Seattle in an offense that was tailored to his ability to run, throw, think and lead, Reynolds, with a similar set of skills, lifted Navy within the confines of the triple-option offense.

But next year, Reynolds will be working with an expanded playbook as the Midshipmen will try to take more advantage of his skills. Imagining what run-oriented Navy could accomplish against defenses that have to respect Reynolds' ability to throw deep is a tantalizing prospect.

"We gotta take advantage of this guy's talents," Niumatalolo said. "He made some throws against Army with pressure, moving out of the pocket, still with great accuracy."

Without naming names, Niumatalolo said that he and his staff have consulted with other coaches who run no-huddle, up-tempo shotgun offenses made fashionable by Oregon. Niumatalolo admits that it's a departure from the Mids' typical plan, which is to milk the clock and limit possessions.

"It's out of our comfort zone as a staff. Obviously we're an option team," Niumatalolo said. "That's just the wave of college football now. Before guys were getting 65 snaps. Now guys are getting 85 to 90."

Reynolds' effect was immediate. Entering a game that Navy trailed at Air Force, Reynolds rallied the Mids to an overtime victory. With Reynolds in command, Navy won seven of eight games, regained the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and qualified for a bowl game, finishing 8-5.

Reynolds completed 61 of 108 passes for 898 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran 162 times for 649 yards and 10 scores. His passer rating of 150.1 would have ranked him 24th in the country had he had enough attempts to qualify. This year, it appears, Navy may give him those attempts without radically changing its offense.

"We don't want to turn to a true spread team at this point," Niumatalolo said. "We'll be who we are. The core of our offense won't change, so you have to prepare for that. We feel like if we expand our package, it forces you to prepare for other things."

With spring practice opening Monday, Navy will put a no-contact jersey on Reynolds. Niumatalolo said it's likely he won't even play in the Spring Game on April 12.

If only Navy could issue the same hands-off policy with schools that might be interested in his services. After their sophomore year, all Midshipmen are required to sign up for their final two years and the accompanying five-year service commitment. Niumatalolo would not address the possibility of losing Reynolds, but he might have to deal with it. After all, who wouldn't want a facsimile of Russell Wilson?

Notes ยป Midshipmen who will sit out spring workouts are senior tackle Graham Vickers (shoulder surgery), junior guard Jake Zuzek (shoulder surgery), junior linebacker Josh Tate (ankle surgery), and senior slot back Marcus Thomas (academics).