The Navy football team conducted its first scrimmage of training camp Saturday morning with multiple players producing highlights on offense, most notably quarterback Keenan Reynolds and fullback Chris Swain.
In front of an enthusiastic crowd at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Reynolds completed 13 of 15 passes for 141 yards and carried 10 times for 25 yards in directing a unit that’s hoping to be more unpredictable.
While the triple option remains the base offense, Coach Ken Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper at times employed four-receiver sets during the two-hour scrimmage. Reynolds made the spread formation work by throwing long outs with precision and connecting on other passes over the middle.
“We’re trying to work on a lot of things,” Niumatalolo said. “We’re trying to be a bit more diverse offensively without getting away from our core.”
Navy’s overwhelming preference over the last decade has been running the ball, and this season there appears to be an especially effective rotation at fullback with Swain and Noah Copeland, who was a starter last season.
But given how Swain has run during spring practice and the first part of training camp, the coaching staff may face a difficult decision when it selects the starter for the season opener in less than a month.
“There’s no presumed starter” at any position, Niumatalolo said. “Maybe 19 [Reynolds], he’s the one guy, but other than that, the best guy’s going to play.”
Swain certainly made his case Saturday. He scored on a 41-yard run in which the 5-foot-11, 232-pound sophomore outmaneuvered a defensive back near the goal line to reach the end zone. Swain also had a 45-yard scoring run negated because of a penalty.
Niumatalolo first noticed Swain’s uncharacteristic speed for a player his size in last year’s Fight Hunger Bowl loss to Arizona State. Swain finished with 93 yards on four carries, including a 46-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter with athletic Pacific-12 defenders futily giving chase.
“I definitely feel a lot faster from this offseason,” said Swain, whose younger brother, Myles, is a freshman slot back. “We worked real hard as a team. Everyone really got after it this summer.”
Chris Swain was part of the 4x100-meter relay at Mount de Sales Academy in Macon, Ga. The team finished second in the state during Swain’s senior year.
Swain “is as talented as we’ve ever had,” Niumatalolo said. “He's big, strong, fast. Just a young pup. Doesn’t know how good he can be. We’ve got to do a great job of bringing him along because the guy in front of him is pretty good, too.”
Two of the more memorable runs during the scrimmage came on punt returns, both by starting wide receivers.
First, senior Shawn Lynch provided a glimpse of his considerable athletic ability by dodging one would-be tackler after another. Then senior co-captain Matt Aiken showed no effects from a knee injury that slowed him at the start of last season, avoiding a wave of defenders himself.
Even though both are important contributors to the offense, Niumatalolo indicated they will continue to be featured on special teams because of the emphasis Navy places on field position.
“Obviously you have two starters, but it’s such a critical part of the game, and we’ve done, knock on wood, a great job of fielding the ball,” Niumatalolo said. “Both of those guys are good. It is a concern, but they're good at what we do. Hopefully they don't get hurt.”