Gaining an Inside Edge
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Toward the end of summer camp, Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen was so taken aback by the repeated on-field behavior of Jeremy Navarre that he contemplated doing something he had never done: limiting the number of reps for the defensive tackle.
Navarre wasn't injured; he hadn't broken a rule or struggled on the field. Friedgen's prime concern was that practicing Navarre a lot might start taking a toll on the confidence of his offensive line.
"Jeremy is a force right now," Friedgen said. "We are struggling to block the son of a gun."
If there has been one player on either side of the ball whom Maryland coaches have raved about through the spring and summer, it has been Navarre -- a former wrestler, former fullback, former defensive end who has found a new home at defensive tackle and who appears poised for a standout senior season. For Navarre, who has designs on earning first-team all-ACC recognition and putting himself in position to play in the NFL, "It all comes down to my senior year."
It will be a final season accompanied by considerable hype.
Right tackle Dane Randolph, who had regularly tried to block Navarre in practice, said: "He is probably going to be on the scale of Chris Long," the former all-American defensive end at Virginia and the No. 2 pick in June's NFL draft. "Jeremy wants to accomplish something this year."
Dave Sollazzo, Maryland's defensive line coach, said Navarre could be one of the best players in the conference this season because he has prepared this offseason better than anyone in the country.
A three-year starter at defensive end, Navarre always has been well-respected, and he performed well as a junior, finishing tied for second on the team in sacks (5.5). He also leads active Maryland players in career tackles for loss (18). The loss of tackles Dre Moore and Carlos Feliciano gave Navarre the chance to move inside, where he is a particularly good fit.
Navarre spent the last several months trying to mold his body perfectly for the position, adding enough bulk to give him the maximum amount of strength and speed. Friedgen told him: "Sometimes it is not how big you are. The most important thing is, what weight can you be as big and strong as you can possibly be?"
Navarre's formula was a rigorous weightlifting program and an "eat-until-you-are-full" diet. His most important meal was breakfast, which he never missed, regardless of how early his first class was. The typical meal: four fried eggs, six pieces of bacon, wheat bread and a glass of milk. Lunch and dinners almost always included grilled chicken or red meat. He only recently started eating salads -- only greens, grilled chicken and dressing -- and has tried to refrain from devouring junk food but has trouble resisting the occasional Ben & Jerry's ice cream or pizza.
The 6-foot-3 Navarre entered summer camp at 290, 45 pounds heavier than when he enrolled at Maryland as a fullback and 20 pounds heavier than last season's playing weight. He said it took some time adjusting to the added weight, and he would wear down after two or three plays in practice.
"You don't want to get sloppy," Navarre said. "You want to gain the best weight possible so you can still move around and be athletic."
Navarre has since found a comfort zone at 283, all the while maintaining his speed [he runs 4.9 in the 40]. And teammates and coaches saw a difference in Navarre's performance from the onset of camp. One day Friedgen walked into his office and told reporters: "We couldn't stop Jeremy. He was Howie Long. He was throwing those 300-pounders around like they are 120-pounders."
Navarre believes his experience as a Maryland state wrestling champion -- he went 88-2 at Joppatowne High -- helps him considerably on the defensive line. Facing opponents sometimes 30 pounds heavier in the heavyweight division, Navarre learned to use balance, leverage and a vise-like grip to his advantage.
"He uses all those wrestling moves on the field," said Randolph, who still blocks Navarre in practice on occasional double teams. "If he gets his hands on you, you can't do anything. He will pull you sideways, left, right, down, doesn't matter. And he can keep you there, too, no matter how big you are. He will get that wide stance and his hands under you, and if he needs to get somewhere, he will throw you down and get to the tackle."
Sollazzo said Navarre has the best hands he has seen. And Friedgen said Navarre's hand placement, use of leverage and quickness at the tackle position will translate into more big plays from him inside this season.
After an offseason of intensive preparation, Navarre is eagerly awaiting the season's start. Leaving practice the other day, Friedgen encountered Navarre and his father, George Navarre.
"You tired?" Friedgen asked.
"Not really," Navarre answered.
"I'd like to have 44 guys like that," Friedgen said later. "He lines up every day and plays. You never hear about him. Just a tough son of a gun. He will play next year somewhere. He is a good football player."