The “running back” position group is always fun to write about when you cover a triple-option team because of the unique role the players have executing this type of offense. We rarely talk “halfback” in Navy’s offensive sets and instead we focus on the fullbacks (or B-backs) and the slotbacks (or A-Backs). In fact, the playing style is so unique that I remember playing an NCAA EA Sports game which didn’t even feature a fullback on the roster, instead I think I had to play with Eric Kettani’s likeness as a “tight end” and as much as he would probably love to brag about his hands, Eric will be remembered for his runs up the gut more so than anything else. So, what does a 2009 graduate have to do with this year’s football squad aside from the yearly (and depressing) reminder that EA Sports still won’t make a college football game? Well, Navy may just have a fullback in Nelson Smith that can put up Kettani-like numbers as Navy’s starting fullback for the next two years.
At 5’9” and 212 pounds, Smith is a fast-moving fullback who can find the hole and pick up big gains if given a small crease. Smith averaged over five yards per carry as a seven-game starter in 2018 and will certainly look to carry a bigger workload in 2019. The junior fullback carried the ball 78 times last season which resulted in three touchdowns, two of which came against Tulsa in Navy’s 37-29 win over the Golden Hurricane. Smith also contributed 108 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown against Temple.
Fun Fact: Smith is majoring in Mechanical Engineering.
After Smith, the rest of the depth chart is lacking game experience. Smith will lead a room of B-Backs that include sophomores James Harris II and Isaac Ruoss who sit second and third atop the depth chart and are both looking for their first career carries this upcoming season.
(Malcolm Perry - 2019 version - is a quarterback so you won’t find him here. Besides, Gavin already covered that.)
Williams leads returning slotbacks in total yards with 370-yards from scrimmage. Sure his 8.3 yards per carry average (2018) is impressive but that pales in comparison to what Smith has done as a target in the passing game. The 5’8” junior hauled in nine passes last year totaling 187 yards and nearly a 21-yard per catch average. He will certainly emerge as an even bigger threat in the passing game in 2019.
Fun Fact: Williams also took recruiting trips to Columbia and Harvard.
Maloy sits atop the depth chart for the slotback position opposite of CJ Williams. The senior returning letter winner accounted for 179-yards on the ground and two touchdowns as a two-game starter in 2018. He ran for 33-yards on just three carries against Notre Dame and another 57-yards on eight carries against Houston. Running game coordinator Ashley Ingram will likely rely on Maloy to set the tone and lead the slotbacks in 2019.
Fun Fact: Maloy’s father is a retired Master Sergeant in the USMC.
Junior slotback Makekau has battled injuries as a freshman and sophomore but still managed to make a solid impact when healthy. The Hawaii native amassed over 200-yards of offense as a slotback in his first two seasons with Navy including a 52-yard receiving performance in last year’s Army-Navy game. Many expect Makekau to have a breakout year for the Midshipmen this year if he can keep himself off of the injury list.
Fun Fact: Makekau was an All-ILH second-team kicker his senior year of high school.
The Arkansas native carried the ball just eight times last year but gained over 100-yards on the ground. Described as a “solid blocker,” Fells also managed to find the endzone twice in 2018, including a 52-yard scamper against Lehigh with just his first career rushing attempt.
Fun Fact: Fells has interest in getting involved in politics after his military career.
So, Navy “running backs?” Well, when it comes to the fullback, expect Smith to carry the load while mentoring some youth and inexperience within the depth chart. The slotback position shows a lot of promise with a number of players who have experience over the last couple of years in both the rushing and the receiving game. While there is no clear dominant statistical leader heading into the 2019 season for this group, expect a number of the slotbacks to contribute to an improved rushing attack from 2018.