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Walsh Provides Depth at Nose Guard

Senior defensive end Mike Walsh ably filled in at nose guard during Saturday's win over Rice, and that gives Navy another option at that position. Walsh is not the biggest lineman — he's 6 feet 2 and 251 pounds — but he has a hard-nosed personality and is one of the Midshipmen's strongest players (he can squat 555 pounds, which is tied with center Curtis Bass for the best mark on the team).

SMU prefers to throw the ball — the Mustangs average 297 yards through the air, compared to 65.8 on the ground — and Walsh, with his athleticism, can be effective against that kind of team. Both Walsh and junior Billy Yarborough, another defensive end who moved inside to nose guard, played well against Rice, which also likes to throw the ball.

"Both of those two guys inside added a little quickness inside to us at the nose guard," Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "They're not as big, obviously, as those other guys, but we liked what we saw from both of them."

Walsh said that he was nervous before the Rice game because he was playing a new position, but he was also happy just to be playing. Walsh missed the second half of last season with an injured toe; then-freshman Jabaree Tuani filled in for him and flourished, locking down one of the starting spots at defensive end. The Rice game marked Walsh's first start since Sept. 20, 2008, when he started at defensive end against Rutgers.

The biggest surprise for Walsh at nose guard? "You get beat up a lot more," he said. "You get double teamed on pass [plays], and that was kind of new to me."

One of the biggest surprises for the Midshipmen this season has been the play of the defensive line; they lost starter Nate Frazier during the preseason, but haven't missed a beat with senior Jordan Stephens and juniors Chase Burge and Shane Bothel. When those three players were slowed by injuries, Walsh stepped in.

Navy currently ranks 32nd in the country in total defense (307.5 yards per game) and 29th in rushing defense (108.7 yards).

"We were really concerned when we lost Nate," Niumatalolo said. "He was our best player, our number one defensive lineman, and we lost him, a true nose guard. And our defense has played great this season. ... It's a great credit to our defensive line and Coach [Dale] Pehrson. They've done a great job."

By Camille Powell  |  October 14, 2009; 10:14 AM ET
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