What to watch in the Independents this spring

Here's a breakdown of three issues facing both Navy and Army heading into the spring:

Navy Midshipmen

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:

• The Midshipmen lost five linebackers from the 2009 team, including four starters: Ross Pospisil (starter, ILB), Tony Haberer (starter, ILB), Ram Vela (starter, OLB), Craig Schaefer (starter, OLB) and Clint Sovie (OLB). The competition will be heated to fill those roles, but the Mids have guys that can play at a similar level, including Tyler Simmons, who has the most experience of any of the returners, Max Blue, Caleb King and Trey Grissom, on the inside, and Aaron McCauley and Jerry Hauburger on the outside.

• Two of the starting guards on the offensive line will be replaced as well as top reserve Andy Lark. Look for Ryan Basford, Brady DeMell and David Hong to compete for those spots and the job of helping protect quarterback Ricky Dobbs.

• Speaking of Dobbs, he’s questionable for spring practice after undergoing surgery in January to remove a bone chip in his knee. Without him in spring practice, the Mids will have an opportunity to find other options for scoring and take some of the pressure off their quarterback.

Army Black Knights

Spring practice starts: Feb. 17

Spring game: March 27

What to watch:

• Army coach Rich Ellerson made lemonade out of lemons last season in his first season as head coach. The Black Knights notched five wins, the highest single-season total since 1996, and Ellerson did it by shuffling his players into different positions that fit his style of coaching. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Black Knights were far more competitive this year than they have been in some time. The key will continue those strides in the spring.

• Sophomore quarterback Trent Steelman was the best offensive player for the Black Knights in 2009 and he’ll fill that role again. Steelman rushed for 706 yards and five touchdowns and threw for 637 yards and three touchdowns. He should have help in the rushing game with running back Patrick Mealy, but he’ll need to find another go-to passing target after Ali Villanueva graduates.

• Defense anchored the 2009 Army team led by defensive end Josh McNary. McNary will miss spring ball after undergoing shoulder surgery. Overall, eight starters return from last year’s squad that ranked third in pass defense and 16th in total defense. The Black Knights will need to replace defensive tackle Victor Ugenyi, who graduated.