From the opener of the regular season to the finale, Navy's coaches have not hesitated to make unconventional moves based on the strengths and weaknesses of an opponent.
In Week 1 against Notre Dame, the Midshipmen moved Graham Vickers from offensive tackle to center to deal with All-American middle linebacker Manti Te'o. In Week 12 against Army, the Mids shifted Danny Ring from defensive end to nose guard to combat the smaller, quicker line of the Black Knights.
The shift of Vickers, the Mids' most athletic offensive lineman, didn't have the desired effect. Te'o had a team-high eight tackles, intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble in the Irish's 50-10 win. But there was no quibbling with the move of Ring, who played a key role in Navy's 17-13 victory over Army.
"He might have played as well in that game as any nose guard since I've been here," defensive coordinator Buddy Green said.
At 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, Ring doesn't have the typically round build of a nose guard. But he proved a force in the first quarter, making solo stops on three rushing plays that gained a total of 5 yards, helping force the Black Knights to surrender the ball on their first two possessions.
As Navy (8-4) prepares to face Arizona State (7-5) in the Fight Hunger Bowl, Ring sits atop the depth chart at nose guard, ahead of players with more prototypical size such as freshman Bernard Sarra (6-1, 290) and juniors Travis Bridges (6-0, 318) and Barry Dabney (6-1, 297).
"It kind of felt natural," Ring said. "Football is football no matter where you go, so adapt to it and play."
Ring had been used all year as a situational substitute at nose guard on passing downs. Against the pass-heavy spread offense of Indiana in October, he got the only other start of his career.
In a 21-10 win over Texas State, Ring was slicing through double teams and creating havoc in the backfield, so the Mids kept him on the field in short-yardage situations. Ring made two third-down stops, forcing punts. Three weeks later against Army, he got the call against the nation's No. 1 rushing offense.
"The true nose against the option is a tough position. Dan showed the things we were looking for in practice," Green said. "I give all the credit to coach [Dale] Pehrson, coach [Shaun] Nua. They said Dan Ring's our best and Bernie Sarra was our next best to play against this kind of [option] offense. You trust your eyes and go with it."
Coaches were right about Sarra, too, even though he had been buried on the depth chart most of the year behind Dabney and Bridges. Sarra had five tackles against Army.
With the graduation of senior defensive ends Wes Henderson, Collin Sturdivant and Josh Dowling-Fitzpatrick, Navy will lose three of the eight defensive linemen it rotates. But Ring doesn't expect the Mids to be any less deep in 2013.
"We got a lot of good freshmen coming up," Ring said. "A lot of guys who can play."