Navy can overcome Curry's loss
Well, it’s official. Someone, somewhere, is likely taking Navy out of their preseason Top 25 ranking for 2010.
Nevermind that we’re still four months away from Navy’s opening day matchup against the Maryland Terrapins, or that the Mids – fresh off a 10-4 season that included a bowl beatdown of Missouri – still have plenty of offseason questions to address on both sides of the ball. No, the real point here is that without slotback Marcus Curry, Navy’s potent triple option attack doesn’t stand a chance against the likes of defenses from Air Force, Wake Forest, and Notre Dame, and definitely isn’t as deserving for preseason Top 25 consideration as it was a week ago.
Heck, I bet that otherwise gimmicky, one-trick pony offense couldn’t even hang four touchdowns on Georgia Southern, much less Maryland. Word on the street is that sans Curry, they’re just a bunch of short slow guys led by a quarterback who couldn’t possibly do that again.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. There’s only one problem for the skeptics, however, and that’s that Curry’s absence from the backfield might not be as big as a hit as they think.
Don’t get me wrong. Curry’s recent dismissal is a hit to the Navy offense, which ranked fourth in the country in rushing last year and returns star quarterback Ricky Dobbs for one final go around. The rising junior proved that preseason hype was no fluke in 2009, leading all Midshipmen slotbacks with 585 yards on the ground (7.3 yard average) and all Navy players with 10 catches for 287 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Perhaps most impressive about Curry’s sophomore campaign was his performance in big games. He topped 100 yards receiving against Ohio State, while nearly hitting the century mark in rushing and receiving against Missouri in the Texas Bowl. Oh yea, and the guy missed three games during the season because of injury.
Tough, reliable, and explosive, the 5-foot-11 Curry had big-name running back status written all over him, and seemed like a too-good-to-be-true get for an offense that was used to seeing smaller slotbacks struggle to put complete games together.
Well, the bubble on Curry’s “too good to be true” status at Navy finally popped last week, when the Annapolis Capital reported that after an offseason fraught with accusations of impropriety, Curry was dismissed from the team by head coach Ken Niumatalolo. The Capital had first reported in January that Curry had failed a December drug test, although the Carrollton, Texas native was allowed to stay on the team. The exact reason for Curry’s dismal this past week is unknown, but it has been reported that the it came at the cost of another conduct offense.
A tough loss? You betcha. An insurmountable one? Not by any means.
Losing big-time players at inopportune times isn’t exactly something Navy fans have been spared in recent years. Freshmen sensation Karlos Whittaker left Navy after a record setting year at slotback in 2005, while safety Jeromy Miles – a recent free agent acquisition of the Cincinatti Bengals – parted ways with Navy following the 2006 season. And who can forget about former nose gaurd Nate Frazier, who just prior to the 2009 season was booted from the Academy due to an honor code violation. If there was ever going to be a time to panic over the loss of a player, it was then. Frazier wasn’t just the starter at nose guard; he was arguably Navy’s best player and the most dominating Midshipmen lineman of the past decade. 6-foot-3, 290-pound former lacrosse players don’t exactly grow on trees for any team (much less a service academy), and Frazier’s dismissal put Navy in a bind right as the Mids were about to take on Ohio State.
Three months later, the name “Nate Frazier” hardly seemed to matter anymore, because two previously unheralded “no-names” – Chase Burge and Jordan Stephens – had stepped in to replace Frazier at the nose. Was the tandem as effective as Frazier (who transferred to North Alabama) might have been? We may never know, but after a 10-4 season, it’s not as if Navy fans have much reason to speculate.
But then again, you’d expect as much from Ken Niumatalolo’s Navy football team, which remains the single most resilient group of student athletes I have ever witnessed on a playing field. Granted, my experience with the United States Military is hardly worth mentioning (my ROTC career lasted about as long as Ryan Leaf’s NFL career) but if there was one thing I learned, it was to never underestimate the young men and women who willingly take up arms for the defense of this nation. In a culture where contingency planning and flexibility aren’t just hallmarks, but essential elements of work and life, the ability to adapt to the situation is never far from the minds of those in the Army or Navy. That maxim holds just as true on the football field as it does in the training environment.
Someone will step up for Navy with Curry gone. Perhaps it will be Michael Stukel, the former quarterback whose electric play in practice has long had Navy fans abuzz. Or maybe it’ll be Gee Gee Greene, the talented sophomore who earned the distinction of cracking into Navy’s starting rotation at slotback last season. Or maybe the answer will come in a player still yet to be known by even the most diehard of Navy fans. One thing is for certain though, and that is that Curry’s dismissal shouldn’t damper the expectations for 2010, Top 25 talk or not. One only need remember that Curry was a relative unknown before breaking out last year, a fact which resonated with Niumatalolo when he addressed the Curry situation in the Capital last week.
“People always step up,”’ said the second year coach. “We will miss Marcus because he was a good player, but we have a bunch of young slotbacks that are very talented. I'm excited about all the slots we have coming back."
So let the preseason prognosticators drop Navy from their “on the cusp” lists and rankings. People around the country have doubted this team and program before, and if there is one thing that Ken Niumatalolo and his team relish, it’s the role of the proverbial underdog that everybody counts out.