Ricky Dobbs (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
Ken Niumatalolo has an expression he likes to use when describing the Navy passing game. “We know who we are,” the third-year head coach will often say. “And we’re not Texas Tech.” High-octane passing attack or not, the Mids put on a veritable aerial display during Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage, as Ricky Dobbs and company wrapped up the first full week of camp before 4000 spectators.
The two-hour, 135-play scrimmage had its fair share of highlights on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Ricky Dobbs led the Navy offense to two touchdowns on six possessions, hitting 10 of his 20 pass attempts for 179 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard bullet that slotback Gee Gee Green ran into the endzone. Second team quarterback Kriss Proctor looked effective directing the second team offense to two field goals in four possessions, while freshman Trey Miller was 4-4 for 45 yards in directing the third team offense to its only score.
In total, Midshipmen quarterbacks went 23-39 for 321 yards on the afternoon. It was a change of pace for many fans in attendance, who expected to see the patented triple option offense keep the ball on the ground. After the scrimmage, Niumatalolo explained the reason for the increased passing.
“We’re going to run the ball,” Niumatalolo said. “Everyone knows we are going to run the ball. We’re just trying to improve (in the passing game), not just with Ricky (Dobbs) but with our receiving and also our pass protection. Just the overall passing game we need to improve on.”
None of the Midshipmen quarterbacks were live, with running plays being blown dead as soon as defenders touched them. Still, Proctor looked particularly effective running the option with the second team, and showed good elusiveness when plays broke down in the pocket.
Niumatalolo described the first scrimmage as “typical,” and warned about reading to much into the afternoon’s events given the circumstances. Many Navy players, including starting fullback Vince Murray and defensive end Jabaree Tuani, saw limited action for precautionary reasons. Likewise, Niumatalolo was careful not to expose too much of Navy’s offense during the scrimmage, which was open to the public and held for free. Navy opens the season against in-state “rival” Maryland on September 6th, and the thought that Maryland coaches could be in attendance to watch the Mids practice is never far from the Navy coach’s mind.
“You know as coaches we’re paranoid,” Niumatalolo said. “We didn’t show much today on both sides of the ball. We were juts trying to be very basic, very simple. After this we’re going to start closing things.”
Despite the “simple” nature of the scrimmage, Niumatalolo said the team’s goals were met in that the offense and defense managed to avoid injuries, and that numerous players got valuable game reps in front of the coaching staff.
“I thought it was a good day overall, because we ran a lot of plays and got a lot of people in offensively, defensively and on special teams,” Niumatalolo said. “I am looking forward to getting back and watching the tape.”
Sophomore slotback Gee Gee Green provided plenty of highlights for the offense, as did senior slotback Andre Byrd and sophomores Bo Snelson and Jon Howell. Green, who started two games in 2009, caught three passes for 86 yards and a score, while Byrd chipped in four catches for 68 yards. The diminutive Byrd was especially impressive after the catch, dodging defenders and breaking several tackles. The speedy Howell led all slots with 41 yards on three carries. Navy is currently looking for a slotback to step up and replace departed playmaker Marcus Curry, who led all Midshipmen slotbacks in rushing and receiving last year.
“We’ve got some talented young guys,” Niumatalolo said of his slotbacks. “They haven’t played much, but hopefully as they get more reps they’ll get more experience and more confidence. We like what we have at that position.”
One thing Niumatalolo was not happy about were the amount of penalties in the scrimmage, including five false starts by the offense.
“My biggest concern right now is penalties,” Niumatalolo said. “Last year we led the country in least amount of penalties, but if we do what we did today we will be in trouble. We can’t beat ourselves.”
Niumatalolo chalked some of the false starts up to a lack of focus, but said that the somewhat relaxed conditions were still no excuse for poor execution.
“These long scrimmages, it’s hard for guys to stay focused. We start to lose focus on one side or the other at times. It’s still no excuse. We’ve got to stay focused.”
Blue, Warrick in the Mix
Several Midshipmen defensive players stood out during Saturday’s scrimmage, including second-team inside linebackers Max Blue and Matt Warrick. Blue led all Navy defenders with seven stops (including a TFL and a sack), while Warrick – a former slotback – showed exceptional range while making four tackles and a tackle for a loss.
After the scrimmage, Defensive Coordinator Buddy Green said he was pleased with Warrick’s progress at the position, and noted that the sophomore will be in the mix if he can continue to show an ability to pick up the defense.
“I thought he ran to the ball real well and made some plays,” Green said. “He got some guys on the ground and tackled well.”
“He’s got good size and has to learn the position, but he has a better understanding at full speed,” Green added. “When he totally understands I think he has a chance to be a good player.”
Sophomores French, Richardson Impress
With the loss of three senior outside linebackers to graduation last season, Navy is looking to break in a new group of players in Buddy Green’s 3-4 scheme this year. Senior Jerry Hauburger and junior Aaron McCauley are currently listed as the starters, but one player who has caught the attention of the coaching staff is Brye French. A 6-foot-1, 205-pound sophomore who plays with the intensity of former Navy starter Clint Sovie, French recorded several tackles in the scrimmage, including a stop behind the line.
“He’s athletic,” said Green of French, who also played on Navy’s lacrosse team last year. “He is a tough kid. We moved him outside and he has made huge strides, everyday.”
“I think he has a chance to get better,” Green added. “He’s in the mix, for sure.”
Another sophomore who could be in the mix for playing time in 2010 is defensive back De’Von Richardson. Richardson recorded the only Navy turnover of the day when he picked off an errant Ricky Dobbs pass. The 6-foot, 195-pound Bowie, Maryland native was filling in for banged-up Navy safety Emmett Merchant (day-to-day, shoulder) and tackled extremely well. Green praised Richardson after the scrimmage, and said that his versatility will earn him a spot on the field in 2010.
“I’m working with De’Von at safety and cornerback and nickel,” Green said. “He knows all three spots, just like Kwesi (Mitchell) knows every spot in the secondary. (De’Von) is probably the most improved guy I’ve had. He’s the most improved player I’ve had since his plebe year. He’s made big strides.”
Can’t get enough Navy action? Hardcore fans have a chance to get even more Navy notes and observations from Saturday’s scrimmage! Click here to read Adam Nettina’s detailed notes from the intrasquad scrimmage, and learn which players may have the edge going into the start of the season