Navy looking thin at wide receiver during camp
By Gene Wang,
Less than 48 hours after its first scrimmage of training camp, the Navy football team was back on the practice field on Monday morning without starting wide receiver Matt Aiken, who was scheduled to have an MRI exam on his sore right knee.
The junior was hurt during Saturday afternoon’s Blue-Gold scrimmage at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium when another player collided with his knee on an end-around. Aiken remained on the field after the play as the team’s medical and training staff attended to him.
Aiken shortly thereafter had to be helped to the bench, where he sat down to have knee iced and wrapped. Coach Ken Niumatalolo stood beside Aiken for several minutes, and teammates came by to offer encouragement.
“He’s got a little fluid in there,” Niumatalolo said on Monday morning after the Midshipmen practiced for two hours. “He’s walking gingerly. Hopefully he’ll be okay.”
Aiken started 11 games last season and finished second on the team in receiving with 201 yards and two touchdowns on 13 receptions.
It remains unclear for how long Aiken will be lost, and his absence is that much more taxing considering the offense is also without senior Brandon Turner, the other starter at wide receiver.
Turner, who led Navy in receiving last year, is out until at least Aug. 20 after failing the physical-readiness test players are required to pass in order to be cleared to practice.
With Aiken and Turner unavailable for the immediate future, the Midshipmen are using a wide receiver rotation that includes juniors Casey Bolena and Shawn Lynch and seniors Jonathan Gazaille and John O’Boyle.
Lynch began his college football career as a wide receiver but moved to safety last season before switching back this year. O’Boyle, Gazaille and Bolena, meantime, have combined for five career receptions.
“Having depth at receiver is good,” Bolena said. “I mean we work our tails off every snap, and it’s good to get the guys lower on the depth chart up and working.”
In Navy’s most recent depth chart released on Monday, Bolena is listed as a starter in place of Turner, who doesn’t figure to be back on the official roster until the senior passes his physical-readiness test.
“I think we’ll be fine,” Niumatalolo said. “Hopefully Brandon will come back ready to go. Hopefully Matt’s [injury] isn’t bad, but we’ve got some younger guys that are competing.”
The absence of both starting wide receivers comes as Navy is preparing for its Sept. 1 opener against Notre Dame in Dublin, leaving starting quarterback Trey Miller less-than-optimum time to become familiar with an inexperienced group.
Miller is heading into his first season as the regular starter after playing in seven games last year. His only start last season came in a 56-14 loss to the Fighting Irish on Oct. 29 in South Bend, Ind.
With Notre Dame and Penn State as Navy’s first two opponents this season, Niumatalolo reinforced his message of resolve to his players on Monday morning after what he deemed a practice lacking in energy.
“We’re the Naval Academy, and we’ve got to be tougher than everybody else.” Niumatalolo said. “That’s our calling card. We’ve got to feel like when we step on the field that nobody else in the country practiced harder than we did. We can see Notre Dame on tape, but we know when we see then in person they’re going to be way bigger than us, so we can never forget that.”