At Quarterback, Navy Gets a Lift From Backup's Backup

Jarod Bryant (2) has filled in for Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada at quarterback, but Ricky Dobbs has also impressed.
Jarod Bryant (2) has filled in for Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada at quarterback, but Ricky Dobbs has also impressed. (By Nick Wass -- Associated Press)
By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo knows what it's like being a backup quarterback; that was his role for much of his playing career at the University of Hawaii. "The backup quarterback is always the prettiest girl at the dance," he said. "I went in, and then they wanted the other guy."

With senior Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada hampered by a hamstring injury, sophomore Ricky Dobbs has moved into the backup role behind senior Jarod Bryant. Dobbs's performance in the waning moments of Navy's 42-21 loss to Pittsburgh has led some fans and media to wonder if he should be getting more playing time.

(Niumatalolo said yesterday that Kaheaku-Enhada is still day-to-day, and that as of now, Bryant will start on Saturday against SMU.)

Navy's offense has struggled in its past two games; the Midshipmen averaged 415 yards of total offense in their first five games, but finished with a combined total of 495 yards against Air Force and Pittsburgh. Both Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper have stressed that the fault lies with the offense as a whole, as opposed to just the play of the quarterback.

"Jarod is taking the brunt of [the criticism], but it's not all been Jarod," Niumatalolo said. "He had that fumble [against Pittsburgh], but he actually played okay. If he was playing bad and was the reason we weren't moving the ball, we'd think about" putting Dobbs in to spark the offense.

Dobbs came into the game with 2 minutes 45 seconds remaining and Navy trailing 42-14 and put together a six-play, 54-yard touchdown drive against the Panthers' reserves. He completed a 39-yard pass to Mario Washington that set up his own four-yard touchdown run. In the fourth quarter of the season opener against Towson, Dobbs led Navy on an 11-play, 76-yard drive that culminated in Matt Harmon's field goal.

At 6 feet 1, Dobbs is taller than both Bryant (5-10) and Kaheaku-Enhada (5-11), and he has the strongest arm of the three. But he's still learning Navy's triple-option offense.

"His main problem is he's inconsistent with being smart," said Jasper, who also coaches Navy's quarterbacks. "There are some little things here and there that will get you beat. . . . If we put a game plan in with his strengths, we can go out and play with him. As a whole, a lot of what we want to do in the game, I don't think he's quite there yet."

Niumatalolo has said that Kaheaku-Enhada is the best option-read quarterback that Navy has had. Kaheaku-Enhada's strength is his decision-making, and part of that stems from his familiarity with the offense; his high school team ran the triple-option.

"It takes a little bit of time to get used to running this offense, with the footwork and making your reads," Kaheaku-Enhada said during the preseason.

Dobbs, on the other hand, had no experience running the option prior to Navy. During his sophomore and junior years at Douglas County (Ga.) High, his team ran a pro-set offense and relied on its talented running backs. As a senior, the team switched to a more "read-and-react, run-and-gun" type of offense.

"In high school, I was used to pass first, then run. Here it's run first, then pass," Dobbs said. "As far as techniques and reading defenses, I didn't know anything prior to coming here. In high school, we used to just get out there and run plays and try to out-talent people with our athleticism. When I got here, I started learning more about techniques and defenses and fronts, and at the same time, I was having to learn the offense, too. It was real tough. It makes you feel like you'll never get it right."

But Dobbs is improving, Jasper said. "When he does something wrong, he looks over at me like, 'Yeah, I know coach.' " Getting game experience has been helpful because it's a more pressurized atmosphere and mistakes are amplified.

"When I go out there, I try to take it as it comes. One coach in particular tells me not to do too much; just let the game come to me," Dobbs said. "Even though it's only 2 minutes 45 seconds left, I'm still looking at it like we still have a chance to come back, no matter what. If I go out there thinking I'm just going out there to learn, I'm already defeated."

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