Navy Junior Ricky Dobbs Assumes the Starting Quarterback Role, and All Its Pressure

Ricky Dobbs, shown last season against Notre Dame, will make his second career start Saturday against No. 6 Ohio State. He has the strongest arm of any Navy quarterback in recent years.
Ricky Dobbs, shown last season against Notre Dame, will make his second career start Saturday against No. 6 Ohio State. He has the strongest arm of any Navy quarterback in recent years. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 4, 2009

Ricky Dobbs is fully aware of the pressure he faces this season as he steps in as Navy's full-time starting quarterback. So the junior, who dazzled at times last season off the bench, tries to avoid reading newspaper articles or listening to radio reports about his role with the Midshipmen.

But it's not always easy. Earlier this week, junior wide receiver Mario Washington showed him a story that pegged Navy's success -- and potential seventh straight bowl bid -- to Dobbs's performance this fall.

"I just want him to know how much pressure he's got on him," said Washington, one of Dobbs's close friends. "It's all on him. If he don't roll, the team ain't going to roll. We're looking forward to some good things from him this year."

Dobbs will make his second career start on Saturday, when the Midshipmen face sixth-ranked Ohio State in front of more than 100,000 fans in Columbus, Ohio. He won't be the only quarterback on the Ohio Stadium field facing pressure; Buckeyes sophomore Terrelle Pryor, the nation's top recruit in 2007, is entering his second year as a starter, and his continued development could help push Ohio State into the national championship picture.

"The biggest improvement with Terrelle is his comfort level with running the offense, and he's more comfortable reading our defense," said Anderson Russell, a three-year starter at safety for Ohio State. "Lots of times last year, he'd get under center, snap the ball and he didn't know what going on. This year, he's taking his time and reading the defense. We've got to do great job of disguising defenses against him in practice. He's coming along fast."

Dobbs has been making similar strides at Navy. He has the strongest arm of any Navy quarterback in recent years, and Coach Ken Niumatalolo has said that the Midshipmen will throw the ball more this season. But Dobbs's first priority is making the right reads in Navy's triple-option offense.

"In practice, seeing him throw the football around, you know he can definitely throw it," said Ivin Jasper, Navy's offensive coordinator and play caller. "He understands that it doesn't matter if you can throw it, if the ball is not going to the right place, to the right guy. As long as he makes good decisions in the passing game, it will make us a better throwing team."

Dobbs attempted just 16 passes in eight games last season, completing nine for 212 yards. In Navy's 34-7 victory over Southern Methodist on Oct. 25, Dobbs didn't attempt a pass after taking over at quarterback in the second quarter; instead, he ran the ball 42 times for 224 yards and four touchdowns. It was an eye-opening performance in a driving rainstorm.

In that game, there was one instance where Dobbs appeared to run a play the wrong way, with the incorrect formation and the motion going in the opposite direction. Actually, Dobbs had changed the play at the suggestion of Shun White, the standout senior slotback and one of Dobbs's mentors.

On that particular drive, Navy had run several dive plays to the right and White had noticed that the Mustangs' defense was keying off of his motion at slotback. So he told Dobbs to send the other slotback to the left but still run the play to the right. Dobbs ended up scoring a touchdown. Later, Dobbs and White were called into Jasper's office and "got an earful for doing it," White said.

"I'm like the little brother, so if the big brother says something, I'm going to do it," Dobbs said of the play. "I shouldn't have did it. . . . I wouldn't do it now, unless it was a game-time thing and I felt like it was the right thing to do."

That's just one indication of how much Dobbs has grown as a quarterback. Last season, he was surrounded by veterans such as White, fullback Eric Kettani and wide receiver Tyree Barnes; he knew that he could turn to them if he wasn't sure about a play call, and he could count on them to make plays.

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