By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
At practice on Monday, Navy junior Vince Murray felt a little more tired and sore than usual. But he expected that, after nearly exceeding his career rushing output during the Midshipmen's 16-13 overtime victory against Air Force on Saturday.
Murray filled in for starting fullback Alexander Teich for the entire second half and extra period against the Falcons, after Teich hopped off the field with a sprained left ankle. Teich was wearing a protective boot at practice on Monday, and Coach Ken Niumatalolo said it's doubtful that the sophomore will be able to play at Rice (0-5) on Saturday.
That means Murray will likely make his first start and once again shoulder the workload at fullback. Senior Jordan Eddington, who has rushed for seven yards on three carries in his career, would move into the backup role.
"He's made some strong runs," offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said of Murray. "He's probably not the most talented of the two [Teich and Murray], but he's the most physical. And right now that's what we need, a physical fullback."
After Teich left the Air Force game late in the second quarter, the Midshipmen (3-2) relied heavily on Murray, who came into the game with career totals of 19 carries and 78 yards. Murray had a hand in 17 of Navy's final 31 plays, running the ball 16 times and making one catch. He finished with 67 yards on 22 carries.
Overall, the Midshipmen struggled offensively against the Falcons, gaining a season-low 209 total yards. Air Force was effective in taking away the outside -- Navy got the ball to its slotbacks only four times -- but the Midshipmen couldn't take advantage by exploiting the middle. Falcons nose guard Ben Garland was especially disruptive, making seven tackles and forcing a fumble.
"That's what it came down to: They let us hand the football off and they tackled the fullback," Jasper said. "We just weren't getting it done inside. We missed some reads, and they played well inside."
By this point in the season, Navy usually has had at least one 100-yard performance from a fullback. Teich has come closest, rushing for 80 yards on 12 carries against Pittsburgh on Sept. 20. As a team, the Midshipmen are averaging 230.2 yards on the ground, eighth in the country but well below last year's average of 292.4 yards.
"Usually at this time, we have not played Ohio State, Pitt and a team like Air Force, which, coming into the game, was pretty good on defense," Niumatalolo said. "I'm not worried about it. We'll be all right."
The 6-foot-1, 217-pound Murray does not have the speed or quickness that Teich does. "I'm more straight ahead, not a lot of cutting, not a lot of spin moves," Murray said. But he's tough and he's hard to bring down: according to Jasper, Murray has gained more yards after contact than Teich has.
At Ryle High in Kentucky, Murray was a standout on both sides of the ball, a rarity in Kentucky's AAAA division; as a senior, he rushed for 1,744 yards and 24 touchdowns as a tailback, and he recorded 115 tackles as a linebacker. East Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and Wofford recruited Murray as a linebacker, but he wanted a chance to run the ball. Navy and Air Force were the only schools to offer him the chance to play fullback.
Murray didn't record a single carry during his first two seasons at Navy, but got 12 against Western Kentucky and 22 against Air Force this season. Getting a chance to be the primary fullback for several drives in their entirety has helped Murray get a better feel for the position.
"Seeing how the drive kind of molds together really helps, experience-wise," Murray said. "I'm getting better chemistry with Ricky [Dobbs, Navy's quarterback] and I'm getting a better feel for the game and how it flows."
After watching film, Murray realized that he needs to be quicker in his reads and hit the hole hard and fast. Added Jasper: "He needs to keep his balance and keep his feet. If he keeps his feet twice in the game, they're either touchdowns or big runs."
Eddington, like Murray, is a former linebacker -- only Eddington played that position his first three seasons at Navy. He was an outside linebacker as a freshman and sophomore and then moved to inside linebacker, but most of his playing time came on special teams. With Navy's depth at linebacker, the coaches asked Eddington to switch to offense during the spring, in part to take advantage of his size (6 feet, 225 pounds) and speed (he has run the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds).
"We wish we had made the move earlier," said Niumatalolo, noting the progress that Eddington has made over the past couple of months.
Eddington, who played running back and linebacker at William Howard Taft High in San Antonio, figured that the transition to fullback would be easy. He's been surprised at how physical the position is; it's more demanding than linebacker, he said, because a fullback is absorbing hits instead of dishing out hits.
Former Navy fullback Eric Kettani "said it best: 'Fullback is an easy position to learn, but it's a hard position to master,' " Eddington said. "I can't say there's one specific thing that's been the hardest for me to pick up on. It's putting everything together: seeing your read, making the right cut. I think the biggest thing for me was doing it instinctively and not having to think about it. I'm still working on that."