By Camille Powell
Friday, October 23, 2009
At practice on Wednesday afternoon, Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs was wearing a knee-immobilizer brace that ran the length of his right leg. But the junior couldn't sit still; he moved around the practice field, did leg lifts on the sideline and jogged when he could. He played with an injured right knee against Southern Methodist last Saturday, and hoped to do the same this weekend when Navy (5-2) hosts Wake Forest (4-3).
But Dobbs was unable to practice on Thursday, so sophomore Kriss Proctor will make his first start at quarterback. Dobbs, who leads division I-A in touchdowns (16), will get a needed break following seven consecutive physical games.
"I'd love to give him a week off and get ready, but obviously we've got a very good team coming here," Coach Ken Niumatalolo said of Dobbs on Wednesday. "We've got to play. If he can't play, I have confidence in Kriss that he can get it done."
Dobbs injured his knee on the second play against SMU, but he didn't miss a snap in the overtime win. Tests on Tuesday revealed a crack in his kneecap, which doctors determined was likely an aggravation of an old injury. Dobbs could have surgery, but plans on trying to play. Niumatalolo said he doesn't expect Dobbs to be sidelined long-term.
Navy always prepares two quarterbacks; the starter and the top backup get the same amount of repetitions in practice. Said senior center Curtis Bass: "The thing is, we always be ready. It's nothing special. Just a different voice."
Last year, the Midshipmen were one of 12 division I-A teams that used three starting quarterbacks; they still won eight games and earned a bowl bid. But two of those quarterbacks -- Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada and Jarod Bryant -- used up their eligibility, leaving Dobbs as the only quarterback with any significant varsity experience this season.
But Proctor, who won the backup job with a strong showing in the spring and then was sidelined for most of September with a torn meniscus in his left knee, inspired confidence in his teammates and coaches by the way he played in the second half of a 63-14 blowout win at Rice. In slightly more than one quarter of work, he rushed for 82 yards on 14 carries and scored three touchdowns.
"He had a great game against Rice," Niumatalolo said on Wednesday. "Some of the things he did were the same things he did in camp against our defense, which is a very good defense."
Proctor starred in football, basketball and baseball at Big Bear (Calif.) High, leading the Riverside Press-Enterprise newspaper to call him "Mr. Versatile" and "Big Bear's version of Deion Sanders." He thrived in pressure situations. As a junior, he kicked a game-winning field goal from 37 yards to ruin an opponent's homecoming; in the playoffs, he led a fourth-quarter comeback in which he threw a touchdown pass, booted the ensuing onside kick and helped strip the ball, and then ran for the winning touchdown. Those experiences -- of being the star player on a small-town high school team -- helped prepare him for this.
"Being that person [in high school] definitely gives me the confidence in my abilities now."
Dobbs and Proctor each bring a different look to the field, aside from the fact that one is left-handed (Proctor). Dobbs played in a pass-first offense at Douglas County (Ga.) High and struggled to grasp the triple option at first. He is a physical runner who breaks tackles, and he's also the best passer Navy has had in recent years.
Proctor, on the other hand, is comfortable running the triple option. Like Kaheaku-Enhada -- whom Niumatalolo often referred to as "probably the best option read guy that we've ever had here" -- Proctor played in an option offense in high school, and that made his transition to Navy easier. He said earlier this month: "I'm really comfortable with my reads. I feel like my footwork is there. It's just a matter of executing."
Against Rice, Proctor scooted past defenders instead of bullying his way through them. Even Dobbs admitted that Proctor is a faster runner, though he was quick to amend that statement: "Take that off the record, he's not faster than me. He can probably get from point A to point B just a little bit quicker."
Dobbs says that he has 100 percent faith in Proctor, whom he bonded with over the summer while doing early-morning optional workouts. Both quarterbacks stayed after practice on Wednesday to speak with reporters; Dobbs went first, as an upperclassman, then waited patiently for Proctor to finish so they could head back to the locker room together.
Once it was time to go, Dobbs started to jog, his immobilized right leg kicking out slightly as he moved. He glanced at his healthy, younger teammate, who was walking, and said: "Come on, Kriss! We gotta run!" The two quarterbacks then ran off the field, side-by-side.
"I love Ricky just as much as my own brother. And I love my own brother more than most, so that's saying a lot about Ricky," Proctor said. "I want Ricky to succeed as much as I want to succeed. That's the brotherhood we have here. He got hurt and that's why we rep two quarterbacks in this offense. If I get the start, I'm mentally ready and physically ready."