What Navy Coach George Welsh really needs is a healthy linebacker.

Navy uses a two-linebacker defense, and Andy Ponseigo is the only healthy one on the team.

One of Welsh's big moves last spring was to switch defensive end Ken Fancher to the position. Fancher played well the first two games and Navy was 2-0, but Fancher has missed the last two games with a pinched nerve in his neck, and now Navy is 2-2.

Fancher isn't expected to play Saturday against Air Force at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, either, and Welsh is looking for someone to play the position. The trouble is that everyone he tries there gets injured.

Fancher's replacement, Karl Wagner, pinched a neck nerve in practice last week and didn't play in the loss to Yale. This left Kris Hauer as the starter alongside Ponseigo.

Then Hauer injured his right knee against Yale. He underwent surgery Sunday and will be out the remainder of the season.

Welsh then switched middle guard Ken Olson to a starting linebacker spot and moved defensive end Chuck Bresnahan to linebacker as backup help. The Midshipmen found out Monday that Bresnahan has a hernia and will not play Saturday.

"We're to the point now where we'll try almost anyone at linebacker," Welsh said.

Welsh did have some good news, however. Tailback Eddie Meyers is expected back this week, which should give the Midshipmen's sluggish offense a lift.

Meyers sustained a deep right thigh bruise in the second game of the season, and after playing only sparingly against Michigan, was kept out of last week's game at Yale.

"He isn't 100 percent, but he appears to be all right," Welsh said. "We plan to start him against Air Force unless something happens between now and Saturday."

Welsh added that Meyers hasn't had any contact in two weeks and he plans to have him "get hit some this week. You can't expect a guy to lay off that long and then go right into a game without having had any contact. He has to get used to getting hit again, otherwise you're risking fumbles and all sorts of bad things."

Meyers said he felt better today than he has since the injury. "I'll be ready to play," he said.

Welsh, who usually chooses his words carefully, said his team must win Saturday.

"We have to face some facts," he said. "We're at a crossroads. This is a very big game for us. It's against another service academy team, and if we want to get back on the right track to a successful season, we have to win this game."

Air Force isn't exactly a national power. The Falcons lost their first three games and then forced seven turnovers and defeated Colorado State last week, 28-14.

Over the past five seasons, the Falcons have a 10-33-1 record and won only two games last year. One of them was against Navy, however, 21-20, as they scored on a 34-yard touchdown pass with 1:02 to play.

Welsh also said he would start Marco Pagnanelli at quarterback instead of Tom Tarquinio for the second straight week "because he's had the best production."