Two weeks off sounded like an excellent remedy for Howard's winless football team, which had numerous minor injuries and was struggling to adapt to new Coach Willie Jeffries' dive-option offense. Instead, the break turned into a medical disaster.
After a week devoted to lifting weights and running, the Bison were back to full-contact scrimmaging this week. Within three days, six starters -- including linebacker Martin Brown, the defensive captain -- incurred injuries that probably will keep them out of Saturday's game at Virginia State.
Brown and defensive end Ken Carney are doubtful with twisted ankles. Definitely out are cornerback Frankie Hall (pulled hamstring), inside linebacker George Lynch (badly bruised shoulder) and free safety Chuck Taylor (chronic shoulder injury). Also, freshman tailback Harvey Reed twisted an ankle and Jeffries doubts he will be available.
The injuries to Hall and Taylor necessitated moving wide receiver Oliver Bridges to the defensive backfield. Bridges, a senior who played football as a freshman, has concentrated on track the past three seasons.
Bridges is probably Howard's fastest player, but has had trouble catching the ball as a wide receiver.
"With all the injuries, he volunteered to move to free safety and he's been a great help to us," said Jeffries. "The mere fact that he played defense in high school and as a freshman is a great advantage. He has turned out to be a good tackler."
The shoulder injury to Taylor, a senior, may end his playing at Howard.
"He just can't perform," said Jeffries. "We have been leaving his playing status up to him, but there comes a time when we have to decide what would be best for him."
Problems in the secondary could be especially important against the NCAA Division II Trojans. Virginia State, 2-3 and a loser in 11 of its last 13 meetings with Howard, has abandoned its traditional run-oriented offense.
Freshman quarterback Sam Taylor, a starter the past three games, is throwing 25 times a game and completing 47 percent of his passes. He has not thrown an interception. In addition, Coach George Moody said running back Von Allen will return after missing two games due to a badly bruised shoulder. He was averaging 13 yards a catch on 11 receptions.
Jeffries said the best news during Howard's layoff has been the play of quarterback Brian Sloan.
"He has shown remarkable improvement over the past week. He has been making better decisions," said Jeffries. "He has been sprinting out at full speed rather than three-quarters speed and has played with the reckless abandon I've wanted him to play with all year."
Sloan will face a defense that is coming off a Division II record-setting performance with three interceptions returned for touchdowns. Dexter Stevenson, Mark Robinson and John Green had the only Trojans touchdowns in a 23-8 victory over Elizabeth City College.
Navy, trying to break its three-game losing streak Saturday in Annapolis against Lehigh (4-1), will have defensive tackle Matt Kirby available. Kirby, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior, missed last week's 29-22 loss to Air Force because of a thigh bruise.
Tom Metzger, a 5-10, 185-pound junior, will start in the defensive backfield in place of Vince McBeth. McBeth broke his left leg in the Air Force game and will be out at least four weeks.
Maryland, which will be host to North Carolina State Saturday, probably will be without defensive back Joe Kraus, whose pulled hamstring has been slow healing.