Because Napoleon McCallum, the first player redshirted by the Naval Academy, was back in uniform today, the question could be asked: Did anything good come of Navy's losing its Heisman Trophy contender in the second game of last season?
For Bill Byrne, who was No. 6 on Navy's six-quarterback depth chart when practice started last year, the answer is a reluctant yes. After McCallum broke his ankle, Byrne, who had slowly worked his way into a starting job by the season opener, suddenly became the man who had to lead the way.
"We had really come to depend on Nap so much last year and, just like that, we had to play without him," said Byrne, who passed for 1,425 yards and 11 touchdowns before going out himself, with a broken foot, in the Notre Dame game. "We were a little inconsistent last year because we had to adjust and we had so many injuries.
"This year, even though Nap is back, we won't make the mistake again of depending on one person so much."
Big things are expected from completely healed Byrne, but even the junior had to take a back seat to McCallum at today's annual Press Day at the academy.
McCallum, a fifth-year tailback, smiled as he ran short dashes for photographers and answered each reporter's questions without a hint of boredom.
"I'm just pleased to be out here again," said McCallum, who holds 17 academy offensive records. "At one point, I felt I would never play again and I was disappointed my senior year ended the way it did. I was very happy to get another opportunity to play another year.
"There's no pain at all and I'm running fine. I have the same running style and I think I can do the same things I did before I got hurt. During spring practice, I felt a twinge now and then. And I was scared at first. But once I got hit a couple of times and starting rolling, I didn't think about it anymore. I'm fine now."
With a healthy McCallum, a much-improved Byrne, several outstanding prospects at other skill positions and more overall speed and strength, Navy's immediate football future looks bright.
"We have a lot of people back and should be better," Byrne said. "If we get a couple of quick wins under our belt, we could look forward to a good season."
First, the Midshipmen will have to get by North Carolina. The opener will be here at 7:30 in the first night game at the academy. It will be played under temporary lights.
"We've got a few pieces to fall in place yet, but we have better overall athletic ability than teams in the past," said Coach Gary Tranquill. "We're quicker defensively, we're bigger and have more speed on offense.
"We don't want Nap to feel he has to bear the entire load. We just want him to play up to his capabilities and, if he does that, that's pretty good."
The Midshipmen were written off after McCallum's injury in last year's a 21-9 loss to Virginia, which was followed by numerous injuries to other key players. But although the Midshipmen went 4-6-1, they had some memorable moments -- tying Pittsburgh, 28-28; losing to Notre Dame, 18-17, in the final seconds, and beating then No. 2-ranked South Carolina, 38-21.
Now they start out with hopes of bettering last year's record and doing so with McCallum.
"He looks good," Byrne said. "He still has all his moves and cuts real good. And I think he is hungry to get out and play again."
Is he ever.
"I'd love to run the ball 25-30 times but coach told me I won't be doing that," McCallum said. "There are too many other good players on the team . . . "
There is no question the coaches are happy to have McCallum back, but there also is tremendous excitement about Byrne.
"He knows when and where to throw the football," Jerry Franks, the quarterbacks coach, said. "He's really improved."
But the key to the offense is McCallum. As fine an all-purpose runner as there is in the nation, he hopes to be involved more in the passing game, thus making him even more of a scoring threat.
"I want to catch a few more more passes (he has 52 receptions in four years)," he said, "and maybe improve my yards-per-carry (4.6 on 621 carries). I don't think I'll return kickoffs, but I love the punts. I'll keep doing that. I don't think anyone expects me to work miracles but I want to have a good season, take advantage of my situation.
"I know teams will be out to test me real quick; see if I'm the same player. I'm the same size, have the same speed. Hopefully, the same magic will be there."