ANNAPOLIS, AUG. 28 -- Navy has the backfield talent to put a lot of points on the scoreboard. However, a big question mark as the Midshipmen continue workouts for their Sept. 8 opener against Richmond is the quality of the offensive line.
Injuries have removed the two biggest men up front, 289-pound Michael Davis (broken foot) until late September at the earliest and 270-pound Carl Voss (disk surgery) for the season.
As a result, Navy figures to open with three inexperienced starters on its offensive line, two of whom have not played a single down of varsity football. Throw in the installation of Coach George Chaump's pro-style system and the upshot is considerable pressure on the front six.
"We all realize that this is going to be a key area as to whether we do well or not," said Mike Drake, the assistant in charge of tight ends and offensive tackles. "We have a number of guys with no real playing time here, and we're trying to get them as ready as possible.
"I think we'll be good when the season starts and, as the year goes on, we'll get better. There is a lot of enthusiasm, particularly with the guys playing for the first time. They're working hard and I'm sure they're going to play hard and get better."
Bearing an especially heavy burden is David Britt, the 264-pound junior left tackle who currently ranks as the biggest man on a relatively small team. Much is expected of Britt, but he is largely an unknown quantity who will be making his varsity debut Sept. 8.
Britt was running on the second unit as a plebe in 1988 when he suffered a serious knee injury in preseason drills. The knee required reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation took so long that it was not until late last fall that Britt returned to action with the junior varsity.
"The first couple of weeks back I was afraid to get hit," Britt said. "It was all mental. My first JV game, guys bounced off it on consecutive plays. They say once you get hit like that, you're all right, but it just made me more hesitant.
"I gradually felt more comfortable, but the flexibility wasn't there. I was a step behind coming off the ball and it wasn't a very pleasant experience."
Britt acquired more confidence during spring drills and finally is able to focus on the play rather than the knee when he comes up to the line of scrimmage.
"I'm feeling athletic again," Britt said. "I'm coming off the ball a lot better and I'm bouncy without the brace. I played basketball without the brace and it felt good.
"I was tested squatting and I was behind most of the guys, but I'm happy. We've had a lot of injuries and we don't have any 350-pounders here, so I know they're counting on me. I think I can do the job."
"He's fine," Drake said. "His lateral movement is improving and his foot quickness is improving. He's working hard at it. The knee hasn't been giving him any trouble. Just being able to come back from a serious injury like that is a big plus and you know a player is always going to get better as he feels more comfortable."
"David is solid physically and he moves well," said Charlie Donnor, who oversees the offensive line. "He just has to shake off some of the rust. He was highly touted as a plebe, but he hasn't played enough yet. Not only does he need playing time, he's also had to learn a whole new system. That makes it that much tougher."
The players prefer Chaump's pro-style offense over the wishbone of the past three years. Nevertheless, the switch has required an emphasis on drop-back pass blocking, forcing the offensive linemen to learn new techniques.
"This is a lot easier to understand," Britt said. "In the wishbone, every block had to be precise, because the back ran to a specified place. Now the back has more freedom and, if he sees open field, he goes to it.
"I'm excited about the pass plays too. I don't know how we'll start out, but it should be fun."
Sports haven't been much fun for Britt since his senior year at Russellville (Ky.) High School. Besides earning all-South and all-state honors in football, Britt was a force on the basketball court too.
"I was a center, but basketball wasn't my best sport," Britt said. "My first 13 games in high school, I fouled out 11 times. I took out more teeth than I scored baskets."
Navy Notes: Since the Midshipmen returned from summer activity Aug. 12, the team has lost nine players for the season because of injury or academic problems, all of whom were expected to see substantial action. They are Voss, offensive tackle Pete Bozzo, safety Lonny Stare, nose guard Pete Allen, linebackers Beau Laskey and Jay Harrell and defensive tackles David Christel, Chris Graham and Pat Chrzanowski. . . . David R. Laton, 35, assistant coach and recruiter for Navy's basketball team, has accepted the job of head basketball coach at West Georgia College, Associated Press reported. An assistant for nine years, Laton recruited former Navy star David Robinson.