ANNAPOLIS, OCT. 10 -- Except for a lost weekend at Virginia, Navy's defense has been solid during this 2-3 season. Most of the time, however, it has not been able to overcome the shortcomings of an offense that has been -- well, offensive.

Coach George Chaump said today that he had formed no conclusion as to whether Alton Grizzard or Gary McIntosh would start at quarterback Saturday. He also implied that it did not really matter, unless the pass protection improved dramatically.

Grizzard, who returned to practice today after a week off to nurse a bruised lung, has thrown 10 interceptions in four games. McIntosh replaced him Saturday at Air Force and was intercepted three times. Those figures are doubly discouraging because the Midshipmen on Saturday host an Akron team that leads the nation with 19 interceptions.

"They both seemed to have to run for their life a bit," Chaump said. "We've been analyzing our turnovers {12 in the last two games}, most have been by the interception route and you have to start with the pass protection. We've gone to stronger protection schemes. We know the problem and we're working hard at it."

Meanwhile, the defense is not sulking or pointing fingers. Instead, the guys who have been doing their jobs well are trying to encourage those who are struggling.

"It gets you down a little bit when you stop them, then the ball is turned over and you're right back out on the field," said nose guard Andy Kirkland. "But if the other defense forces us to turn the ball over, then we should be doing the same thing and getting it back.

"Morale is still high throughout the team. Sometimes it's hard to muster up, especially after that loss to Air Force. We've had our ups and downs, but we have character. We'll come back up. The big thing is that we help each other out. It's not offense or defense; we're a team."

If any Navy player earns postseason recognition, it most likely will be Kirkland. He has 49 tackles, second on the team to linebacker Bill Bowling's 50, and was named ECAC defensive player of the week after his 16 tackles against Air Force.

"Andy has super quickness," Chaump said. "His quickness is so good you can't stay on him a long time and he has good body control. He's not the biggest {230 pounds}, but he has arms like {Chris} Zorich of Notre Dame. He's the big reason we've done well against the running game."

When Kirkland limped off with a bruised knee in the fourth quarter Saturday, it was business as usual. His Navy career has been affected by back, knee and shoulder problems, but he invariably shows up opposite the opposing center on Saturday.

"It wasn't that bad this time, just twisted a little," Kirkland said. "I usually take a shot, give it a rest and get back in there.

"I felt some pain over the weekend and Monday I couldn't move too well. It's that way just about every week and I sometimes ask myself, 'Why am I doing this?' But when practice comes, I get excited again. I've learned to live with it."

On Thursday Kirkland will celebrate his 24th birthday. That makes him the oldest player on the team and he said, "They call me 'Old Man' or 'Geritol Man,' but it's all in fun and it doesn't bother me. I'm just glad to be here and glad I can still play football."

Kirkland did not take the usual route to academy football glory. He enlisted in the Navy after graduating from Hempfield Area High School (Pa.), where he was better known as a wrestler than as a football player.

"I was thinking about the academy a bit in high school, but I didn't have the SAT scores," Kirkland said. "I wanted to go in the Navy and earn some money so I could go to college. Opportunities popped up and I took advantage of them."

While attending nuclear power school, Kirkland was deemed officer material and assigned to a year of study in an officer selection program. The academy appointment followed.

"I wasn't thinking about playing football here, but some upper classmen saw me and thought maybe I should try it, so I did," Kirkland said. "It's worked out pretty well, although the injuries have been a drag. I have no regrets."

Midshipmen Notes: Outside linebacker Tony Domino suffered a shoulder separation in practice and will not play Saturday. . . . Linebacker Chris Beck also has been ruled out, after suffering a pinched nerve in his neck against Air Force. . . . Navy Athletic Director Jack Lengyel, an Akron graduate, was a running back for the Zips from 1954-56.