Speed, or the absence of it, kills Navy

November 19, 1992|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

To get a grip on the problems with Navy's football team this season, one needs to look at two plays from last week's 27-7 loss to Vanderbilt.

The first play came on Vanderbilt's first drive, when tailback Tony Jackson took a handoff and ran through the gut of Navy's defense. After seemingly shifting into another gear, Jackson jetted through the Navy secondary and raced 53 yards, untouched, into the end zone.

The comparison play came in the second quarter, when Navy fullback Cleavon Smith ran through a similar hole through the middle of the Vanderbilt line. But a second gear never registered: on a play where Vanderbilt's Jackson would have surely scored, Smith was tackled at midfield after a 34-yard gain.

Simply put, the Midshipmen, who play at Rice on Saturday, are not blessed with team speed.

"The biggest asset a football team can have is speed," Navy coach George Chaump said. "Nothing against our runners, but we don't have the back that's going to break free and go the distance. When you have someone like that, you just want to call his number. We're probably a Napoleon McCallum away from being a great football team."

Well, maybe not a "great" football team. But Navy would be much improved with a back of McCallum's ability who could hit a hole at the line and accelerate. But Navy hasn't had that luxury since McCallum left in 1985. Incidentally, McCallum, who plays for the Los Angeles Raiders, was on the last Navy team that had a winning record (6-5 in 1982). Chaump said a runner such as McCallum would have been useful for Navy during its 20-play, 95-yard drive just before halftime of the Vanderbilt game that took more than six minutes and resulted in zero points. A 76-yard drive at the start of the second half yielded the same result.

"A 20-play drive is unheard of," Chaump said. "Most teams that run that, have a [fast] running back who at some point will break it all the way. We can't break it all the way."

Attracting "speed" athletes to the academy -- just like drawing All-Americans, or blue-chip players -- is hindered by Navy's stringent entrance requirements. And when Navy does have a speedy athlete, it's often tough to showcase his skills.

Wide receiver Michael Jefferson, a sprinter on the Navy track team, is possibly the team's fastest athlete. His potential as a receiver can't be used because of Navy's shift from a passing team to a running team. Jefferson has Navy's longest reception of the season [63 yards], but has just 11 catches (18.2 yards per catch).

On the other hand, Rice, which enters Saturday's game with a three-game winning streak, is blessed with speed. Senior running back Trevor Cobb is third in the nation in rushing (129.4 yards per game) and is 285 yards away from Darren Lewis' Southwest Conference career record of 5,012 he set at Texas A&M from 1987 to 1990.

Junior quarterback Bert Emanuel, a UCLA transfer who has started the past seven games, is, according to Rice coach Fred Goldsmith, "the fastest quarterback I've seen."

"Those guys can fly," said Chaump, who's been studying the blurs on the Rice films. "There is almost no solution to counter speed."

Although Chaump said it's harder to attract fast athletes to an academy, he has not given up trying. After watching Cobb and Emanuel on Saturday, he might be out there in the off-season trying a little harder.

"We've got to go out and find it," Chaump said. "Speed is the answer to success. You have to get some 4.4 [time in the 40] or 4.3 runners who can burn and are a breakaway threat."

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