Mids opt to wade, not plunge, on Owens

Johnson takes it slow in introducing freshman to college game's ways

Navy notebook

College Football

October 09, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

Freshman Lamar Owens has an abundance of physical gifts. He has the speed to avoid tacklers and the toughness to make big plays in Navy's option offense. It's not hard to see why he was recruited out of Benedictine High in Savannah, Ga., to play quarterback at the academy.

But can Owens help the Midshipmen now, instead of two years from now? That's the question Navy coach Paul Johnson is asking himself this week.

Owens saw the first action of his college career against Air Force on Saturday, returning two kickoffs and playing quarterback during garbage time in a 48-7 loss.

Though Johnson said yesterday that he won't use Owens as a slotback, a problem position for Navy lately, he didn't rule out getting the talented freshman on the field somehow.

"Coach and I have an understanding," Owens said. "I came here to play quarterback, but until my time comes, I am willing to do whatever they want to help the team."

That could mean a variety of things, but Johnson declined to go into specifics. For now, Owens will simply return kicks. "Lamar is a quarterback, and he's going to be a good one," Johnson said. "We're just trying to get him involved a bit more."

As far as Owens playing regularly at quarterback now, that's out of the question. Junior starter Craig Candeto continues to play well, and is one of the few players Johnson has been pleased with.

Saturday, Johnson simply wanted to let Owens get a feel for the crowd and the emotion of a game against Air Force.

"Coach said I did pretty well," Owens said. "I know I messed up on a couple of plays. I guess that will come with experience. It was fun while I was out there. I'm looking forward to getting some more playing time."

Price for fumbling

Johnson wasn't bluffing when he said after the Air Force game that slotbacks Eric Roberts and Tony Lane wouldn't play until they learned to hold on to the ball.

Neither Roberts nor Lane practiced with the first-team offense yesterday. Each had a costly fumble against the Falcons.

"They're not going to start," Johnson said. "I'm through talking to them. There isn't anything left to say. They need to hold on to the ball and they're not doing it. It's not like the ball is coming out because a guy's making a big hit; they're just letting it get ripped out."

Roberts has been Navy's biggest playmaker so far this season, breaking long runs and catching passes out of the backfield. But his inability to hold on to the ball has hurt the Mids.

Against Air Force, Roberts fumbled and the ball was returned for a 52-yard touchdown by defensive back Wes Crawley. It was the second time this year Roberts has fumbled and the other team has returned the ball for a touchdown.

Rice is wary

Rice coach Ken Hatfield said yesterday that he doesn't think Navy will have any letdown this week after playing service academy rival Air Force. If anything, the Mids will be hungry to beat Rice (1-4), which got its first victory of the season last week, defeating Louisiana Tech, 37-20.

"We know they'll be very aggressive," Hatfield said. "It will be a difficult game for us. We have to shift gears and get ready for an offense we haven't seen very much. It should be a big challenge for us."

Said Johnson: "They're a very good football team. They're a lot better than their record indicates. They've had a tough schedule and they've been in every game."

Brindel still out

Navy defensive tackle Josh Brindel, who missed the Air Force game with a neck injury, will also miss this week's game.

Next for Navy

Opponent:Rice (1-4)

Site:Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis

When:Saturday, noon

Radio:WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Line:Rice by 7 1/2

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