Flip-flop at slotback draws shrugs at Navy

Divis-Roberts reversal sits just fine with Mids

College Football

September 17, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Frank Divis is considered the best blocker among Navy's corps of slotbacks.

Eric Roberts is a proven commodity as the most dangerous slotback on the team, a player who entered this season with an 8.6-yard rushing average and a school-record 24.9-yard average on pass receptions.

So, how come Divis has outgained Roberts by better than a 4-to-1 margin in the first two games?

In a notable role reversal, Divis has carried for 102 yards, a team-best 12.8 average and a touchdown; Roberts has run for a paltry 23 yards, only the third-highest total by a slotback (Trey Hines is also ahead of him).

"Honestly, it's just been chance," said Divis, a senior from Avon, Ohio, who has been timed in 4.42 seconds for the 40-yard dash, the best on the team. "It depends on which side you line up on and what the defense is doing. They want us all to be ready for anything."

"I can't complain about anything," said Roberts, a senior from Miami. "We're 2 and 0. Sure, I'd like to get the ball, but it just so happens I've been on the blocking side most of the time. It's not even an issue."

Nor is the oddity a problem for coach Paul Johnson, who said Divis "probably played better than anybody" against Northeastern. "He's blocked well and, when he's had the opportunity to get the ball, he's made some plays."

Roberts' chances have been limited by a sparse usage of the passing game, the phase in which he often turns short flips into dazzling long gainers. Quarterback Aaron Polanco has thrown only 15 times for 165 yards in two games and, on Saturday, completed a mere two passes, both to fullback Kyle Eckel.

"We haven't thrown many passes because it's crazy to do it when nothing good is happening," Johnson said. "We've had guys running wide open and either didn't throw it to them or couldn't get it off."

Divis is sizable (225 pounds) and strong and said, "They like me to make blocks on bigger guys inside."

Recruited by Charlie Weatherbie's staff as a safety, he was shifted to offense by the Johnson regime and spent much of his sophomore year learning the system, playing primarily on special teams. Last year, his playing time gradually increased as he mastered his responsibilities, and he entered 2004 as the starter on the opposite side from Roberts.

"I started to grab hold of how this offense works last season," he said. "It took a while because I hadn't played offense since grade school."

Roberts needs 74 yards receiving to become the first Navy player in history with 1,000 yards running and catching. He is quick, elusive and shifty.

"If I go the whole season and only get 20 carries and we win every game, I'll be happy," he said. "I remember that first year. The losing was hard. I know that you have to block sometimes. It's good to see the other guys [Divis and Hines] run the ball. We all knew they could."

"It will happen for Eric," Johnson said.

Next for Navy

Matchup: Navy (2-0) vs. Tulsa (0-2)

Site: Skelly Stadium, Tulsa, Okla.

When: Tomorrow, 7 p.m.

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

Line: Tulsa by 1

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