Caldwell in hurry as Navy stopper

`Type AA' linebacker ranks fifth in tackles


Bloodied but unbowed, Rob Caldwell reluctantly trudged away from the action Saturday during a 15-play Duke drive that would mark the longest period that Navy's defense was to spend on the field.

It would be the only time all afternoon that his motor wasn't running at 100 mph during Navy's 28-21 win.

The junior linebacker is the dynamo of the defensive unit, a player so active this season that he ranks fifth nationally with 13.67 tackles a game despite missing time after officials ruled him out of action when a gash on the bridge of his nose opened and spewed forth blood.

"I call him a Type AA," said inside linebackers coach Kevin Kelly. "He's all out on every play."

Relatively unknown entering the season, Caldwell is a worthy successor to Lane Jackson and Bobby McClarin, two bulwarks of the 2004 defensive unit on Navy's most productive team in nearly 100 years.

Caldwell seems to be everywhere chasing the ball and, unlike Jackson and McClarin, who overachieved as relative lightweights for the position, he is a solid 225-pounder.

He originally injured the nose during preseason workouts, and the wound is aggravated by contact. When his helmet moves, the cut is often irritated.

Team physician Jeff Fair used three stitches to close the wound, but the stitches were pulled apart by Caldwell's physical play at Duke, and while he was inactive Saturday, Fair devised a plastic cap to place over the nose to prevent the helmet from scraping the gash.

"The blood would cake and they kept taking me out," said Caldwell. "It was most definitely frustrating."

For tomorrow's showdown with Air Force, he will be wearing a new type of helmet that will help prevent friction in the area. "Hopefully, I won't have that problem again," he said. But, because the skin layer is so thin, he must still wear some protection over the cut.

Despite that difficulty, Caldwell's 41 stops, including five for losses of 20 yards and two sacks, are 14 higher than the next Navy tackler, fellow inside linebacker Jake Biles.

In the national tackle standings, he trails only Jimmy Cottrell of New Mexico State, No. 1 with 14.6 tackles per game; D'Qwell Jackson of Maryland; and JonSessler of Kent State and Chad Greenway of Iowa, who are tied for third.

"He's the same on and off the field as Lane and Bobby," said Kelly. "But he's bigger and I think a little quicker, maybe a tick faster than those two. He was very patient playing behind them last year and, through hard work, he's where he is now."

"Those two guys played harder than anyone on the team," Caldwell said of his predecessors. "That's who I wanted to be like."

Kelly said he had to "keep looking over my shoulder" to make sure Caldwell didn't re-insert himself into the lineup when he shouldn't have.

"My main goal is always to find the ball," said Caldwell, whose 15 tackles last season came primarily during special teams duty.

Caldwell is from St. John, Ind. (near Chicago) and stands to make it four straight times that an Indiana native has led Navy in tackles. Safety Josh Smith, who is assisting the coaching staff, last season became the first Midshipman since Andy Ponseigo (1981-83) to pace the team in tackles three straight years.

"We're just hard-nosed, that's all," Smith said of the Indiana players. "We [Navy] don't even have a coach assigned to recruit Indiana. But there is definitely a sense of pride among us."

Navy's roster is usually comprised of natives of upwards of 30 states, with such big football areas as Texas, Florida, Georgia and Ohio dominating the roster.

"Indiana is basketball territory," said Caldwell. "The year I graduated from high school only 25 guys in the whole state went to I-A football. Nobody tries to get the players from smaller areas. I guess we just try harder."

In Caldwell's case, that is an understatement.

Air Force@Navy

Tomorrow, 1:30 p.m., 1090 AM

Line: Navy by 1 1/2

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