The two slotback positions are critical in Navy's spread triple-option offense, and the Midshipmen are counting on senior Trey Hines to deliver the best season of his career.
After putting an injury-marred junior year behind him, a season in which he struggled with a torn right quadriceps muscle he originally hurt while running track in 2005, Hines rebounded nicely in spring practice.
But Hines reported to camp last week with news that got coach Paul Johnson's blood pressure up. This time, Hines' left quadriceps was too sore for him to practice without pads for several days.
On Monday, the Mids' first day in pads, Hines participated in his first workout.
"It was good to get [Hines] out here at practice. Let's see if he can make it out here for a while," Johnson said.
After the team's opening workout six days ago, Johnson said of Hines: "The guy stays hurt all the time. It's not surprising."
Hines, who gave up track to concentrate on football after that torn quadriceps limited him to 104 yards on 27 carries in 10 games last fall, said he strained his other quadriceps in the spring, then aggravated it while training during the summer.
"I was really just babying [the injury]. I tried to come back too soon with the other one, and I tore it," Hines said. "I feel a lot of pressure to come out and do good. But at the same time, being my senior year, I just couldn't risk it. I want to make sure I've got it together."
The Mids need Hines, 5 feet 9, 208 pounds, who is listed No. 1 on the depth chart along with junior slotback Reggie Campbell, and is the team's fastest player in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.41 seconds. Navy has lost depth at that spot. Karlos Whittaker, who had an excellent plebe season, has been dismissed from the academy. John Forbes' plebe year ended in the spring with a knee injury that will sideline him for a year.
The Mids like the potential they see in sophomore slotback Shun White. But Hines, who has never been a starter and has never rushed for more than 113 yards in a season, is a big part of their plans.
Starting left cornerback Jeremy McGown looks around at his fellow seniors and sees a double-edged sword. Navy could start 15 of them, including nine on defense. The senior class has been a huge part of a 26-11 record over the past three seasons, which includes three bowl games, two bowl victories and a 6-0 mark against Army and Air Force.
All of which means the Mids are a lock for another bowl trip and Commander in Chief's trophy, right? So goes the game of high expectations.
"We are good, and a lot of people are telling us we're supposed to be good," said McGown, a third-year starter. "I'm sure that's what Coach is nervous about. That's certainly what I'm nervous about. We want to make sure the younger guys understand we win games by working hard."
Seeking a fullback
One of the better competitions shaping up is at fullback, where junior Adam Ballard and senior Matt Hall are hunkering down.
Hall is back and moving well after December knee surgery. He made seven starts in 2005, averaged 5.0 yards on 99 carries, scored six touchdowns and missed the last three games after getting hurt against Notre Dame. Ballard, who averaged 6.1 yards on 109 attempts and scored six touchdowns, took over the starting job and became the first player in school history to rush for more than 100 yards in each of his first three starts.
Said Johnson: "If we had that battle at every position, we'd be a way better football team."