For Mids, this end justifies the means

Navy receiver Barnes says he's content in blocking-heavy role

December 02, 2008|By Don Markus | Don Markus,don.markus@baltsun.com

PHILADELPHIA - A half-century ago, legendary Army coach Red Blaik revolutionized college football with a formation that included positioning a flanker, Bill Carpenter, some 20 yards to the right or left of the quarterback.

Dubbed "The Lonely End," Carpenter became the sport's first true wide receiver.

Navy's Tyree Barnes might be called "The Only End."

As in the only Midshipman who has caught more than four passes this season, the only receiver on either Army or Navy whose statistics - 17 catches for 324 yards and two touchdowns - would be considered respectable for a Football Bowl Subdivision team.

The way things have gone for the two teams and their passing offenses - Navy is ranked next-to-last and Army last among FBS teams - Barnes might be the only receiver to make an impact in Saturday's game at Lincoln Financial Field.

"We know that when the ball's in the air, we've got to catch it, but we also know that nine times out of 10 our block on the perimeter is going to make a huge impact on the outcome of the game," Barnes, a senior from Hampton, Va., said yesterday before the luncheon to kick off festivities for this year's game.

Barnes knew what he was getting himself into coming out of high school. Recruited as a safety, Barnes saw an opportunity to play more quickly at wide receiver. In his first game as a freshman, Barnes threw the block that led to a touchdown against Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium.

"As long as you know and realize that's your main job, to hold down a perimeter block, it's really easy to buy into it," Barnes said. "When you're at practice, you don't have to worry about catching the ball or anything like that."

Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada has empathy for what Barnes and the other wide receivers go through in the triple-option offense.

"I wouldn't say I feel sorry for them; I kind of feel bad a little bit," said Kaheaku-Enhada, who is expected to play this week after missing much of the season with a hamstring injury. "They really don't get the ball that much. But when they do get the ball, they're making big plays. It all balances out."

Barnes has made his share of big plays this season. He had a 68-yard catch and run for a touchdown at Duke and a 40-yarder to set up a touchdown against Notre Dame last month at M&T Bank Stadium.

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said yesterday that his team's game plan for passing, if there is one, is not a big secret.

"We don't throw the ball a ton, but when we do, we throw it to him. It's not that complicated," Niumatalolo said.

Despite modest statistics, Barnes will likely finish this season as Navy's second-most productive receiver since Paul Johnson installed the triple-option offense in 2001. Jason Tomlinson had 25 catches for 445 yards and one touchdown in 2005.

Compared with Army's receivers, Barnes is a pass-catching machine.

Only two have caught 10 or more passes, and with the team switching this season to an option offense, the Black Knights average 45.7 passing yards a game. (The Midshipmen average 63.5 yards, while Air Force is 117th at 79.9 yards a game. Georgia Tech, under Johnson, is 116th at 95 yards.)

Throughout his career, Barnes has taken friendly ribbing from teammates, including Kaheaku-Enhada and members of the offensive line, about playing a position they call "wide tackle."

"They say, 'You guys don't do anything but block; you should get a [No.] 60 jersey,' " Barnes said with a smile. "We know it's a big part of our offense. I bought into it a long time ago. I love blocking."

Just yesterday, Navy assistant athletic director Eric Ruden joked about the poster for this year's game. It shows a pair of hands reaching out for a ball in the air.

"Is this a pitch or that guy catching a pass?" Ruden said at the luncheon. "We don't see a lot of that, and neither does Army."

Eyeing the poster, Barnes joked, "Hopefully Coach Niumat will throw a little more" Saturday.

It might be wishful thinking.

NAVY (7-4) VS. ARMY (3-8)

Saturday, noon, Philadelphia

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Radio: 1090 AM

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.