Mids taking care as 2 new starters join the offensive line

August 25, 2010|By Gene Wang, The Washington Post

The attention paid to Navy's triple-option offense rarely reaches beyond one player, that being Ricky Dobbs. Forget about an equitable distribution of recognition, at least outside the locker room. That's just how it goes after the senior set an NCAA record for most rushing touchdowns in a season by a quarterback and steered Navy to 10 wins and an authoritative victory in the Texas Bowl.

Yet ask Dobbs about those accomplishments, and he immediately redirects credit to the group responsible for keeping him out of harm's way: the offensive line. It's a unit that functions mostly in anonymity, and this season that figures to be even more the case with the interior of the line largely untested.

The Midshipmen are working in two new starters at guard, including sophomore Josh Cabral, whose playing time last season consisted of 15 snaps. Right guard Brady DeMell and center Eric Douglass, both juniors, started several games last season, but there's still a level of uncertainty because the group is learning one another's tendencies.

"They're not where we want them to be, but we're progressing every day," said Ashley Ingram, who coaches Navy's guards and centers.

During training camp, the coaching staff made sure to keep close watch at those positions, which are as vital as any to ensuring the running game operates at peak efficiency. No detail was too minor, including the most mundane tasks such as the center-quarterback exchange. Dobbs and Douglass worked on that extensively, just as Cabral and DeMell were gaining fluency in the terminology of the triple option.

As an added twist, the offense worked at length on the passing game during the Blue and Gold scrimmage a week into camp. One reason was to make certain the line wouldn't discount pass-blocking despite the heavy emphasis on the running game.

Lending a major hand in the transition of the sometime starters into full-time regulars have been bookend senior tackles Jeff Battapaglia and Matt Molloy, both fully versed in what makes the triple option one of the more confusing offenses to stop. Battapaglia and Molloy were part of the offensive line that pushed Navy to the top of the NCAA rankings in rushing in 2007 and 2008, completing an unprecedented four consecutive seasons in which it led the country. Last season the Midshipmen fell to fourth, and they have every intention of getting back to No. 1 this year.

"Right now it's just practice, practice, practice, working hard, things like that," Battapaglia said when asked about the necessary steps for the middle of the line to become game-ready. "They know. They've been here before. They've been through camp. They know what type of character it takes to play Navy football, run the triple option."

The least experienced of the bunch may hold the most promise. Coaches and teammates have been raving about Cabral (6 feet 3, 270 pounds) as a fast study who has absorbed the nuances of the triple option almost without a hitch. Cabral is replacing Curtis Bass, who last season helped pave the way for Dobbs to run for 1,203 yards, including seven 100-yard games.

Cabral studied the habits of not just Bass but also Osei Asante, who started at left guard last season. That early introduction to the finer points of blocking in the triple option has Cabral on track to ensuring he'll be a steady presence at the position for the next three seasons.

"It just pretty much comes down to learning from what you saw last year," Cabral said. "I used to joke around and say I was a sponge in meetings, but there's some truth to that. You just sit back and watch the way the older people work. We're all pretty quick learners. We're all going to figure it out."

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