Before I got to asking Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo about Kriss Proctor and his progress with the triple option offense, I needed to find out what he thought about Ricky Dobbs' performance this season. To most fans, he seems to be a step slower, which has led to speculation that he might be injured.
"He's probably been banged up a little bit. I haven't gone back and looked at last year to see how he looked on tape. But he has been nursing a bad ankle. Probably last week was as fresh as he has felt in awhile. I know he has been banged up a little bit but he has gutted it out," said Niumatalolo.
But in keeping with the team's motto, ‘No excuses, nobody, cares,' Niumatalolo also said that his senior quarterback has made his share of mistakes this season.
"He knows that he needs to play better. Ricky needs to play better for our offense and our team. There have always been great expectations of him. And he may not be playing as well as he did last year, but I have great faith in him that he will bounce back. He is his own worst critic. I know he would like to play better and we are counting (on him to) play better," he said.
The hype surrounding Dobbs in the preseason was unprecedented in Annapolis and most of it was definitely warranted. Navy's team captain had a stellar junior year which was capped off by an MVP performance against Missouri in the Texas Bowl and his 27 rushing touchdowns set an NCAA record for a quarterback. However, even when considering some nagging injuries, Dobbs has made several uncharacteristic mistakes including fumbling the ball three times in the red zone and missing wide open receivers. Does benching Ricky Dobbs become more difficult for the head coach because of all of the hype surrounding the Georgia native?
"Well I guess it does just from the standpoint that he's proven that he can play. It's not like this is his first year. Maybe if this was his first year and maybe if he wasn't producing as well or playing as well and we haven't seen what he can do – we'd be quicker to pull him out," explained Niumatalolo. "Some games he hasn't played horrible. I thought he played good against Louisiana Tech. I thought he dealt the football well – he read the option better against Air Force than he did last year. He's been doing some things better but there are things he needs to improve on in order for us to be successful."
"He missed some throws that he normally makes but the kid is human. Hopefully he bounces back," he continued.
According to Niumatalolo, Dobbs is struggling and is nursing a variety of nagging injuries. So inquiring minds want to know: Why not turn to junior Kriss Proctor?
"We are hoping that we don't have to go that route because there is great chemistry when Ricky plays."
"(Ricky) missed some throws against Air Force but he wasn't the only guy who didn't play perfectly. Some of the things that happened on the goal line this (past) game weren't his fault. Against Maryland it was his fault. This game it wasn't," said Niumatalolo.
Dobbs is still the clear starter, but Proctor has definitely impressed his head coach and bringing him in to spell Ricky is…
"Definitely on the table- we hope nothing happens to Ricky but Kriss is a capable football player. He showed last year against Wake…he played well. Kriss has gotten better and better every year,' said the third-year head coach.
Niumatalolo stressed though that the emphasis shouldn't just be on Dobbs – the entire side of the ball needs to improve.
"We are in a funk offensively. We are moving the ball like you said but it's like we have the yips (like in golf) when we get close to the goal line. We are looking at some things to try and create some momentum…kind of give us some mojo -so to speak -because we need it. It doesn't do any good to move the ball (into the red zone) and come away with nothing."
"We are looking at our overall offense. What can we do to get better? What can we do to score when we get in the red zone? Obviously part of that is Ricky, but there are other components to. Why are we missing some of the blocks when we get down there? Are we making things too complicated? Do we need to change some formations…do we change philosophies. There are a lot of things we are looking at besides the play of Ricky. We are looking at other positions too," he explained.
Perhaps the most recent comparison of when a Navy team was struggling as much on one side of the ball was in 2007 when the Midshipmen were giving up over 40 points a game during a forgettable five-week stretch. That prompted then head coach Paul Johnson to spend a bit more time than usual listening (and probably talking) during the defensive meetings.
So has Niumatalolo found himself getting more involved than usual on the offensive side to help get them out of this funk?
"I'm there. I spend way more time on offense than defense. Buddy (Green) runs the defense. I'm the same involved as years past. But, I've been over there a little bit more this week – to throw Ivin (Jasper) some ideas."
"We definitely need to get it fixed, but I know we are not going to overhaul things. We are not going to go crazy and change to the shotgun. We are going to try and make the necessary adjustments but not forget who we are," said Niumatalolo.
"Having said that we are 2-2 and in my mind we are maybe three or four plays away from being undefeated. That's how fragile the game is. Two years ago we went to (Colorado Springs) and blocked two kicks and won, and this year they blocked two kicks and won. We definitely had our opportunities to beat Maryland. Yes, I'm disappointed where we are at. It stinks to be 2-2 and to lose to your rivals. But we have Wake Forest next so really we are just looking at things we can do to fix things because it is a long season and the schedule doesn't get any easier. We have to find a way to win this week."
More quotes from my conversation with Coach Niumatalolo:
Regarding Ricky Dobbs' comments to the Annapolis Capital about there being "confusion" on the goal line by the slot backs and other blockers…
"I didn't see the comment. I guess he just spoke the truth. I haven't said anything to him. He's the one that gets the microphone thrown in front of him more than anyone else. I'm sure I say things I wish I wouldn't have said. I don't really know what the context is (of the story), but no I haven't talked to him about it."
What was he so upset about after the missed field goal against Air Force?
"We were saying that you have to be within a yard in order to jump and land on somebody. I was trying to say that he wasn't within a yard. He was using our guy to try and catapult himself up. We've sent it in (to the ACC) and they said that he was within the one yard.
What did he think of Wake Forest's defensive effort – through three quarters at least – against Georgia Tech…
"They line up similar to Air Force – they are an odd front team. They just played well. I think they were playing with great energy – like a team that was desperate to win...but (Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt) made some remarkable plays at the end."
On which Demon Deacons quarterback they will prepare for…
"We will look at all of their games…we don't really know (who will start) but we will go as if Tanner Price will be the quarterback…but who knows." [Note: Looks like it will be Price.]
The mindset of the players after they lost to Air Force for the first time in their careers…
"I actually feel good about how they feel. Obviously the day after, everybody is down. You are in the pits on the airplane. I think Wyatt and Ricky have done a good job. I know it stinks to lose to Air Force but we can't let that game destroy the rest of our season. We still have a lot to play for. The approach I took is this is the Naval Academy. This place is about leadership. It's easy to be a leader when things are going well. Now we will see our true leadership and chemistry as a team when we are not doing as well. These guys are going to be leaders of men and things aren't always going to go great and hopefully the skills that they learn (here) will help them deal with adversity in the future. They are very resilient and obviously this is a big game this week."
"It's a huge game this week for both (Navy and Wake Forest). I know they are searching to get back on track. For us we don't want the big loss against our rival to turn into two losses."