Despite Rehab, Dobbs Will Spring Forward

One of Navy's biggest question marks coming into the 2010 spring season has been the health of quarterback Ricky Dobbs, who underwent postseason knee surgery in late January. On Monday, Ken Niumatalolo addressed Dobbs' status for the spring, and laid out his hopes for Navy's other quarterbacks during the offseason.

Ricky Dobbs had quite a junior season in 2009, and could be well on his way towards giving Navy fans an encore to remember in 2010. Dobbs, who underwent a January 21st procedure to remove a chipped bone in his right knee, is farther along in his recovery than originally anticipated, and likely will participate in spring practices beginning next week. This according to Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, who said in a recent interview that he has no plans to leave Dobbs on the shelf while the rest of the team strives for improvement.

"Ricky's rehab is going very well," said Niumatalolo. "The surgery went exactly like the doctors thought it would, and he is ahead of schedule in his rehab. We're planning on him to get some work in the spring."

According to previous reports in The Annapolis Capital, Dobbs first suffered the injury while in high school, only to aggravate it during the 2009 season in a game against Southern Methodist in October. He missed subsequent games against Wake Forest and Temple (making a brief appearance late against the Owls), but fought through the pain for the remainder of the season en route to establishing a new NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (27). While he's been actively rehabbing his knee for the better part of the past two months, it was unclear to what extent the process would limit him during the spring. On Monday, Niumatalolo made it clear that Dobbs will practice during Navy's spring session, but said that he and his staff will be taking a cautious approach to working the Georgia-native back.

"We're going to be very smart and judicious about it," said Niumatalolo. "We're going to make sure he gets some work, but we're not going to rush him back too quickly. If he's not 100% we'll do it in seven-on-sevens or some throwing drills where he can at least get some work this spring."

One would think that Dobbs may have earned a spring reprieve after leading the Midshipmen to a 10-4 record and historic wins over Notre Dame and Missouri in 2009, but Niumatalolo stressed the need for his quarterback – who was elected the team's offensive captain in February – to improve in his understanding of the offense just like everybody else.

"We don't want him sitting around for 15 practices and we want him out there practicing and continuing to get better in his option mechanics," commented the third year head coach. "I think with some of our team stuff and self-scouting Ricky will have the chance to get in there and get some reps in. Sports is something that you've got to constantly work on. Whether you're a quarterback or a three-point shooter – whatever your skill is – if you don't do it for a while you're going to get rusty."

If nothing else, Dobbs' limited status this spring will give the Navy staff a better opportunity to evaluate the team's backup quarterbacks, including junior Kriss Proctor. Proctor, who started one game in 2009 and played extensively in several others, ran for 4.2 yards a carry and 4 touchdowns in relief of Dobbs, and is considered the heir apparent to the record setting quarterback. On Monday, Niumatalolo praised Proctor's improvement through the early part of the offseason, and said that he is expecting the former Big Bear, California star to make the most of the opportunity.

"I think this is going to be a great spring for Kriss. I think he's way more comfortable in our offense. He's a guy who we have high expectations for," said Niumatalolo.

Having Proctor continue to grow in the Navy triple offense is essential, with recent history showing that Midshipmen quarterbacks seldom make it through an entire season unscathed. Proctor, who played in a similar flexbone system in high school, proved he could direct Navy's offense during a win against Wake Forest a season, and according to Niumatalolo has continued to grow from both a physical and leadership standpoint.

"The guy has taken his work ethic and his offseason workouts to a new level," said Niumtalolo. "I think he sees this as a great opportunity to solidify himself as a player. We don't want anyone to get hurt, but we know with this offense that having two quarterbacks is definitely a luxury and if somebody does get injured we will feel better if we have that."

The spring campaign will also give Navy's staff the chance to evaluate several of the team's rising sophomore quarterbacks, including current third stringer Tyler Lynch. While he was limited to JV duty in 2009, Lynch will have the opportunity to solidify his status on the Navy depth chart in the coming weeks, and should get meaningful reps while going against both the third and possibly second team defense.

"Tyler Lynch is a young guy who has gotten better and better, and this will be an opportunity for him to get more reps and to improve," Niumatalolo said.

Counting on Stukel

Among the many topics that Niumatalolo addressed during GoMids' pre-spring interviews was the question of who would replace departing Navy senior Bobby Doyle at slotback. Niumatalolo said several players have big play capability from the slotback position, but commented that he's especially looking forward to seeing what junior Mike Stukel can do. Stukel was moved from quarterback to slotback prior to the 2009 season, but a preseason injury to backup Kriss Proctor forced Niumatalolo and his staff to switch the natural athlete back to quarterback. Now a slotback again, Stukel brings both speed and size to the position opposite Curry.

"We feel like Mike has the tools to do it all, and I've been very happy with Mike," said Niumatalolo. "To his credit he has been a great team player between [the staff] moving him back and forth between quarterback and ‘A' back. He's continued to work and has finally settled into ‘A' back, and we're going to leave him there. The sky is the limit for him, and I'm excited to see what he can do."

The Midshipmen open up spring camp on Monday, March 22nd and play their annual Blue and Gold Spring Game on Friday, April 23rd.

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