ANNAPOLIS — The large presence of Brandon Turner remained absent from Navy’s preseason football practice Tuesday morning, one more day the Midshipmen were without their most experienced wide receiver.
Turner won’t join the team until at least Aug. 20 after failing a physical readiness test before the start of camp along with two other players. One of the two, linebacker Josh Tate, is also a projected starter. Neither is a senior.
“We know he’s going to come back and we’re ready for him to come back because he’s a big asset to our offense with his blocking and his catching,” junior Casey Bolena said. “He’s a great receiver.”
For now, though, the Mids must move on without him as their Sept. 1 opener against Notre Dame draws ever closer.
The potential loss of Turner is a major blow to Navy’s blocking on the edge. Unlike in most offenses, where receptions are a major part of a wideout’s duties, blocking is a receiver’s top priority on most plays in the triple option.
Turner led Navy with 14 catches for 300 yards as a junior. The six players on the Mids’ current depth chart combined for 18 receptions last season.
Much of the group is untested, but it also means this month is a chance for Navy to develop some guys who have seldom seen the field.
“We’ll be OK,” receivers coach Mick Yokitis said. “We’re expecting Brandon to get back here shortly. But we have a tough group and we have a lot of depth, so we’re not too worried about that right now. We’re worried about the guys we have out here.”
One guy who could benefit is senior John O’Boyle, who caught a pass at South Carolina last year but worked primarily on special teams. The converted slotback was briefly listed as a co-starter along with former safety Shawn Lynch after Turner’s misstep, but was a backup on a depth chart released this week.
Nonetheless, Navy rotates its receivers enough for Turner’s absence to provide a chance for the senior to earn the most extensive playing time of his career.
“It’s big for me because I get to move up,” O’Boyle said. “I have to take my opportunity before he gets back and work as hard as I can and let the coaches see what I can do. I think the other guys are thinking the exact same thing, because Brandon was No. 1.”
The immediate beneficiary is Bolena, who caught four passes last season and played in all but one game. He opened camp as Matt Aiken’s backup at one of the wide receiver spots, but after five days of practice had earned the spot previously held by Turner.
“Casey’s a tough kid,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “He’s who we are as wideouts. He does whatever you ask him to do, doesn’t say a word, plays a thousand miles per hour. He’s an athletic kid, big and strong, and he’s had a nice camp so far.”
Still, the receivers are eager for Turner to return. Niumatalolo is not allowing Turner to attempt his conditioning test again until classes resume and is uncertain how soon he would play. Nonetheless, Navy could surely use a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder who has turned himself into one of the program’s top perimeter blockers.
If and when Turner rejoins the Mids, he’ll be part of a group that’s received a head start during his absence.
“It presents opportunity for me, and all the other receivers, also,” Bolena said. “Brandon’s been here and he’s proven himself. I’ll be there, too. I’m going to make plays this year and so is Brandon.”
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