The Pressure’s On: 2010 Duke Defense

Duke LB Damian Thornton will play a key role for the 2010 Duke defense

While many have pointed to Duke’s rushing attack or the installment of a new quarterback as the key to Duke’s 2010 season, it was the opposite side of the ball that had the head coach’s attention this spring. “I’m concerned about our depth on defense,” Head Coach David Cutcliffe said after the spring game, “I’m concerned about our front, to be real honest with you, coming out of spring practice, but we’re going to be a very multi-front, multi-schematic defensive team.”

In 2009, the defense forced a total of 18 turnovers (T-9th in ACC) and totaled 19 sacks (11th in ACC). Both of these totals were significantly down from Coach Cutcliffe’s inaugural season in Durham in 2008, when the Blue Devils forced 26 turnovers and totaled 27 sacks. In 2009, Duke finished last in the ACC in third down defense, allowing opponents to convert on 45% of third downs. If Duke hopes to reach its first bowl game since 1994 in 2010, the defense will need to improve upon these numbers.

Led by new defensive coordinator Marion Hobby, the staff hopes that a new approach with an emphasis on speed will translate into more big plays and takeaways by the defense. "What we're switching to is 'multicality,” said Coach Cutcliffe at the ACC media day, “We've been so pure 4-3, so we're going to be in a lot of personnel groupings…We had a lot of fun watching it in the spring. It really puts a premium on speed. We're going to put a lot of speed on the field."

It’s no secret that Duke is thin along the defensive front, having lost starters Vince Oghobaase and Ayanga Okpokoworuk to graduation and the dismissal of freshmen John Drew and Brandon Putnam. To compensate, the defensive coaching staff, led by Hobby, Jim Collins, Jim Knowles, and Derek Jones, will employ multiple defensive sets, including a 3-4 scheme, as suggested by the preseason depth chart and Coach Cutcliffe’s comments.

The new defensive schemes will be anchored on the ends up front by redshirt seniors Wes Oglesby and Patrick Egboh, with redshirt junior Charlie Hatcher at nose guard. In their 52 collective starts, this starting line has produced only 7 sacks, 26.5 tackles for loss, and 3 fumble recoveries: numbers they hope to add to in 2010. The Blue Devils will have talented underclassmen behind them on the depth chart in redshirt sophomore Kenny Anunike, who switched to DE from TE this spring; redshirt-sophomore NG Curtis Hazelton; redshirt freshman DE Sydney Sarmiento; and redshirt freshman DE Justin Foxx. It remains to be seen whether any of Duke’s true freshman lineman (Jamal Bruce, Will Bryant, Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, Steven Ingram, Dezmond Johnson, and Jamal Wallace) are ready to make significant contributions in 2010, and a few have stood out in early practices.

Duke LB Austin Gamble will see more time this season. copyright BDN Photo

With a lack of experienced depth along the defensive line, the Blue Devils will need help from a deep and talented linebacking corps to bring effective pressure. Duke will feature sets with three linebackers and a new “Devil” position, which will likely contain elements of both linebacker and safety. Heading into fall camp, Duke projects to start three seniors in Damian Thornton, Abraham Kromah, and Adam Banks, who will man the “Devil” position. These three seniors have combined for 20 career starts, 175 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 2 fumble recoveries. The seniors have earned Coach Cutcliffe’s praise early in camp: “Those guys have done a great job…they’re veterans, they care, they’re committed; it all starts with that, and they certainly know what to do.” Redshirt freshmen Kevin Rojas and August Campbell, along with sophomores Austin Gamble and Tyree Glover, are also likely to see significant playing time in 2010. Even without recent standouts Michael Tauilili and Vincent Rey, this may be the most talented collective group of linebackers during the Cutcliffe era. “The good part is, I think we can play two deep [at linebacker],” Cutcliffe recently said. “I’m looking at [Kevin] Rojas, [Austin] Gamble, [Tyree] Glover, and Auggie Campbell – that’s a pretty good group.” Duke has some fast and heavy hitters at linebacker, and they will need to assist the defensive front in bringing pressure against opposing offenses. While Kromah may be the vocal leader on the field, Thornton is a player to watch, as he set offseason Duke linebacker lifting records at bench press (475) and power clean (363), and has impressed in early fall practice.

The Duke secondary should be improved from a year ago, despite the departure of All-ACC performer Leon Wright. Led by redshirt senior Chris Rwabukamba and junior Matt Daniels, Duke will have many potential playmakers at safety and cornerback in 2010. After finishing last in the ACC in 2009 in interceptions and third down defense, the secondary will need to drastically improve its pass coverage, particularly on crucial third down plays. Junior Johnny Williams joins the secondary this year after playing two years at wide receiver, and has earned high praise from Coach Cutcliffe for his transition. “Johnny Williams had a terrific night,” Cutcliffe recently remarked in regard to the second fall practice, “he was the best I’ve seen him to date, and a primary reason is that his conditioning level is the best since he’s been here.” Williams is challenging redshirt freshman Ross Cockrell for the starting job at left cornerback, and will also likely see playing time on special teams and offense. Sophomore Zach Greene, who played in all 12 games in 2009 as a true freshman, and redshirt freshman Lex Butler will back up Rwabukamba at right cornerback. Duke is also deep at safety, where junior Lee Butler and Daniels are expected to start, but will be pushed by redshirt sophomore Jordan Byas, sophomore Walt Canty, and redshirt freshman Anthony Young-Wiseman.

Matt Daniels is ready to hit an opponent and he'll get that chance when Duke opens with Elon this Saturday in Wallace Wade Stadium. copyright BDN Photo

The aggressive approach on defense was especially evident during Duke’s early morning practice on Thursday, as the offense was stopped on all 6 possessions during the 2 minute drills. Key defensive plays during Thursday’s drills included a sack for Thornton, two sacks for freshman Jamal Bruce, fumble recoveries by Canty and Glover, and interceptions by Rwabukamba, Cockrell, and Byas. After practice, Coach Cutcliffe offered this assessment: “I think the thing that happened was the defense got on a roll today and I think our secondary is whipping our receivers pretty consistently. I think our pressure got to our offense today.” Given the strength of Duke’s receiving corps, the dominance by the secondary so far in practice is a positive indicator for the season. Turnovers will continue to be a point of emphasis for the defense as Duke prepares for the season opener against Elon on September 4.

Looking ahead in 2010, the Blue Devils will face two prolific running offenses in Alabama and Virginia Tech, along with four option-style offenses in Wake Forest, Army, Navy, and Georgia Tech. With a thin defensive front, the ability of the linebackers and secondary to make plays in the offensive backfield may determine several wins and losses for the Blue Devils. The defense will also have to do a better job this year of forcing punts and turnovers, providing the offense with a shorter field. If Duke’s new defensive schemes are able to consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it ultimately may be the defense that carries Duke to a 2010 bowl game.

BDN goes 1 on 1 with Duke great and ESPN analyst Jay Williams

Jay Williams - ESPN Analyst

The courts were all but empty and Jay Williams was packing up ready to call it a day, but he still took time to chat amidst the light rainfall. BDN got a chance to speak with the former Duke legend and national champion during the Boost Mobile Elite 24 event in Venice Beach, California.

We’re here with Jay Williams at the Elite 24 skills and dunk competition out in Venice Beach. Jay, how has your summer gone and have you had a chance to do anything special or head back to Durham?

You know, I have a home in Durham and I did have a chance to go back there and play against the guys, and I can gloat about it because Kyrie will get mad (laughs). Us both being from New Jersey we have a lot of pride, and I truly think he is going to be a phenom style of point guard there. But I can say the last time I was in Durham we won 4 games to their 2, we beat them in a series. So, Kyrie, I didn’t particularly leave Durham in good standings with him (laughs) cause we won, but they are going to have a chance to be so special. Every time I go back to Durham, it’s home. I love being around there, the people are great. That’s my family and it always will be.

You get to spend a lot of time with the kids out here. Is that something you really enjoy and what advice do you give them for their future?

Yeah, you know, I really do enjoy spending time with them out here, and we had a session yesterday which was called a ‘Life Skills Session’ that ESPN Rise did. It was great because we talked to the kids about the power of the social media like twitter and facebook. We talked about being more conscious of your actions in public. Now you have to start looking at yourself as a business, not that you want to, you still want to have fun and be friends, but you really want to be careful about what you do and the people you associate yourself with. We’re just trying to make them more aware of the situations they are going to come to in the future, and just trying to help them grow up a little bit.

Definitely some powerful advice there. What did you think about the Skills and Dunk competition?

You know I’ve been to the Elite 24 for the past 4-5 years, and I thought this was truly one of the best. For Deuce Bello to jump over Quincy Miller and do a windmill, and have Brad Beal come out here and do the skills, Quinn Cook did his thing. I wish Austin Rivers would have jumped in a contest to, but I thought it was great and this is a great venue. I think it’s good to be bi-coastal, go back from New York to L.A and touch on different parts that have significant meaning to this country.

How do you like what you’re doing now, your current position with ESPN? Is it something you think you will keep doing or perhaps go into coaching one day?

I don’t know if coaching is in the future for me right now. The recruiting aspect of coaching really turns me off (laughs). But doing television is something I truly love. I don’t know if that is going to be on the basketball side forever or maybe hopefully some more NBA in the future. But I love what I do, I love being impactful to kids and helping make a difference, and TV is a great platform to do that on.

So Duke won a National Championship this year and has the opportunity to repeat. You won a National Championship and had that same opportunity, though unfortunately it didn’t happen. Can you talk about the mindset going into the 2nd year in trying to repeat?

Yeah, sure. The second year was a lot more pressure. The first year, my sophomore year in 2001, when you look back and reflect upon it, it was myself, Chris Duhon, Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer. I mean 5 guys who, if I didn’t get hurt, we’d all have been playing basketball professionally. And you look at this team that just won it, the expectations really weren’t on them to win it. They got positioned nicely in their bracket and they were able to take care of business. Different year, different national championship. This year coming up, now the expectations are going to be for them to win it, and now everybody is going to be gunning for them. People gunned for them last year because they were Duke, but now it’s a double thing. Now their Duke AND they are the National Champions, so how are they going to handle that? Is Kyle Singler going to step up and handle that responsibility. Jon Scheyer was a critical part to that team last year. He came in at the point guard spot and allowed Nolan to be a slasher and really did a good job of delegating the ball to people at the right time. Now Kyrie as a freshman, he’s great but he’s going to have his ups and his downs. Will he be able to really play up to the level that we know he can play to at the right time, and not have a lull, and really be the leader of that team.

Absolutely. Now Kyrie is a New Jersey point guard, you’re a New Jersey point guard, can you talk about the expectations were like?

Well the one expectation at Duke is to always win a National Championship. And you know you’re going to be the focus of the media every single day, and people have come out and said he could potentially be the best point guard to ever play at Duke. So that carries a lot of weight upon a kids shoulders, who is 17 years old. I’m sure he’s going to have his ups and his downs. The one thing that I know Coach K and his staff will do a good job of is trying to keep him consistent. Let him know that ‘listen you’re going to mess up and have mistakes but you have to think next play’. And that was the one thing that got me through my freshman year, I would mess up sometimes and get really down upon myself but Coach K would always be in my head making me think about the next play. When you think about the next play a part of you lets go of the old play and you focus on the positives of the new play, and he needs to continue to do that in order to be the elite kind of guard you need to win a National Championship.

Thank you very much for the time, Jay.

No problem man, anytime.

Monday Musings – It’s kickoff time for football, hot recruiting news, team USA and more

Monday Musings DUke Cheerleaders Pics Return!

There is a lot going on in the Duke Athletics world these days and in this version of Monday Musings we'll take a look at those happenings.

Football set to kickoff against Elon

The Duke Football team kicks off their 2010 season this Saturday at 7:00 in Wallace Wade Stadium and we are very excited here at BDN.  It's important for the Blue Devils to get off to a good start with a win and they'll need fan support, so turn out for the opener.  In the meantime, check out our latest football article, which takes an in-depth look at the depth of this season's team.  I will be at tomorrow's final press conference to bring you Coach Cutcliffe's comments, and we'll be churning out material all week long leading to the start of the game.

BDN Premiums Elite 24 Coverage

I've said many times before that there is no off-season for basketball, especially recruiting, and BDN Premium is bringing its members what they want.  BDN covered the Boost Mobile Elite 24 event in Venice Beach, California and updates appeared on our message board with the information you covet way ahead of the curve.  There is already an interview posted with Alex Murphy and today we released one with the latest on coveted recruit Austin Rivers and we've just scratched the surface.  Later this week we'll release interviews with several key recruits, both from the event and other channels.  It's a good time to join BDN Premium, for the information is timely and hot and, as always, BDN is there in person to bring you genuine eyes on coverage without the smoke and mirrors effect.  While some others talk about two weeks old non-news and rumors, we attempt to keep it fresh by covering all the major recruiting events and addressing what is going on with key prospects.

BDN is not just a pay site

One of the things I learned while taking a well-needed break at the coast to refresh myself before the football season this weekend is that many think BDN is a pay only site.  This is far from true -- we offer a lot of free articles and recruiting information via our popular Twitter site.  We will address the issue of distinguishing premium and free offerings by inserting a flag in the title letting you know if it is a premium or free article.  This will start some time in the near future.

Team USA rolling right along

Coach Krzyzewski has Team USA rolling right along and it is just another bit of excitement surrounding Duke Athletics at the moment.  BDN has always covered the USA Basketball scene and we'll continue to do  so.

So stay tuned to BDN for complete coverage of the Duke Athletics beat and feel free to let us know what you think of our site and offerings for we are always here to listen.

We're number one

Pre-season basketball magazines will hit the stands in the next week or so and Lindy's already has Duke tabbed number one in the nation with Kyle Singler being the pre-season POY.

Next up on BDN Premium -Shabazz Muhammad, Myck Kabongo, and so much more.  Thanks for following Blue Devil Nation.

BDN checks in with Austin Rivers at the Elite 24

VENICE BEACH - Highly sought after rising senior, Austin Rivers, was recently ranked as the #1 prospect in the 2011 class by Rivals. After having a busy summer playing for USA Basketball, and bringing home the gold, the rising senior gets a chance to end his summer with a bit of fun out in Venice Beach, California. Austin took some time after the Midnight run to talk with BDN and here’s what he had to say.

We’ve got Austin Rivers here at the Elite 24 Midnight Run. First off, congratulations on being invited to the Elite 24 for your second year in a row, that’s a big accomplishment. Last year, you were out at Rucker Park; this year, you head out to the West Coast for Venice Beach.

Thanks man, appreciate it.

Now, you’ve been playing AAU for a few years now, do you find at events like this that you bond with players? And have you been hanging out with anyone particular over the summer?

Definitely. I think being with the best players in the country just hangin’ out with them you get to bond with them and create relationships with people you’d never get to meet. I’ve become best friends with Myck Kabongo, he’s one of my real good friends, Brad Beal, Quincy Miller, Quinn Cook, all of the guys out here. I’ve became friends with [private] all of them even just today, and I know most of them already but just today I met new people and I’m already friends with them. Just to be out here and bond with them and connect is cool.

So you’ve had quite a busy summer so far and you’ve been quite successful. You won the Disney Showcase. Do you have a favorite moment throughout this summer?

Yea I’d say the Disney Showcase just because how my team got to enjoy the W. Ya know I played pretty well over the summer overall but just to win is obviously the greatest feeling. We went in there with our heads high and came out winning; it was good for our team and was kind of our last hoorah, if you will. I’ve been with that team for like 9 years so just to end on a good note like that was nice.

Now another big thing you did this summer was playing on the U18 Team USA. Congratulations on bringing the gold over here! Can you talk about that experience and what it means to wear the USA across the chest?

Oh yea man I totally forgot, I didn’t even think about that when you asked me what was the greatest moment (smiles and laughs). Now that was probably the greatest moment of the summer, winning for my country. You know it’s one thing when you represent your town or your city or state of Florida, but it’s another when you represent the whole country. So just going out there with your country across your chest and for us to win the gold medal meant a lot. Getting to play with great players like Patric Young and Kyrie Irving and go out there and getting the victory was big.

I’m sure it was a great feeling. You got to play with those great players in Kyrie, Quincy, Lebryan Nash. Is playing with great players something that will come into play when you make your big decision for college?

You know of course. To win championships you got to have great players, you know there’s never really been a team that I’ve known in college basketball that has won with just one great player and everyone else is bad. They’ve always had three or four or even five great players. So that’s one thing you always have to be looking at is who you’re going to be playing with and who’s going to help you and get you better.

Yea definitely. Now recently in an interview, Kyrie Irving said that if he was so fortunate to be in a position to be a one and done, and if you were to commit to playing with him, that he would definitely consider staying to play with you. Is that something you guys talk about often?

You know we definitely have talked about it, if I was to come there he’d love to stay. But then again, you know a player like Kyrie if it’s time to go I’m sure he’s gonna go. I’m pretty sure he’s going to leave after this first year, you know I wish the best for him, I don’t wanna jinx him or anything like that. Just playing with him this summer he’s already kind of ready, he’s a hell of a player. I think Coach K will put him in a position to succeed there.

Now in my opinion you have one of the better offensive games I’ve seen for a player your age. My favorite move of yours I think is the little jab step/head fake that I saw you doing a little earlier. Would you say those are your go to moves? Or do you have any other ones you use a lot?

Really I just read the defense, and those are kind of my go to moves, the jab step. You know John Wall told me earlier (as he laughs) “I don’t wanna see none of them jab steps out here!”. Yea that’s kind of my go to move, I like to shake them with my jab and kind of get people off of their feet. But as far as in the open court I just read the defense and I try to go to the side where the players are weak and try and attack.

One thing you’ve talked about is your defense. Is there anything you try and do to get better? Perhaps taking on the best perimeter player each night?

Yea definitely, that’s what I did for USA Basketball. They stuck me on the best player, and coach actually saw me as the best defender on the team. He saw that I had the potential and said “you’re a great defender, you just gotta do it”. Just for Coach Capel, Coach Hewitt, and Coach Witherspoon to have the confidence in me to play defense really helped me and I think I’ve become a pretty good defender over the summer and I think I’m a good defender now.

I definitely agree. You’ve got a big year ahead of you coming up. You’ve got to defend your state title and I know that was a special moment for you. Can you talk about how you want to repeat and what steps you try to take to accomplish that?

Yea, you know, it’s always harder to repeat something cause after you win your next year people maybe start slacking off or teams start coming at you a little harder. I think it’s going to be special if we can win this year and I think we have a great chance to. We have some new guys coming in and we still got people returning and we have some good players around me.

Are you going to be used in a similar way as last year?

Yes, but I think this year I’m going to average a lot more rebounds because we’ll miss our big man, Adam Jones, who graduated last year. I’m definitely going to have to board more and average around 7-8 rebounds a game. And I’ll probably have the ball in my hands a little bit more this year, just attacking the defense more and getting people open a bit more, so just to try and be an all round stat-sheet filler.

Going into your senior do you have any personal or team goals that you’d like to achieve?

Yea I’d say our team goals are obviously to win the state championship and I’d just say have everybody be open-minded. You know not everybody is going to be playing as much as they wanted to or doing as much as they can. But I just think as a leader of the team I kind of have to set an example, and I’d say my goal is just to try and establish a good chemistry with my team. I just hope we can come into the season with no ego’s and just come in ready to play and win.

Everybody has their own role type of thing?

Yea, yea exactly.

Now originally you had made an August date to announce. That got moved back a little bit. Is that something that you and your family talked about?

Yea, exactly, definitely. My brother rushed it two times actually, in Indiana he’s still kind of not comfortable there. It’s just my families had tough times with those schools and I just thought it’s too early, and I was already so busy with my summer, I just thought I needed to slow down and think. I’ve already set some visits. I think it’s October 1st I go up to Duke and uhh I think October 16th I go to North Carolina.

For their Late Night?

Yea, I’ve already set up dates for that, both of their Midnight things, whatever their dates are. My parents set that all up, I don’t know the exact dates. So I’ve already set up dates for Duke and North Carolina, and Kansas, Kentucky and Florida will be up next.

Will your visits be a situation where you will visit everyone of your schools, or will you perhaps pull the trigger if you feel it’s right?

Yea, you know it could be. If I have the right feeling for a school I think I would pull the trigger. It’s just a matter of where I feel comfortable and where I feel I could really succeed. Um I might wait just a little bit just to see the season you know. I wanna see how they use Kyrie. I wanna see if they let Kyrie go, I wanna see how North Carolina plays with Harrison, you know you wanna see how colleges do with their players. How Kansas does with Shelby (Josh Selby), just to see ya know. The schools I’m looking at all kind of have players at my position, so I’d like to just see how they let them go let them play, and it’ll help determine where I go.

Yea I understand that. Now one last question, if I was to take your iPod and check it out, what would you be listening to recently?

Well right now I’d probably be playing a little bit of Roscoe Dash, little bit of Lupe (Fiasco), and I’m a big Kanye dude. Oh and Jurzey. But I’m a big Lupe guy, I love listening to Lupe.

Thanks a lot Austin.

Sure man, no problem. [/private]

BDN takes a look at the 2010 Duke Football Depth Chart

copyright BDN Photo

For the first time during Coach David Cutcliffe’s tenure at Duke, the Blue Devils have built depth at several key positions. To those close to the program, the increased depth has been apparent, raising the level of competition in drills and scrimmages this fall. The increased competition led to highly-contested position battles at several spots on the Blue Devils roster. BDN was on the scene throughout the 2010 training camp and offers a brief breakdown of the roster as the depth chart is finalized.


Running Back - For Duke to be successful in 2010, they must improve upon their league-worst rushing attack from 2009. Despite the loss of fifth year senior Re’quan Boyette to graduation, the Blue Devils have considerable talent at running back. Coach Cutcliffe recently said, “over time, there’s never enough backs,” but with five players vying for carries, hopefully Duke will have enough to get through a 12 game schedule. Junior Jay Hollingsworth was the starter heading into fall camp, but was beaten out by sophomore Desmond Scott. After leading the team in rushing as a true freshman in 2009, Scott will enter the year as the starter and see plenty of carries. Redshirt-sophomore Patrick Kurunuwe has also had a good training camp and will compete for playing time. True freshman Josh Snead enrolled in January and impressed during spring practice, where he ran for 99 yards on just 9 attempts during the spring game. True freshman Juwan Thompson has also shown his speed during fall camp; both Snead and Thompson have already earned playing time as true freshmen, and may see their roles expand as the year progresses. “We’ve got to play a lot of people to stay fresh,” Coach Cutcliffe explained. All of the backs will likely see time on the kick return units as well.

Wide Receiver - In short, Duke is loaded at wide receiver. Duke returns All-ACC performer Donovan Varner, Freshman All-ACC performer Conner Vernon, and senior Austin Kelly. While all three starters were limited at times by minor injuries during training camp, younger players stood out and earned playing time of their own. Redshirt-sophomore Tony Foster demonstrated serious big-play capability; redshirt-freshman Tyree Watkins and redshirt-junior Josh Trezvant both showed off good hands and route-running. “We’re going to play the guys at receiver who have earned it,” Coach Cutcliffe stated last week. For the most part, the receivers were able to find good rhythm with QB Sean Renfree, which will be key for the offense to continue its prolific passing attack.

Tight End - Duke is also deep at tight end, where four players will play. Seniors Brett Huffman, Brandon King, and Danny Parker are joined by junior college transfer Cooper Helfet, who coaches have described as a tight end with wide receiver skills. In fact, Helfet played wide receiver in junior college and will line up in several different sets for the Blue Devils this fall. The depth at tight end will give Duke a lot of flexibility in their offensive sets. Expect to see all four tight ends receive significant playing time this year.

Backup Quarterback - With redshirt-sophomore Sean Renfree firmly entrenched as the starter, a battle ensued for the backup position, with true freshman Brandon Connette winning the job. “Brandon Connette is our backup and we’ll find some opportunities for him to play in certain situations,” Coach Cutcliffe announced after the last scrimmage of training camp. Connette’s ability to run with the ball has stood out in practices, and his arm accuracy should improve with experience. Redshirt-freshman Sean Schroeder has not yet taken the next step in his development from a year ago that the coaches were hoping to see, and likely will fall to third on the depth chart to start the year. True freshman Anthony Boone has also impressed with his elusiveness and poise, and will only improve as he continues to adjust to the college game. Expect Connette to see time early in the year to acclimate him to the college game, while keeping Renfree fresh.

Offensive Line - Duke is fortunate to return a veteran offensive line, where senior Bryan Morgan will anchor the group at center. Morgan has made 24 consecutive starts at center and is one of the leaders of this year’s team. Redshirt-freshman Perry Simmons stood out in training camp and may have beat out redshirt-junior Jon Needham at right tackle. Returning starters redshirt-sophomore Brian Moore, redshirt-senior Brandon Harper, and redshirt-junior Kyle Hill will fill out the starting line. Redshirt-senior Mitch Lederman, who started seven games in 2009, will also see time in the rotation. “We’re going to play a few more offensive lineman than you might normally play,” Coach Cutcliffe declared after the last scrimmage. Expect to see redshirt-freshman John Coleman and redshirt-sophomore Conor Irwin join the rotation up front early in the season.


Defensive Line - It’s no secret that the defensive line is one area where Duke lacks depth. In fact, senior linebacker Damian Thornton lined up at defensive end during parts of fall practice, and may play there in certain defensive schemes. Redshirt-seniors Patrick Egboh and Wesley Oglesby, along with redshirt-junior Charlie Hatcher are cemented in as the starters in the new 3-4 alignment, and will have to stay healthy and fresh. Redshirt-sophomore Kenny Anunike has transitioned nicely from tight end and will add depth to the rotation. Redshirt-freshman Sydney Sarmiento is recovering from knee surgery, but will play, along with redshirt-freshman Justin Foxx.

Linebacker- Duke’s defense will rely heavily on a trio of senior linebackers in Damian Thornton, Adam Banks, and Abraham Kromah. Their leadership and versatility will allow Duke to utilize creative defensive fronts to slow opposing offenses. They will be joined by sophomore Austin Gamble, who beat out redshirt-freshman Kevin Rojas for the fourth starting spot. Sophomore Tyree Glover and redshirt-freshman August Campbell have also looked good this August and will see plenty of action in Duke’s aggressive defense. Duke will play a deep rotation at linebacker.

Secondary - The secondary was the site of the most competition during 2010 training camp. The group is led by redshirt-senior Chris Rwabukamba and junior Matt Daniels. Redshirt-freshman Ross Cockrell beat out junior Johnny Williams for the starting spot at left cornerback, and junior Lee Butler held off redshirt-sophomore Jordan Byas at left safety. That being said, Duke will look to keep their playmakers on the field, so expect Johnny Williams to see playing time in all phases of the game this year. Also expect to see Duke rotate in several young speedsters into the secondary, including sophomore Zach Greene, sophomore Walt Canty, and redshirt-freshman Anthony Young-Wiseman.

Special Teams

Kicker - Redshirt-junior Will Snyderwine and senior Nick Maggio waged a competition during this year’s spring and fall training camps for the starting kicker job, and it has gone down to the wire. The field goal and place kicking  job will likely be finalized early this week.

Punter - Redshirt-senior Kevin Jones returns as Duke’s punter, and will be backed up by junior Alex King.

Kick/Punt Return - This was another fierce competition among Duke’s young, speedy playmakers, with little separation. Expect several players to be rotated through as return men at the start of the year, led by Desmond Scott, Josh Snead, and Juwan Thompson. Johnny Williams is likely to see time as the primary punt returner, but others may rotate in.