Duke-football

BDN staff picks against Blue Devil Greats Bob Harris, Thaddeus Lewis, Vincent Rey, and Matt Daniels

BDN’s weekly college football picks are back, and with some added NFL swagger. For the 2012 season, four Blue Devil Nation staff members will test their college football acumen against four Blue Devil Greats.

Calling the plays for the Greats will be the Voice of the Blue Devils, Bob Harris. In thirty-six football and basketball seasons, Harris has broadcast over 400 Duke football games and more than 1,200 Duke basketball games, including thirty-seven ACC tournaments, twelve Final Four games, nine ACC championship games and four NCAA titles. After winning his third North Carolina Sportscaster of the Year award in 2011 by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, BDN is thrilled to have Bob join our weekly college football picks.

Lining up under center for the Blue Devil Greats is Cleveland Browns QB Thaddeus Lewis. A four year starter in Durham, Lewis became Duke’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns during his career. Entering his third season in the NFL, Lewis is 5/8 for 90 yards this preseason.

Two great Blue Devil defenders will quarterback the defense.  A two-year team captain while at Duke, Cincinnati Bengals LB Vincent Rey ranks 9th all-time in tackles at Duke and is the career leader with 3 fumbles returned for TDs. After playing in 18 games his first two seasons in the NFL, Rey enters his third year with the Bengals and has totaled 16 tackles already this preseason. St. Louis Rams safety Matt Daniels finished his Duke career as a 1st Team All-ACC selection and 2nd Team All-America selection in 2011. On Duke’s all-time records charts, he ranks 13th in tackles, third in caused fumbles and tied for sixth in pass breakups. He signed as a free agent with the Rams in April.

BDN’s staff of Patrick Cacchio, Bob Green, Andrew Slater and Mark Watson will try to keep up with this quartet of Blue Devil Greats. Follow along all season long as we pick some of the nation’s toughest games and give our predictions for the Blue Devils’ weekly match-ups.

Mark Watson: Did you know that the Blue Devils’ last win came against these Panthers, who return most of their starters and have made two consecutive bowl games? Duke has few seniors on the roster but despite low numbers they are good leaders. Expect a hard fought game which goes to the wire. Duke 27, FIU 23

Patrick Cacchio: The Golden Panthers, a preseason pick to win the Sun Belt Conference, present a tough opener for the Blue Devils this year. Last year’s thriller in South Florida came down to the wire, with Duke’s Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo forcing a crucial fumble to secure the victory. Expect a similar slugfest under the lights in Wallace Wade Stadium, with the Blue Devils emerging victorious thanks to a crucial turnover and clutch special teams play. Duke 27, FIU 24

Bob Green: This game will be won in the trenches. Duke’s offensive line is big, strong and experienced so it is time for them to exert their will over FIU’s vaunted defense and lead Duke to victory. The running backs have to have holes to run through and Sean Renfree must have time to throw the ball down the field. It all starts with the big horses upfront!

On defense, Duke’s defense is unproven up the middle with the graduation of NT Charlie Hatcher and Safety Matt Daniels along with the injury to MLB Kelby Brown. The key will be finishing sets with stops on 3rd down so the offense comes back on the field.

Fans should look for a Duke freshman to make a big play on Special Teams: Duke 27, FIU 24.

Andrew Slater: Florida International presents a challenging opening round opponent for Coach David Cutcliffe’s strongest and deepest Duke team. Both teams return a lot of starters, but it will be interesting to see the early impact of the slight permutation of moving Durham native Desmond Scott to receiver and the addition of big play sophomore Jamison Crowder to Duke’s record-setting wide receiver, Conner Vernon. Last year, the Blue Devils did an excellent job in pass protection for QB Sean Renfree against FIU, but FIU 6’4″ DL Tourek Williams, the Sun Belt’s preseason defensive player of the year, will provide an early test for Takoby Cofield and arguably Duke’s strength, the offensive line. Duke’s special teams should see, at least, a marginal improvement with the addition of freshman All-American kicker Ross Martin. In what very well may end up being a close battle between Duke’s short passing game, which can take advantage of the veteran Renfree’s accuracy and long-standing comfort level with Vernon, and FIU’s keep and contain defense, the improved field goal kicking, which was an abysmal 45% last season, could be the deciding factor in a third opening game victory for Coach Cutcliffe at Duke. Duke 30, FIU 24

Bob Harris: DUKE in a great game. Duke’s run-game is much improved, and the versatility of this team will send them into the winner’s circle. Duke 38, FIU 21

Matt Daniels: Although Duke is troubled by injuries going into the season, as usual, they will top FIU due to the work of their special teams. I look for Lee Butler, Jamison Crowder and Tim Burton to make huge plays on special teams to give Duke the edge to win the game. Duke 28, FIU 17

Thad Lewis: Duke, of course, with a 28 to 14 victory with Sean throwing 3 TDs and one of the backs giving us one TD on the ground. Duke 28, FIU 14

Vinny Rey: Duke, led by fifth year senior Sean Renfree, will continue their aerial attack afresh and anew in Wallace Wade. Kenny Anunike and the defensive linemen will win up-front, causing major havoc. This will be Duke’s year: Duke 34, FIU 17

In just over a month, Duke and Richmond will kickoff the 2011 season under the lights in Wallace Wade Stadium

BDN breaks down Duke’s season opener vs. FIU

Duke and FIU will kickoff the 2012 season under the lights in Wallace Wade Stadium

FIU at Duke
7:00 PM ET
Saturday, September 1
Wallace Wade Stadium
Durham, North Carolina
TV: ESPN3.com
Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network, Sirus/XM 134

Duke in 2011: 3-9, 6th in ACC Coastal
FIU in 2011: 8-5, 4th in Sun Belt Conference

DUKE INJURIES
PROBABLE – DE Kenny Anunike (leg), DE Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo (leg)
QUESTIONABLE – S Anthony Young-Wiseman (leg)
DOUBTFUL – DE Jonathan Woodruff (leg)
OUT – CB Jared Boyd (leg), LB Kelby Brown (leg), NG Jamal Bruce (foot), S Jordon Byas (leg), TE Braxton Deaver (leg), LB Britton Grier (hand), TE Jack Farrell (leg), OG Lucas Patrick (ankle)
OUT FOR SEASON – WR Blair Holliday, DE Allen Jackson (shoulder), S Taylor Sowell (leg)

FIU INJURIES
WILL TRAVEL: WR Dominique Rhodes (bruise)

Last year: Duke emerged with a narrow 31-27 victory in Miami. RB Juwan Thompson scored a pair of TDs in the fourth quarter as the Blue Devils erased a 10-point deficit.

HOW DUKE CAN WIN

Despite being outgained by the Golden Panthers last year, Duke won the game by winning the turnover battle. Both teams feature speedy playmakers all over their depth charts, and both teams return a majority of their starters from a year ago. For two evenly matched teams, the difference in the game is likely to be only a play or two. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will emerge victorious.

If Duke can establish a running game to open things up for Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon through the air, their offense should be able to put up points on the Golden Panthers. Defensively, Duke has to pressure relatively-unproven QB Jake Medlock and look to force a turnover or two. A year ago, FIU had a game changer on its special teams unit in T.Y. Hilton. This year, Duke has a number of special teams players capable of breaking the game open, along with a much-improved kicking game led by Ross Martin and Will Monday.

HOW DUKE CAN LOSE

FIU is one of the most experienced and athletic teams Duke will play all season. The Blue Devils have struggled in home openers under Coach Cutcliffe, and if they come out with anything but their best on Saturday, they’ll wake up Sunday 0-1. Question marks remain for a Duke defense that has been near the bottom of the ACC in most defensive statistics over the past two seasons, and they will be challenged early and often by explosive RB Kedrick Rhodes. A year ago, WR Wayne Times gave the Duke secondary fits, and he will keep Ross Cockrell and Lee Butler busy again this year. Along the defensive line, Golden Panthers DE Tourek Williams has NFL talent and the ability to disrupt the Blue Devil offense. This game has the potential to become a track meet, much like the 1st quarter of last year’s matchup, and with Duke missing multiple starters, FIU could be the stronger team in the 4th quarter. Add all of FIU’s strengths together along with Duke’s injuries, and it’s easy to see why the Golden Panthers come in expecting just their second win against a BCS team in program history.

WHY DUKE WILL WIN

Coach Cutcliffe enters the 2012 season with his deepest and most talented team since his arrival in Durham. For a program that has teased fans with the prospect of putting it all together the past two seasons, 2012 is a big year. The Blue Devils will come in well-prepared, energized, and ready to play. The Golden Panthers will put forth a tremendous effort in what should be a very well-played football game. Ultimately, the game will come down to one or two critical plays, and Duke’s much improved special teams unit should prove to be the difference in yet another thriller in Wallace Wade. Duke 27, FIU 24

FIU hosts Duke on October 1 for a Homecoming night game in Miami

Know the opponent: FIU scouting report

Duke kicks off the 2012 season on Saturday night against the FIU Golden Panthers. Coming off an 8-5 season, FIU is poised to compete for their third straight bowl berth and another Sun Belt Conference Championship. All 11 defensive starters return for the Golden Panthers, who will feature a veteran lineup in all phases for Head Coach Mario Cristobal.

To dig deeper into this FIU team, BDN was able to go behind enemy lines to hear from FIU Student Media Sports Director Brandon Wise. His firsthand insights give a great look into the FIU program. Thanks for joining us, Brandon!

BDN: Coming off of two straight bowl appearances and with 17 starters returning, FIU has a lot of momentum heading into this season. What are the expectations for Head Coach Mario Cristobal and the Golden Panthers in 2012?

Expectations are very high this season and it comes as a bit of a surprise to me. There are five kids that have been named to watch lists, even though there is no more T.Y. Hilton. But this defense is one of those that doesn’t come around very often. Nearly every position has a returning starter and most of those are seniors. The defense is going to make or break this team.

BDN: On offense, FIU will have to replace both QB Wes Carroll and star WR T.Y. Hilton. Can you give us a brief scouting report on the 2012 Golden Panther offense?

I really see this offense going as far as Kedrick Rhodes can carry them. Even with Carroll and Hilton last year, this team only averaged 214 passing yards per game. For as much as this team has the appearance of a spread wide open passing game since the quarterback never runs under center, they run the ball a ton. Rhodes broke the school record rushing yards in a season with 1,194. He could be in for an even bigger year.

The new quarterback, Jake Medlock, got some time last season and there is still a lot of skepticism about how he will handle his new role this season as the full time starter. Even though many of the players on the team have reiterated how much of a leader he has been already on a senior laden lineup. He will be given the opportunity the start the season, and Cristobal has mentioned the large gap between him and backup quarterback Loranzo Hammonds.

At Wide Receiver, there will be some question marks. Without Hilton in the lineup, there is obviously going to be much less explosiveness. I think that the receivers this year will be more possession guys, meaning its going to be on Medlock’s shoulders to deliver strong throws to open guys,

BDN: With 10 starters returning this year, FIU will feature one of the most veteran and athletic defensive units in the Sun Belt Conference. Who are the key playmakers for this defense? How do you expect opponents will try to attack the Golden Panthers?

Key playmakers would be guys like Tourek Williams, who many have considered by many to be the top NFL ready prospect in the conference. He has great size and speed to the quarterback. Also, Jonathan Cyprien will be expected to make a lot of play in the secondary. The senior has been a solid contributor for the last two years, but now its his time to be THE guy. Now leading off of that, the one weakness I see is the pass defense. Last year, the run defense was stifling against opponents, especially against Duke where the leading rushers had 33 yards. The problem lies in the secondary where Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon were able to burn past guys Sam Miller and Richard Leonard.

BDN: Duke emerged with a narrow 31-27 victory in Miami last year, despite being out-gained by 184 yards. How do you expect this year’s matchup to play out?

This year is really intriguing to me where you have a team on one hand that’s last win of the season came against FIU and you have the other team that’s looking to go out of the Sun Belt on a high note. This game is going to come down to whether Kedrick Rhodes or Sean Renfree exploits the opposing defense. I think that this game comes down to a field goal at the end and Duke starts out with a victory this year, 21-20.

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Marcus Lee talks recruiting with BDN

Marcus Lee, a rising senior out of Deer Valley (CA), has blasted onto the scene over the last six months, establishing himself as one of the top big men in the class of 2013. Boasting a 7’1.5” wingspan, the wiry 6’9″ Lee uses that length well to protect the paint.  Driving much of the attention has been Lee’s excellent summer on the hardwood.

Marcus never imagined he would receive the attention he has, even as his game has blossomed. He is extremely gracious for all the help his brother Brian has given him in the recruiting process. For Marcus, Brian has been the rock that he has needed to help him navigate the challenging recruiting process.

Lee recently arranged his final official visits, and is expected to make an official visit to Duke on October 27.

The bouncy big man was gracious enough to give BDN some time to discuss his recent trip to UCLA, his impressions of Coach K, and his relationship with his brother, among other topics.

BlueDevilNation: Being a west coast guy, it must be an honor to represent the west side out here in the Elite 24.

Marcus Lee: Oh yeah.  It was a great honor once I got the invite. It was just a real add-on to summer.  The summer was great.

BDN: Do you feel you had a good summer and played as well as possible?

ML: Yeah, I think I had a real great summer this year, and yeah, I tried as hard as possible and just tried to [private] get it done this year.

BDN: Your recruitment really blew up this summer.  Did you ever imagine all of this?

ML: (laughing) Uh, no, I never imagined all of this. It all came as a big surprise once it all started.

BDN: You had a chance to visit UCLA recently.  Can you go over that trip?

ML: It was a pretty great visit. The gym that’s about to open will be crazy.

BDN: Pauley Pavilion?

ML: Yeah, yeah.

BDN: There’s a perception about kids leaving the west coast.  Do you feel you fall under that at all?

ML: No, not at all. I feel like I’m able, I feel like I’m a chameleon and can adapt to wherever I go.

BDN: As with most recruits, their families hope to be able to watch them when they play.  Will it be important for yours to be able to attend the games?

ML: Yeah, it’ll be very important. It’s great to have your family and friends there to support you.

BDN: Do you feel like it’s a deciding factor?

ML: Uh, I don’t know yet. (laughs)  We’ll see when we get there.

BDN: You’ve set a bunch of your in-home visits recently.  Have you had a chance to set up the Duke one yet?

ML: Umm, I don’t think so.

Brian Lee: No, we haven’t set it yet.

BDN: You were at the Lebron camp this summer and got to see the USA National team practice.  Can you describe that experience?

ML: Yeah, it was great.  We watched them scrimmage and it wasn’t like high school. They were going after each other like they were playing a real game.

BDN: Going back to Duke, do they have a pitch they’re selling you?

ML: No, they don’t really have a pitch.  It’s just us talking together, trying to learn more about each other.

BDN: Were you able to keep in contact with Coach K while he was in London?

ML: Yeah, a little bit. We talked in an out. Probably mostly through text messages because it was harder to call.

BDN: You said recently that he’s really energetic.  Could you describe that?

ML: Just in his voice you can hear it.  You can hear that he’s excited about basketball, he’s excited about the team. He just has that passion.  He’s always excited.

BDN: How would you describe how he approaches you? Is it more like a friend or a teacher, or a coach?

ML: He approaches me as a teacher. I see him as a real great teacher that I can learn from.

BDN: Tell me about your relationship with your brother. Obviously he’s a major influence in your life.

ML: He’s the brain of everything. He gets me here on time, he figures everything out. He’s also my consultant. He’ll talk to me throughout the year and . . .

BDN: Keeps you level-headed?

ML: YES! He does everything.

BDN: What are you hoping to see when you go on your visits?

ML: Something to catch my eye. I don’t really know what it is, but I just know once I see it something will tell me to go here.

BDN: Is family atmosphere important for you?

ML: Yes, family atmosphere is extremely important.

BDN: Will you be staying at Deer Valley this year?

ML: Yeah, I’m staying at Deer Valley.

BDN: OK, just because there had been rumors in the past.

ML: (laughs) No, I’m repping Deer Valley until I die.

BDN: Do you feel like you have to be more vocal or is that something that comes naturally to you?

ML: I don’t believe I can get any more vocal than I already am. I don’t think anybody can get more vocal than me. It’s just the way I am. It just happens naturally. I don’t know where it comes from.

BDN: Do you feel there`s a difference between your role in AAU and high school?

ML: There really isn’t a difference.  It’s just that in high school I have to make sure everybody is on the same page, whereas on AAU, I already know for sure they’re on the same page.

BDN: Thanks a lot, Marcus.

ML: All right.  Thank you. [/private]

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Ross Cockrell and Takoby Cofield prepare for season opener

The Duke Blue Devils held their last talk with the media before Saturday’s season opener with Florida International, and BDN caught up to cornerback Ross Cockrell and offensive lineman Takoby Cofield for a chat.  With Matt Daniels having moved on, Cockrell will be expected to bring leadership to this year’s squad, and Cofield will be key in taking on  the tough Panthers defensive ends.

BDN Premium – Under Armour Elite 24 Recap

Julius Randle throws down a dunk – BDN Photo

It’s difficult to make any hard and fast judgments about players based on a game like the Elite 24, because it is a glorified pickup game, there is little defense played, and the guys are all just playing loosey-goosey and enjoying it as an end-of-summer outdoor event on the courts of Venice Beach, California. I mean, the final score was 164-138, OK? Nevertheless, there are always things to learn about guys any time you watch them, especially when playing against other elite-level players. Here’s what I saw on Saturday.

First, the “Marques Johnson” team had a huge advantage. Why? Coaching. Head coach for the squad was Duke’s own Kyrie Irving. While Kyrie spent more time on his phone texting than he did strategizing, it was good to see him out there and it was obvious how much respect he has from the guys. At halftime, he spent almost the entire time talking with uncommitted Pennsylvania forward Rondae Jefferson, but he also hung out with Julius Randle too, and they seemed to have an easy rapport as well.

OK to the game. Starting with the kids Duke is known to be recruiting heavily:

Might as well start with Julius Randle. First of all [private], he has a pro body right now. He’s been downgraded in some circles for having short arms, as that supposedly makes it harder for him to finish against length. His arms didn’t look short to me, especially when he was taking over the game in the second half, scoring five consecutive hoops en route to his game-high 27 on 13 of 14 shooting. He also has a very good handle for a guy his size, and likes to utilize it. When he does so and gets into the lane, he’s so big that the defense just sort of parts for him because they know they’re not going to stop that freight train. In real games, of course, guys will step in and try to take a charge, and he’s going to have to adjust to that. But seeing his game and his body, I don’t think he’d have any trouble playing some 5 in college if his team needed him to, though PF will obviously be his primary position.

Justise Winslow also has a very solid body and is much more athletic than I anticipated. He led his team with 21 points and scored them in a variety of ways. He drove to the hoop, he pulled up for short jumpers, he got put-back dunks, and he got out on the break (though everyone did in this game!) for some throw-downs as well. One thing I really liked was Winslow D-ing up one-on-one against stud guard Aaron Harrison and forcing Harrison to retreat after attempting to drive, and then to take a very difficult three-pointer instead. Justise took on that challenge, even in a game like this, and won it.

Marcus Lee out of California is a real string bean. He’s 6’9″ or so, but there’s no meat on the bones at all. He has excellent hops and blocks shots very well, including a big one Saturday against Kuran Iverson right at the rim and another on Austin Nichols as well. But Marcus didn’t display any offensive game at all, scoring only one point in a game in which his team scored 138. He looks like he’ll be better defensively in college than Casey Sanders was, but his body type and his lack of offensive game reminds me of Sanders, including when he airballed a free throw.

When you watch Tyus Jones play, you can tell the Minnesota point guard is an outstanding player. No. Better than that. He’s a special player. But he didn’t have his best game on Saturday. His handle wasn’t as crisp as it usually is, and he never really fully got into the flow of the action. One thing I did note is that when he and Andrew Harrison went one-on-one on a couple of occasions, Tyus seemed to have a hard time staying in front of Harrison when he went to the hoop, but at the other end Harrison bodied up on Jones and made him take tougher shots on his drives. But I wouldn’t be concerned about Jones at all, especially given the setting. The kid is a flat-out stud ballplayer, and Duke would be very fortunate to get him.

Austin Nichols, 6’8″ out of Memphis, impressed me with his athleticism and his body. This kid is not skinny at all. He’s not rocked up to the degree of a Wayne Selden or Justise Winslow, but he has some mass to him, and he’s going to gain more weight this year. He can jump too, though, and he runs the floor very well. He has good hands and finishes well. He didn’t shoot many outside jumpers in this game — not many of the kids did — so I couldn’t evaluate that, but what I did see of his game, I liked.

Other quick takes:

I thought the best player on the floor was 6’7″ Aaron Gordon out of San Jose. This dude has it all. His handle is very smooth, he’s got a strong body, he can shoot it, and he jumps out of the gym. If there was a gym. He wowed the crowd with a series of spectacular dunks midway through this game, and scored his 25 points in a variety of ways. The whole crowd was talking about him all day.

Carolina signee Nate Britt has a real good handle, but his lefty shot is awkward. And he shoots too much, or at least did in this game.

I really like the Harrison brothers out of Texas. Andrew is the point guard, and he has a very smooth handle and gets to the rim at will. He reminded me a little of Will Avery, but maybe even a little quicker. Both brothers are highly athletic but seemed to have kind of a strange affect out there, like they weren’t that engaged. Well, Aaron was engaged enough to score 25 points on 11 of 14 shooting, so I guess he was paying enough attention to do that. Really, though, these twins are killer ballplayers.

Uncommiteds Jabari Bird out of California and Kuran Iverson are both long, athletic, and active, and they both jump very well. While he’s a couple of inches shorter, Iverson, with his body type and his style, reminds a little of Kevin Garnett. A little.  [/private]