Duke All-ACC WR Jamison Crowder finished with a receiving, rushing, and return TD Saturday - BDN Photo

Duke football 2013 – by the numbers

Sophomore RB Jela Duncan returns as Duke's leading rusher.
Sophomore RB Jela Duncan returns as Duke’s leading rusher.

The 2013 Blue Devils kick off their season this Saturday at 4PM in Wallace Wade Stadium against NC Central in the Bull City Gridiron Classic. Led by reigning ACC Coach of the Year David Cutcliffe, this year’s squad seeks to make Duke Football history, as they hope to earn the program’s first ever back-to-back bowl bids.  Here’s our quick numeric guide to the 2013 gridiron Blue Devils.

Offense

#7 QB Anthony Boone takes over for the departed Sean Renfree, and will run Offensive Coordinator Kurt Roper’s new-look read-option offense. Can the redshirt-junior reproduce last year’s effort against UVA, where he threw for over 200 yards and 4 touchdowns? In order for the Blue Devil scoring offense to remain in the top 5 in the ACC, Boone must improve his accuracy and establish himself as a dual-threat quarterback.

Duke returns 4 of 5 starters along the offensive line from 2012, and the unit totals 113 career starts, which ranks #3 in the country this season. That experience combined with the read-option system and a stable of talented backs should allow the Blue Devils to improve upon the #98 ranked rushing offense from a year ago. With new starters in QB Boone and #62 C Matt Skura, Duke will have to be sure to avoid costly false start penalties. Expected to be a strength for this year’s offense, depth along the offensive line could become a concern as the season progresses, after Duke lost projected back-ups to injury (OT Tanner Stone and OT Casey Blaser) this August.

A consistently effective running game will be crucial in the new read-option offense. Over the past 10 years, the Blue Devils’ best team yards per carry for a season was 3.8; this year’s unit should eclipse that number behind #25 RB Jela Duncan (5.1 ypc in 2012) and #9 Josh Snead (5.0 ypc in 2012). Senior #23 RB Juwan Thompson will slide into the hybrid role played by Brandon Connette a year ago.

#3 WR Jamison Crowder is expected to be Boone’s favorite target, and the Blue Devils will need the All-ACC junior to provide the veteran consistency lost with the graduation of Conner Vernon and Desmond Scott. #17 WR Issac Blakeney, a fellow Monroe native, should have a breakout year, not unlike Crowder in 2012; his combination of size, speed, and chemistry with Boone, should all make him a difficult match-up for opposing defenders. Similarly, young newcomers #83 WR Anthony Nash, #4 WR Johnell Barnes, and #10 WR Ryan Smith all have game-changing ability and around 4.40 speed in the passing game.

LB Kelby Brown returns from injury for Duke in 2013
LB Kelby Brown returns from injury for Duke in 2013

Defense

If you’re looking for numbers to improve upon for the 2013 Blue Devils, the defense is a good place to start. Even in their bowl-eligible 2012 season, Duke ranked #12 in the ACC in scoring defense, and #101 in the country in rush defense. It all starts up front, and Duke returns their entire defensive line from a year ago. Health will be paramount to this year’s success, as the veteran trio of #84 DE Kenny Anunike, #92 DE Justin Foxx, and #95 NG Jamal Wallace missed a combined 16 starts in 2012. A healthy Anunike could become a real threat for opposing quarterbacks as he looks to build upon his 9.0 career sacks in his final campaign.

Linebacker is another position to expect improvement, bolstered by the return of #59 LB Kelby Brown, who will see his first game action in 644 days. Even after that extended absence, Brown returns as the team’s active #1 in tackles for loss, QB pressures, and fumble recoveries. The linebacking corps formed by Kelby, brother #56 LB Kyler Brown, veterans #54 LB C.J. France, #47 LB David Helton, #48 LB Deion Williams, and recently moved #90 Mario Sanders, will be one of the deepest and most experienced position groups.

Speaking of experience, the Blue Devils will have to replace a lot of it in the secondary in 2013. Fortunately, they do return #6 CB Ross Cockrell, last year’s #1  in the ACC in interceptions, but will still have to replace Walt Canty, Jordon Byas, and Lee Butler, who totaled 223 tackles in 2012. After finishing +2 in turnover margin a year ago, Duke hopes to improve upon that mark with a number of new playmakers in the secondary. The 2013 2-deep features 6 freshmen in the secondary, but it all starts with redshirt-sophomore #16 S Jeremy Cash, who will see his first snaps as a Blue Devil after sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. Others who will see their first game action include #27 CB DeVon Edwards, #31 CB Breon Borders, #33 CB Deondre Singleton and #32 S Chris Holmes. That’s a lot of new faces, which may result in a lot of inconsistency.

Duke faces 4 in-state rivals in 2013. BDN Photo
Duke faces 4 in-state rivals in 2013. BDN Photo

Special teams

Overall, special teams was a strength for the 2012 Blue Devils, and will be again in 2013. #41 P Will Monday finished #1 in the ACC in punting with an average of 44.64 yards, including a season-long 79 yard punt in the Belk Bowl. Not to be outdone, fellow first-year #35 K Ross Martin set a Duke all-time record with 106 points, and connected on an impressive 87% of his field goals. The duo of Martin and Monday will build upon their Freshman All-American campaigns and establish the Duke kicking game as one of the best in the country.

The return game is a key question mark for the 2013 squad. Led by the departed Lee Butler, Duke finished #6  in the country in punt returns, but struggled on kickoffs, where they were just #114. Duke has a number of veteran potential returners, including offensive stars Crowder and Duncan, but Coach Cutcliffe should not be afraid to run out speedy newcomers like DeVon Edwards and Ryan Smith, who have game-changing ability in the return game.

With the improvements in depth and team speed across the roster, kick coverage should develop into one of the 2013 Blue Devils’ biggest strengths. Leaving the opponent with a long field may prove crucial for this year’s defense.

The bottom line

Duke’s 2013 schedule ranks #84 in the country in terms of opponent winning percentage, which represents the 2nd biggest change from a year ago, when the Blue Devils’ schedule ranked #34. With a number of potential home wins on the schedule, the Blue Devils would get a boost from a full house of 33,941 Wade Wackos for their 7 home contests. In 2012, Duke finished 3-0 against in-state opponents; this year, they face in-state rivals. Those match-ups, particularly the November games against NC State, Wake Forest, and North Carolina, will serve as the benchmark for the 2013 season. Prior to 2013, the Blue Devils have just November win under Coach Cutcliffe. Consistency in all 3 phases of the game throughout all 3 months of the season will be critical if Duke expects to take advantage of their improved schedule and surpass last season’s 6 win season to earn the program’s 2nd consecutive postseason invitation.

Duke QB Anthony Boone talks the season opener

Duke Football kicks off it’s 2013 football season this Saturday afternoon versus North Carolina Central University at 4:00 in Wallace Wade Stadium  Today, players addressed the media for the last time and Blue Devil Nation, soon to be Devils Sports Beat was there to get player thoughts.  Check out what Anthony Boone, the Devils starting quarterback had to say -

Ross Cockrell and Jamison Crowder talk Meet the Devils

SONY DSCDuke Football held their annual Meet the Devils Day this past Saturday with an estimated fan turnout of 1700 people according to Duke marketing.  The Duke players were able to mingle with their fans in an up close and personal manner while showing off new facilities at the same time.  Most of the kids would ask for the guys to score as many touchdowns as possible, while some just wanted pictures with the the team they root for.

Coach David Cutcliffe signed autographs for every person which came, running an hour over the designated time to do so.  I was able to catch up with a few players for their thoughts on the event that included Ross Cockrell and Jamison Crowder -

Jamison Crowder -

Monday Musings – It’s time for some Duke Football

SONY DSCIt’s that time of year again folks! Duke Football is less than twelve days from kicking off their 2013 season against North Carolina Central in Wallace Wade Stadium. It’ll be a 4:00 start. Inside the locker room, the Blue Devils are where most teams are this time of year mentally: they’re anxious to compete against someone other than a teammate.

Coach David Cutcliffe has ushered in many changes since his arrival in Durham, with the main boost being facilities upgrades. Those upgrades were on display this past Saturday during Meet the Devils Day, where fans could meet and interact with players, and pick up some autographs and pictures along the way.

The event was held in the Paschal Field House, which is the new practice facility, so it allowed fans to see the new digs first hand. Having observed the changes surrounding the program in an up close and personal way through our coverage, I can tell you that the differences are like night and day from when Cut and company arrived on the Methodist Flats.  Players quickly pop to their assigned areas in practice, and there is a definite sense of togetherness and focus. Trust me when I say this:  there will be some more bumps in the road along the way, but a foundation is finally in place and as a result, Duke recruiting continues to get better each season. Better recruiting of course leads to better results on the field.

In the coming seasons we’ll be seeing the removal of the track and a new press box, not to mention an upgraded concourse which will connect to Cameron Indoor Stadium. Some of us used to say we wanted to see these kinds of things happen before we die.  Well, I’m not dead yet, and it is just great to see the administration finally dedicating the necessary support for these important steps to be taken.

Duke players, coaches, and fans had a ton of fun going to the Belk Bowl last season, despite losing it in heartbreaking fashion. But let’s face it: to make another bowl game this season, Duke will need to take another step forward — this one being winning games that are regarded as toss-ups on paper.  Many fans are falling into the trap of thinking Duke will be a favorite over teams they defeated a season ago, like Wake Forest and Virginia. Even without Florida State and Clemson on the schedule this year — which is nice — you could make a case that ten games could fall into that toss-up category.  Duke has to start winning some more of those.

But if the Blue Devils struggle in those games, and the record suffers, it is important for the fan base to focus on the big picture.  That big picture consists of a program that undoubtedly is moving in the right direction.

Duke can and will win some games this season, but keep in mind that it wasn’t that long ago when the Devils struggled simply to compete at this level.  It takes time — a lot of time — for a foundation to solidify.

For me, I will enjoy attending the opener like any other person who follows the program. It will be a new team, breaking in a new starting quarterback and replacing some really good players who graduated off of last year’s squad.  It will be interesting to see which players step up and how they handle the inevitable adversity which comes to all teams.  I can tell you that these players are hungry for a win after losing every game since their rollicking and most satisfying victory over arch rival North Carolina a season ago, a win which landed the Victory Bell back in Durham.

One of the things Coach Cutcliffe has mentioned on several occasions this off-season is how much the fans helped Duke defeat North Carolina at home. We live in an age in which every move a team makes is televised in some way, but attending the games with some good old-fashioned live support makes things happen.  Fan support is one of the most important elixirs when it comes to winning, so in a sense the fan base and team are in this thing together.

And should the Blue Devils make it to another bowl, it will not likely be right down the road as it was in Charlotte last year, so fan turnout and continued support will be even more important.  A season ago in their close loss to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, Duke drew some very solid ratings on ESPN.  The team got a taste of something special and fans’ thirst for a bowl game was quenched.  But everyone left wanting more.  And that’s a good thing.

The truth of the matter is that the program is not at a place where you can count on a bowl game just yet, but these Blue Devils are in a position to compete in every game on their schedule this season and with some luck and good play, they could take their fan base bowling again.

But one game at a time is the way to get it done.  Game One: Duke will take on NCCU at Wallace Wade on August 31st at 4:00.  Tickets are still available through GoDuke.com.

Ross Cockrell says team ready to hit someone else

SONY DSCRoss Cockrell and Duke Football are just 13 days away from kickoff and the team held a scrimmage today in preparation.  We caught up to Cockrell after practice who stated the team is ready to hit somebody else.  A reminder, you can meet Ross and his teammates tomorrow and get a team poster and autographs at Meet the Devils Day which will go on sun or shine.  If there is inclement weather, the event will take place in the Paschall Field House, so turn out and support the 2013 Duke Football Team.

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Silent Sniper Charles Matthews Opens Up to BDN

peach 057Charles Matthews is a talented 2015 wing out of Chicago. Duke has recently started recruiting him pretty hard, though no offer has been extended just yet. He’s a reserved, quiet young man, but the kid can play. He’s a shooter first and foremost, at least at this stage, but he’s athletic and is also not afraid to put his nose in there and get after it. He has a tendency to float a bit, where you forget he’s out there, but then all of a sudden he’ll hit you with three quick hoops right when they’re needed most. Matthews is also going to have to play with more defensive intensity on a regular basis.  But he’s very young and he knows he has a lot to learn.  He’s one to keep an eye on. Charles sat down with BDN recently to talk about his game and his recruitment, and here’s the interview:

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BDN: I’m here with Charles Matthews at the Adidas Nations event. He’s a 2015 out of Chicago. First of all, what’s it been like playing in an event like this, where you’ve got all this talent on all these teams, pretty much everywhere you turn?

CM: The talent part, it’s not really a big deal to me, because playing in the EYBL, I feel that’s the best league of them all. So that really gets you prepared for any competition. But it’s really good to be out here on the west coast playing the game of basketball.

BDN: I know you played in Vegas recently, too. What was that like?

CM: I only played one game there, and then I hurt my ankle, so it was nice getting out there, but I would have liked to play more and help my team out.

BDN: What do you see as the strengths of your game, first of all?

CM: My versatility. I feel like I can do a lot of things on the court. I’m just not one dimensional.

BDN: What about that shot? That shot is smooth.

CM: Yeah. I’m really trying to become more efficient, a more efficient shooter, a more reliable, consistent shooter. So just getting shots up in the gym.

BDN: And what about the things that you think you need to work on coming up this season?

CM: Basically like I said, continue to be more consistent, more consistent shooter, and that’s about it. Become a more consistent knockdown shooter.

BDN: Some of the Duke fans that are going to be reading this, they may not know a lot about you and your background. Can you tell us a little bit about your background, your family, that kind of thing? When you started playing ball?

CM: I have a lot of family. I’ve been playing basketball all my life. I really just started getting serious about basketball around the 7th grade, 8th grade . . .

BDN: That wasn’t that long ago! You’re a young guy.

CM: Yeah. I’m a young guy. I always was just playing for fun, but then I started feeling like basketball could start taking me places around 8th grade. I’ve got a good family, we’re Christian, really religious, and they have my back no matter what goes down.

BDN: I know you have a visit planned to Kansas for –

CM: For Late Night.

BDN: Yes, for Late Night. Do you have any other visits that are planned?

CM: I’m supposedly going down to Kentucky for something . . . for some basketball game they have, I think on September 9. And then I’m supposed to be getting down to Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Marquette sometime soon.

BDN: Now I know you have offers from Kentucky –

CM: Yes.

BDN: And you have one from Wisconsin?

CM: Yes.

BDN: Where else have they actually, formally offered you?

CM: I have a lot.

BDN: I know, a lot. What are some of the top ones?

CM: I have Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina State, Illinois, Wisconsin, Marquette –

BDN: Ohio State and Arizona offer you too?

CM: Ohio State, Arizona, Michigan State, Mizzou, Providence. I have a lot.

BDN: A lot. Tell me a little bit about the contact you’ve had with Duke.

CM: I’ve been speaking to Duke a lot lately. A lot of the coaching staff, Coach Capel, Coach K hits me up every once in awhile, just checking up on me, seeing how I’m doing.

BDN: What is going to be your process as far as the recruiting goes? Is it going to be the kind of thing where you keep it to yourself or are you going to have a group of people that are helping you with your decisionmaking?

CM: Just myself, my mom, my dad, my brother probably and probably my uncle, but mainly just my mom and my dad just trying to see what’s the best fit for me and where I can be the most successful.

BDN: Do you have an actual offer from Duke yet?

CM: No, I do not.

BDN: Do you expect you’re going to get one?

CM: I’m hoping I do. I think I will. They’ve been contacting me a lot lately, but I think they want to see me a little bit more. But I’m thinking they’ll offer me sometime.

BDN: Do you think you would fit in well with the way Duke plays ball?

CM: Yeah, I do.

BDN: Why?

CM: I’m very versatile, so I feel like I could fit a lot of positions.

BDN: Well listen. I know you’ve gotta go. I know they’re getting you guys out of here. Really good to meet you and thanks for your time.

CM: Thank you.

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Charles Matthews