Category Archives: Duke Football

Thomas Sirk breaks a run

Football Friday: Random Ramblings

Thomas Sirk breaks a run
Thomas Sirk breaks a run
Wallace Wade Stadium Renovation:

The new turf field looks great with lines being painted on the field as this article is being drafted. The new field level seats are installed on both the East and West sides of the stadium along with field level benches in the North end zone. Artificial turf has been installed on the sidelines and behind the end zones. The new video scoreboard is huge so fans will have a great view of replays during the upcoming season. There is a lot to be excited about at renovated Wallace Wade Stadium.

Preseason Camp Info:

Jela Duncan's partially torn pectoral muscle and Nico Pierre's subsequent position change to running back are the dominant stories to date; however, there are several additional tidbits available. More on that in a minute. The team scrimmaged last Saturday evening and after the scrimmage, Coach Cutcliffe stated, "This isn't scheme heavy or about moving the ball it is about personnel...Identifying who is going to make plays."

Zavier Carmichael made plays in the scrimmage with an interception and causing a fumble. His performance at Middle Linebacker will be key to the success of the defense as he steps into huge shoes vacated by David Helton and Kelby Brown.

Wide receiver competition is wide open with veterans Johnell Barnes and Max McCaffrey leading the way. Redshirt freshman Chris Taylor projects to be the third starter. There is a laundry list of receivers competing for playing behind the starters including: T.J. Rahming, Trevon Lee, Ryan Smith, Anthony Nash, Terrence Alls (when he returns from suspension), Quay Chambers and Aaron Young.

Depth is always critical so the good news is several redshirt freshmen who were dinged up a year ago are reported to be healthy and ready to go. Cornerback Johnathan Lloyd, defensive end Taariq Shabazz and offensive guard Trip McNeill are examples.

Multiple true freshmen saw snaps in last Saturday's scrimmage including: linebacker Ben Humphreys, receiver T.J. Rahming, defensive end Marquies Price, cornerback Jeremy McDuffie, cornerback Keyston Fuller and receiver Aaron Young. Time will tell if these or other true freshmen see playing time in 2015.

The team will scrimmage again Saturday morning before the Meet the Blue Devils event.

Early Season Schedule:

Duke opens the season on the road for the first time in the Coach David Cutcliffe era with a trip to New Orleans to face Tulane on Thursday night September 3. Duke defeated Tulane 47-13 last season in a game where the Green Wave turned the ball over five times including two Pick 6 interceptions.

Quarterback Tanner Lee has a year experience under his belt now plus he operates behind an experienced offensive line which returns four of five starters. Lee is mobile and dangerous, but prone to throwing interceptions so it will be imperative Duke dials up the pressure to attempt to harrass him into making mistakes. Lee threw 14 interceptions and 12 touchdowns as a Redshirt Freshman in 2014.

The Blue Devils offense rushed for 256 yards on 42 carries, for a 6.1 yards per carry average in 2014, so fans should expect to see Duke come out intent on establishing the running game early in this rematch. Once the running game is clicking, the pass play will be available.

NCCU visits Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium on September 12 for the first of four straight home games for the Blue Devils. The Eagles will be overmatched and barring a complete disaster the Blue Devils should easily win their fourth straight home opener.

Northwestern is dangerous. Although the Wildcats finished up 5-7 in 2014, they beat #17 Wisconsin and #18 Notre Dame along the way. Any Duke fan who has already chalked this one up as a victory is making a mistake. September 19 will be an early season litmus test as a win over Northwestern is going to have to be earned on the field.

The quarterback position is in flux in Evanston with three players vying for the starting job. Senior Zack Oliver, Sophomore Matt Alviti, and Redshirt Freshman Clayton Thorson are all being looked at by Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald. Thorson has the most talent but the least experience.

Duke finishes up September by hosting Georgia Tech on September 26. The Yellow Jackets will arrive in Durham seeking revenge after Duke upset them 31-25 in Atlanta in 2014. Quarterback Justin Thomas rushed for 119 yards against the Blue Devils last season; however, the dominant statistic was his two interceptions.

This contest will be one where Duke has to finish defensive possession by denying Georgia Tech 1st downs. On offense, take care of the ball and make every possession count.

Recruiting Update:

When will "Bang Bang #DukeGang" ring out on Twitter again? Perhaps very soon as decision time fastly approaches for Javon Jackson and Dylan Singleton, two defensive backs who have Duke on their short list.

Javon Jackson (5'11" 180) is a 3-star safety out of Sandy Creek HS in Tyrone, GA. His decision will be between Duke and South Carolina.

Dylan Singleton (5'11" 184) is a 4-star safety, and the brother of current Blue Devil Deondre Singleton, out of Archer High School in Lawrenceville, GA. His decision will be between Duke and Georgia. Singleton is scheduled to announce his choice later today.

Some additional players Duke continues to pursue include:

Prince Sammons (6'7" 260) is a 4-star defensive end from Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy. He has a plethora of offers and list Duke along with schools such as Oregon, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Penn State and Cincinnati as schools he is interested in attending.

Parker Braun (6'3" 250) is a 3-star offensive tackle from Osceola, FL who will be transferring to Texas to finish his prep career. He has offers from Ohio State, Auburn, Miami, Georgia, Ole Miss, Tennessee, South Carolina and Stanford.

Eric Burrell (6'0" 174) is a 4-star safety from McDonogh School in Owings Mills, MD. He has offers from Duke, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Rutgers, Virginia, Virginia Tech and other schools.

Football Friday: Random Ramblings


Football Friday: 3 weeks to kickoff, special teams preview

When I feel that chill, smell that fresh cut grass
I'm back in my helmet, cleats, and shoulder pads
Standing in the huddle, listening to the call
Fans going crazy for the boys of fall

Kenny Chesney

THREE WEEKS... kickoff, boys and girls!

Coming off back-to-back winning seasons, and three straight bowl appearances, the Blue Devils will look to compete for another Coastal Division Championship this fall, and it all begins with a late-night rendezvous with the Green Wave in New Orleans. Duke routed Tulane, 47-13, in week 4 last season. The key to that game was turnovers, where Duke held a 5-2 advantage and scored 21 points off the Green Wave miscues. Aside from the takeaways, the Duke defense actually struggled to contain then redshirt-freshman Tanner Lee and the Tulane offense, giving up 375 yards of total offense, including 231 yards on the ground. Carlos Wray and the Duke front six will have their work cut out for them as they try to contain the speedy Lee and company in the swampy heat.

You know who might be looking forward to seeing the Green Wave again? Thomas Sirk. He scampered for 94 yards and a touchdown on the ground a year ago in Durham.  But all eyes will be on his arm, not his legs, as he lines up under center on September 3rd. I bet Braxton Deaver is equally excited, as he will see his first game action since 2013.

Running Backs, revisited

Our Bob Green put together a brilliant preview of what most considered to be the strength of the 2015 Blue Devil offense - the running back #STABLE. That strength turned into a question mark in the course of one practice this past week, as both Jela Duncan (upper body) and Joseph Ajeigbe (lower body) went down with injuries. Neither has a definitive timetable for returning at this stage, though the staff is optimistic both will play this season. Shaun Wilson continues to nurse a hamstring injury as well, leaving the Blue Devils with one healthy scholarship running back in senior Shaquille Powell. Ruh-roh.

If only Duke had landed Johnny Frasier or Nyheim Hines...but that's in the past. Winning football teams take adversity or injury and turn it into opportunity. The Blue Devils are hoping to do just that, and I see three potential solutions.

For starters, Shaq Powell has demonstrated that he can be an elite running back in the ACC, and has at times dominated football games. In his final year in Durham, Powell may have the opportunity to become essentially an every-down back, or at least warrant a consistent 10-15 carries per game.

Second, Duke has two extremely mobile quarterbacks in Sirk and Parker Boehme. Behind a strong offensive line, there is no reason Scottie Montgomery won't be confident in calling designed runs for his two signal callers.

Third, the move of Nico Pierre to running back is intriguing. Pierre could bring a new dimension to the Duke running game. While Powell and Ajeigbe have proven to be strong, physical runners, Pierre brings an element of size that has been lacking from the Duke ground game in recent years. At 6'2" and (according to Coach Cutcliffe today) nearly 225 pounds (though listed at 210 pounds), Pierre could try to replicate some of the "big-back" success of a guy like James Conner (6'2" 240 pounds). As a quarterback, Pierre is more than comfortable with the ball in his hands and has an exceptional understanding of the Blue Devil offense. He was likely at least a year away from seeing snaps at quarterback, and the injuries at running back have created a golden opportunity for Duke to try and get another athlete on the field with the ball in his hands. We'll get our first look at Pierre as a running back on Saturday night under the lights, during Duke's first scrimmage.

New uniforms unveiled

Count me in the group of people who do not get excited about these things, but Duke did unveil their new Nike uniforms today. The shoes look cool. Uniform updates and combinations have proven to be popular on the recruiting trail, so it is good that Duke continues to stay current.

Special Teams Preview

With a senior punter, kicker, veteran long-snapper, and an explosive return man in DeVon Edwards, expectations for Duke's special teams are deservedly high in 2015. That being said, it will be up to the supporting cast that will determine the ultimate success of this unit in 2015. As a unit, the Blue Devils ranked 1st in the ACC in punt returns and punt coverage, and 3rd in kickoff returns in 2014.

Senior Ross Martin returns as the all-time scoring leader in Duke Football history. Let that sink in for a moment. He still has an entire season left to add to the record books. Throughout his career, Martin has proven to be a reliable weapon for the Blue Devils, nearly perfect on both extra points (154/155) and field goals (19/21 a year ago). Martin appears poised to cap off his record-setting career with an All-American senior campaign.

Similarly, Duke returns one of the top punters in the country in redshirt-senior Will Monday, who averages over 43 yards per punt over his career. A year ago, Monday downed 17 punts inside the 20-yard line, a number the Duke defense hopes to see increase in 2015. And in the good-to-know category, he's a perfect 4 for 4 in passing attempts in his career, another weapon for Coach Cutcliffe to toy with.

The Blue Devils do have two key positions to replace on special teams, namely punt return and kickoffs. Coach Cutcliffe has said he does not want the punt return unit to drop off with the graduation of Jamison Crowder, and that will certainly be hard to do. While Max McCaffrey has proven sure-handed in fielding punts, he lacks the explosiveness of Crowder, and that will open the door for Ryan Smith or even freshman T.J. Rahming to get a look in some live action this August. Ross Martin is the likely replacement for the departed Jack Willoughby, who admirably manned kickoffs for much of the past two seasons.

While the specialists themselves have proven to be quite, well, special, throughout their careers, Duke's kickoff coverage unit will need to take a step forward in 2015. The Blue Devils ranked 13th in the conference in coverage in 2014. Improved depth in the secondary should help this unit, but it remains to be seen if Duke can avoid lapses like we saw late in the Sun Bowl.


Football Friday: Offensive Line Preview

DSC_0137-001Offensive line performance has been a team strength and primary contributing factor to Duke winning 25 games and playing in three bowl games the past three seasons. The front five is the fulcrum upon which the offense pivots. Whether it is running or passing the ball success starts with the big guys up front and in 2015 the Blue Devils once again have the talent and depth to excel.

Three starters return from 2014: center Matt Skura, left guard Lucas Patrick and right tackle Casey Blaser. The three combined have started 53 games and played 4,042 snaps in their Duke careers. Skura, Patrick and Blaser return from an offensive line which allowed only 41 tackles for loss and 13 sacks last season. The 41 TFLs or 3.15 per game was the fewest allowed in the nation.

Projected to round out the starting five are right guard Cody Robinson (541 snaps) and left tackle Gabe Brandner (58 snaps). Brandner was awarded Co-Most Improved Offensive Player honors following Spring practice.

The second five consists of players who were highly sought after 3-Star recruits coming out of high school. In this video preview of the offensive line, Head Coach David Cutcliffe states the 2015 team will be able to play some depth along the offensive line moreso than at any time since he has been at Duke. Those are strong, encouraging words!

Let's take a look at the 2-Deep Rotation:


Matt Skura (6'4", 305, RSr) - has started 27 consecutive games and is on the watch list for the Outland Trophy, Rimington Award and Lombardi Award. Voted Preseason All ACC by the media at the ACC Football Kickoff in Pinehurst, NC.
Austin Davis (6'4", 290, RSo) - has played 61 snaps in seven games. Davis was rated as the number six center in his high school class by

Left Guard:

Lucas Patrick (6'4", 305, RSr) - is a returning starter who has started 13 games, including two bowl games, and played 1,110 snaps in his career.
Jake Sanders (6'5", 305, RFr) - redshirted in 2014.

Right Guard:

Cody Robinson (6'3", 300, RSr) - has played in 33 games with 541 total snaps and one start against Tulane in 2014.
Tanner Stone (6'6", 300, RJr) - has played 78 career snaps in six games. Stone is pushing Robinson for the starting assignment at right guard.

Left Tackle:

Gabe Brandner (6'6", 285, RSo) - has played 58 total snaps in five games during his career to date.
Sterling Korona (6'7", 290, RSo) - has played 62 snaps in five games during his career to date.

Right Tackle:

Casey Blaser (6'5", 290, RJr) - is a returning starter who has started 13 games and played 902 snaps in his career.
Christian Harris (6'5", 290, RFr) - redshirted in 2014.

Offensive Line Coach and Run Game Coordinator John Latina is entering his fourth season at Duke. Under Latina, Duke has almost doubled their Rushing Yards per Game from 94 to 181. He previously served underneath Head Coach David Cutcliffe for six years at Ole Miss from 1999 to 2004.

Expectations for the 2015 season include an increased emphasis on the run game. The offensive line playing to its potential will be huge in meeting that expectation. While it is easy to prognosticate the offensive line taking a step back, due to losing two starters who are currently on NFL rosters, Duke lost two starters off the 2013 team (Perry Simmons/Dave Harding) and one starter off the 2012 team (Brian Moore), but the line not only survived it became better each season.

Coach Latina will lean on his three returning starters to lead the offensive line in executing a "next man up" philosophy to replace the two departed starters and once again develop into a better overall unit in 2015.

Football Friday: Offensive Line Preview


Football Friday: Previewing the Front Six

DSC_0066A youth movement will have to take place in 2015 if the defensive front six is going to show significant improvement this season. The good news is there are some experienced players back to lead the way. Senior Carlos Wray and redshirt junior A.J. Wolf at defensive tackle, redshirt seniors Kyler Brown and Britton Grier at defensive end.

Wray started all 13 games in 2014, while Wolf was recognized as the Co-Most Improved Defensive player following Spring practice.

Seniors Dwayne Norman at linebacker and Deion Williams at defensive end can also be included on the list of experienced players; however, Norman and Williams are moving to new positions in 2015 so their experience level must be marked with an asterisk.

Redshirt junior Allen Jackson is finally healthy at defensive end and is a player who could have a breakout season in 2015. He has good size at 6'5" 260 but it remains to be seen if he has the requisite skill set as he has only played 39 snaps in his career to date.

The bad news is that's the end of the list for experienced upper classmen so freshmen and sophomores must step up now and be productive in order for Duke to field a championship quality defense. The offense is replacing key players at quarterback, wide receiver and on the offensive line so it will be imperative the defense minimizes opponent's scoring to reduce pressure on the offense.

The Blue Devils defense yielded 21.8 points per game in 2014, which was an improvement over the 26.6 points per game yielded in 2013. In order to compete for an ACC Championship in 2015, and make no mistake competing for championships is this team's goal, the defense must once again decrease the amount of points per game yielded.

The defensive line's job is to control the line of scrimmage and create a pass rush. If the Blue Devils are going to field an improved defense this season, the front six is going to have to be more productive controlling the line of scrimmage and pressuring the quarterback. In order for the front six to produce at the level required, multiple underclassmen are going to have to significantly contribute to the total effort.

Who are the young players on the defensive line?

Defensive Tackle: Mike Ramsay, Edgar Cerenord and Quaven Ferguson.

Defensive End: Taariq Shabazz.

Ramsay played 228 snaps in 2014, while Cerenord and Shabazz are both players who were rated 3 stars coming out of high school. Shabazz struggled with injuries as a high school senior and in his redshirt year at Duke. Reports coming out of Pinehurst this week indicate he is healthy.

The linebackers are tasked with being multidimensional players who must be able to defend the run, drop into pass coverage and blitz the quarterback. Middle Linebacker is the defensive quarterback who is tasked with calling out alignments and shifts.

Who are the young linebackers? Zavier Carmichael, Chris Holmes, Dominic McDonald and Tinashe Bere. Carmichael was rated 4 stars by ESPN, while Holmes, McDonald and Bere were all 3 star recruits. Both Carmichael and Holmes played significant snaps during the 2014 season so while young they are not raw. Carmichael is the leading candidate to step in and fill the MLB position.

Up to this point, the preview has not included discussion on any true freshmen because it is difficult to predict which ones will or will not earn playing time in their first season. However, defensive end is a position ripe for a true freshman seeing immediate playing time and the Blue Devils have two youngsters who could compete for immediate playing time: Marquies Price and Trevon McSwain.

Price (6'6" 240) was an early enrollee so he participated in Spring Practice and was impressive. McSwain (6'6" 265) is 25 pounds heavier and was rated slightly higher by the various recruiting services. Both of these guys have the potential to play as true freshmen and make an impact.

As stated in the preview of the secondary, expectations for 2015 include seeing a Duke defense, which will bend a little less, while refusing to break. With the front six, defensive coaches Jim Knowles, Jim Collins and Clayton McGrath will mix players who are older and more experienced with youngsters who have arrived in Durham higher rated than the players they replaced to create a unit capable of propelling the team toward an ACC Championship.

Finally, coaching changes have taken place in the off season. Former defensive line Coach Rich Petri has moved on to the same position at Louisiana Tech. In 2015, coaching duties for the front six are split as follows:

Inside Linebackers - Jim Knowles
Outside Linebackers and Defensive Ends - Jim Collins
Defensive Tackles - Clayton McGrath

The new coaching assignments combined with an infusion of youth into the 2-Deep rotation has the potential to produce result up front analogous to what took place in the secondary two seasons ago. It should not be a surprise when the defensive front six show a significant uptick in production in 2015. It is the natural next step in program development in Durham.

Behind the leadership of veterans Carlos Wray, A.J. Wolf, Kyler Brown and Dwayne Norman, and capitalizing on the young talent of Zavier Carmichael, Edgar Cerenord, Mike Ramsay, Taariq Shabazz and company, the defensive line and linebackers are ready to step up and make a statement.

Football Friday: Previewing the Front Six