Tag Archives: Charlie Hatcher

Duke-football

BDN Football Friday: Spring update, to ease the pain

Duke hosted Mallard Creek WR Marquez North earlier this spring

It has been suggested that writing a spring update on Duke Football might help make the nightmares about mountain hawks go away, so here it is. In fact, there’s actually a lot to be excited about with regards to Duke Football. Yeah, yeah, we always say that and then we’re all disappointed come the fall. But you’ve got to see the forest instead of the trees, people!

Recruiting off to a hot start

Ok, show of hands. How many of you just went and checked the Duke 2013 commitment list when you read that sub-headline? Or, another way of asking the same question, how many of you have been following Duke Football recruiting during basketball season? Well, either way, you’ve probably figured out that Duke has yet to secure a verbal commitment in the class of 2013. (Saturday afternoon edit: Duke landed a commitment from QB Quay Chambers and OL Austin Davis this morning)

So, how can recruiting be off to a hot start? Generally speaking, you’ve got to get a prospect on campus if you have any hope of landing a commitment, and Coach Cutcliffe and his staff have hosted an impressive list of visitors already this spring. In fact, Duke has already had more than 10 members of the ESPNU150 Watch List (an unofficial list of the top 300 HS rising seniors in the country) on campus in Durham. Most recently, the Blue Devils had 9 top targets in the class of 2013 on campus for the North Carolina basketball game, including Watch List members WR Marquez North, LB Peter Kalambayi, OL Mike McGlinchey, and OL Tyrone Crowder. The coaching staff has been in contact early and often with a number of other Watch List members, including several on the West Coast, and hope to host several more visitors later this spring and summer. As you know, we’ll continue to bring you the best coverage of Duke Football and Duke Football Recruiting around.

Duke WR Conner Vernon scores his 1st of 2 TDs against Tulane last year -BDN Photo

Spring practice highly competitive

The Blue Devils returned to the field this past week to start the second half of their spring practice, and the competition level has been at its highest in the Cutcliffe era. We checked in with WR Conner Vernon earlier this week, and he confirmed that across the board, Duke is a deeper and more competitive team. The Blue Devils return 17 starters this fall, but each of those players will be pushed by younger players on the depth chart. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

The Duke defense loses two of its leaders to graduation in S Matt Daniels and NG Charlie Hatcher, but there is real competition to fill their starting job. At safety, Walt Canty, Jordon Byas, and August Campbell will be projected to start heading into the fall, but they are being pushed everyday in practice by newcomer Jeremy Cash, former WR Brandon Braxton, and youngsters such as Chris Tavarez and Britton Grier. Also, it can’t be ruled out that Issac Blakeney won’t see some time on defense, as he has established himself as one of the team’s best pass-rushers last spring from the safety position. To fill Hatcher’s void up front, the Blue Devils have Jamal Bruce, along with two 300-pound players in Will Bryant (recently returned from injury) and Steven Ingram. To put it in March Madness terms, I wouldn’t “go Sharpie” on anyone’s starting job quite yet.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Blue Devils have struggled in the red zone in recent years. The coaching staff has utilized an option style attack with Brandon Connette or Anthony Boone under center. Fans and media alike have questioned the success of this approach, as it seemed to lack creativity and often stalled drives. This year, however, it appears that won’t be the case. Coach Cutcliffe has used the “best 22 players” mantra as a focus for this offseason, and the quarterback position has been one of the most impacted. With three players with significant game experience under center in Sean Renfree, Connette, and Boone, Duke is looking at ways to put all of their weapons on the field, especially in red zone situations. Based on early returns from this spring, both Boone and Connette will not only be used under center, but also at tailback and tight end. As two of the better athletes on the roster, these alignments, if nothing else, should have fans excited for the fall.

Kenny Anunike granted 6th year of eligibility

This is big-time news. Duke defensive end Kenny Anunike has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.  Based on the ruling, he is eligible to participate in the 2012 and 2013 football seasons.

A 6-5, 250-pound native Galena, Ohio, Anunike appeared in four games last fall before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Tulane. Prior to the injury, he was leading the ACC in quarterback sacks (4.0) and was credited with 13 total tackles including five for loss on the year.  Anunike has not participated in spring drills while recovering from knee surgery performed last fall.

Anunike also missed the 2008 season while recovering from knee surgery.  He played in all 12 games in 2009 as a reserve tight end before shifting to the defensive line, where he registered 23 tackles in 12 games during the 2010 campaign.

Kelby Brown undergoes 2nd ACL repair

Duke rising junior Kelby Brown underwent his 2nd ACL repair on February 22, putting his health for the 2012 season into question. The revision surgery was performed on Wednesday by Dr. Claude T. Moorman III, Duke’s head team physician and the director of Duke Sports Medicine.  Brown originally injured the knee on November 20, 2010 against Georgia Tech, and underwent surgery weeks later.  He re-injured the knee earlier in February 2012.

A 6-2, 220-pound native of Matthews, N.C., Brown has played in 19 games with 17 starting assignments over the past two years.  Last year, he led Duke in tackles for loss (7.0) while posting 65 total stops and received the program’s Mike Curtis Award as Duke’s most outstanding linebacker.

Brown’s career totals include 128 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, four fumble recoveries, one caused fumble, three pass breakups and seven quarterback pressures.  In addition, he is a two-time selection to the Academic All-ACC squad.

Should Kelby not be available to play this fall, he does have a redshirt year available, and would therefore still have two years of eligibility remaining. It should also be noted that WR Conner Vernon pointed to Kelby’s younger (but bigger) brother, Kyler, as one of the young Blue Devils who has been most impressive this spring.

Preferred walk-on program thriving

Ok, so I don’t leave you in Negative Town, let’s talk about another bright spot for the Duke Football program. Since Coach Cutcliffe’s arrival, he has built the walk-on program at Duke into an asset for Duke Football. First, allow me to give you some perspective.

A 5’10” 165 pound, slow-footed freshman from upstate New York enrolled at Duke a few (I mean several – ok, fine, it was over a decade) years ago, and within his welcome packet to the university, he received a letter inviting him to walk on to the football team. While I did not elect to subject my body to the punishment of collegiate football, I imagine several other equally qualified freshmen received similar letters back then, and some probably did. Flash forward to 2012, and Duke Football secures a commitment from one of the top 10 long snappers in the nation…as a preferred walk-on.

Slightly different use of the walk-on program, eh? Last week’s commitment from Thomas Hennessy was just the latest among several preferred walk-ons for the program. When Coach Cutcliffe arrived in Durham, he had one quarterback to get through spring practice. This year, he has seven, including two preferred walk-ons. That’s seven QBs to practice snaps under center, seven QBs to practice handoffs to RBs, seven QBs to practice routes with WRs, and seven QBs for defenders to pass rush. Across the board, the walk-ons that Coach Cutcliffe have brought in have improved the program by allowing for more reps and more productive practices. While many of these preferred walk-ons may not make a significant individual contribution to the box score, they make their teammates better everyday in practice.

Sweet, I knew I could make it through an article without mentioning Peyton Manning (he’s been working out at Duke, in case you’ve been living under a rock). So, I haven’t forgotten about Football Friday, but my schedule simply doesn’t allow me to commit the time needed to it. But I’ll make a deal with you, since we’re all feeling down today. This won’t be the last football update you read this spring. We’ll keep it coming, as time allows. And also, we’ll have lots of prospect interviews and several updates from current players and coaches as we head towards the spring game – March 31, Wallace Wade Stadium, 1:00 PM ET. Be there. I’ll be looking for you.

WE ARE DUKE.

Duke travels to Atlanta to face the Ramblin' Wreck this Saturday.

Blue Devils will host Georgia Tech for Senior Day

Duke will host the Ramblin' Wreck on Senior Day this Saturday.

Duke (3-7, 1-5 ACC) will look to turn their season around on Senior Day this Saturday when they host Georgia Tech (7-3, 4-3 ACC) in Wallace Wade Stadium. While many Duke fans may be tempted to look ahead to basketball season, there are two final chances to watch the Duke senior class with the most wins since 1995 take to the gridiron. This Duke senior class is headlined by All-ACC stars Matt Daniels and Donovan Varner, but also includes 18 other tremendous student-athletes who will leave the Blue Devil Football Program in a much better place than they found it four years ago. Thank you, seniors!

GAME INFO

Georgia Tech at Duke

12:30 PM ET, Saturday, November 19

Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network; Sirius XM Radio (Channels 94 & 193)
TV: ACC Network – Tim Brant (Play-by-play), Dave Archer (Analyst) and Mike Hogewood (Sideline)
Internet: GoDuke.com; theACC.com

KEYS FOR DUKE

1. Win the line of scrimmage: Broken record time, but seriously. Football is won and lost in the trenches, especially against the Georgia Tech option offense. The Yellow Jackets bring in the top rushing offense in the ACC, averaging just under 320 yards per game. It’s a five-headed monster for Georgia Tech on the ground, led by Tevin Washington, who averages over 70 yards per game, along with 4 other players who average over 30 yards per game in David Sims, Orwin Smith, Embry Peeples, and Roddy Jones. While fans can argue the merits of the Georgia Tech offense, the bottom line is it is effective and will challenge the Duke defense for 60 minutes. If the Yellow Jackets’ big, physical linemen are able to control this game, it will be a long afternoon for the Blue Devils. Conversely, with an offense that is difficult to get off the field, the key for Duke will be getting into the backfield and forcing fumbles. With the number of pitches in the option offense, the Yellow Jackets are prone to putting the ball on the ground (GT has 23 fumbles on the year) and Duke will have to capitalize (GT has lost just 8 fumbles overall).

Tevin Washington leads an explosive Georgia Tech offense

2. Explosive plays: Georgia Tech brings in one of the most explosive offensive units in the conference, averaging over 36 points per game and nearly 6 yards per carry on the ground. WR Stephen Hill is the top threat through the air, though his production has dropped off in ACC play. Still, the Yellow Jackets’ offense leads the ACC in yards per play both on the ground (5.8) and through the air (11.6). Those are scary numbers for a Duke defense that is banged up across the board. With key injuries to the defensive line and in the secondary, and the potential absence of both starting linebackers, Duke will need to find several unsung heroes on defense. Expect Matt Daniels to be used heavily against the run, as the Blue Devils will have to gamble and hope that Ross Cockrell can handle Hill in single coverage.

3. Duke on offense: Which Duke offense will we see on Saturday? Will they put together a full 60 minute effort? Georgia Tech is allowing nearly 25 points and over 360 yards of total offense on the season, so opportunities will be there for the Blue Devils to score points. The Blue Devils had the Yellow Jackets on the ropes a year ago in Atlanta, but a costly turnover killed their upset hopes. If Duke can take care of the football and put together 60 minutes of offense, they could find some redemption on Saturday.

Thank you, seniors! -BDN Photo

WHAT TO WATCH

1. Special seniors: It was alluded to in the opening, but bears repeating. This will be the last home game for a Duke senior class that has won 15 games over the past four years. Kyle Hill will watch his Senior Day from the sidelines, ending an impressive streak of 46 straight starts on the Duke offensive line. The remaining seniors will put forth an inspired performance as they look to end their careers with a big upset win in Wallace Wade Stadium. The Blue Devils will graduate 20 student-athletes from the program on Saturday: Paul Asack, Matt Daniels, Jeff Faris, Guillermo Freile, Ryan Hall, Charlie Hatcher, Cooper Helfet, Kyle Hill, Jay Hollingsworth, Jeffrey Ijjas, Alex King, Jon Needham, Danny Parker, George Pearkes, Kevin Rojas, Preston Scott, Will Snyderwine, Josh Trezvant, Donovan Varner, and Johnny Williams. Thank you, Seniors!

2. More records: Last week, Duke fans watched as senior WR Donovan Varner became the all-time school receptions leader. Varner will look to add to that record over his final two games, but will also look to set a new school record with a catch on Saturday. Last Saturday, Varner caught a pass in his 35th consecutive game, tying Scottie Montgomery for the all-time Duke record. Also on Saturday, Varner and Vernon will look to become Duke’s top all-time receiving duo if the pair haul in 5 catches.

3. All-American: Senior Matt Daniels has put together an impressive career at Duke, topped off with an outstanding senior campaign. The quarterback of the Duke defense, Daniels is 2nd in the country in pass break-ups, passes defended, and tackles by a defensive back. Throughout his career, whenever the Blue Devils have needed a stop, it seems that Matt Daniels is there. He has been a tremendous leader for this program and will almost certainly be playing on Sundays next year.

PREDICTION

A year ago, the Blue Devils faced three option offenses, but this season, just one. The option offense is difficult to prepare for and with a plethora of injuries on both sides of the ball, Georgia Tech will represent a significant challenge for Duke. Duke should have success moving the ball against Georgia Tech if they stick to an aggressive gameplan; expect another big day for Duke’s “Killer V’s.” An emotional pair of seniors in Matt Daniels and Charlie Hatcher will try to will the Blue Devils’ defense to an upset victory, but the explosive Yellow Jacket offense will still find its way into the end zone.

Georgia Tech 35, Duke 24

Duke vs Tulane 070

Charlie Hatcher and Juwan Thompson talk of the victory over Tulane

Two key players in the Blue Devils huge win over Tulane on Homecoming were defensive lineman Charlie Hatcher and running bacck Juwon Thompson.  BDN Video caught up to both players to get their post game comments, so see both vids below –

Duke RB Juwan Thompson leaps the pile for the touchdown against Tulane -BDN Photo
Let's get this season started!

BDN previews Duke’s season opener vs. Richmond

2nd and 10 from the Duke 35 yard line

Renfree drops back, completes a pass to senior Austin Kelly across the middle. Kelly tries to elude a tackle but is brought down by Quan Sturdivant at the Duke 41 yard line. The clock hits zero. The Tar Heels celebrate and reclaim the Victory Bell. Duke’s 2010 season is over.

That was the last we saw of Sean Renfree and the Blue Devils, all the way back on November 27, 2010. Over the past nine months, Duke’s coaches and players have shed blood, sweat, and tears in preparation for the 2011 season. The 3-win 2010 season is gone, but not forgotten. It’s week one of the 2011 college football season, and time for Blue Devil fans to recite their familiar credo, “this year has to be better, right?”

Sean Renfree is ready to lead the Blue Devil offense in his second year as a starter

KEYS FOR DUKE

Second-year starter Sean Renfree and the Blue Devil offense have the potential to be one of the ACC’s top units in 2011. In order for that potential to be realized, the Blue Devils must accomplish two things: take care of the football and establish a consistent, effective running game. After struggling with turnovers early in 2010, the Blue Devils showed dramatic improvement in their final five games. Turnovers have continued to be a point of emphasis all offseason. Junior Desmond Scott and sophomore Juwan Thompson will pace the ground game and have had an excellent training camp running behind a big, experienced offensive line. Dave Harding has stepped in flawlessly for the injured Brian Moore at center, and he will have to play at a high level in his first college game action snapping the football. With several question marks on defense, the margin for error for the Duke offense is slim.

Defensively, Duke needs to see big games from their returning stars in senior Matt Daniels, sophomore Kelby Brown, and senior Charlie Hatcher. These three players will be supported by a group of talented but mostly inexperienced Blue Devil defenders, a typical recipe for inconsistency. Similar to the offense, there are two primary goals for the Duke defense in 2011: limit explosive offensive plays and improve their play at the line of scrimmage. Duke has a deep group of high-level athletes in their secondary, and the new 4-2-5 defensive scheme will rely on their ability to make plays all over the field in an effort to slow opposing offenses. In his second year as a starter, Ross Cockrell will have to develop into a shutdown cornerback for the Blue Devils. Seven redshirt-freshmen will enter the rotation on the defensive line for Duke in 2011, and the maturation of these young athletes will be key to the defense’s success. Expect to see flashes of ability from players like Jordan DeWalt-Ondigo, Jamal Wallace, and Dezmond Johnson. If the Blue Devils are able to successfully execute their new defensive gameplan, this group’s results should be greater than the sum of its parts.

If Duke is going to make a bowl game in 2011, their special teams unit will have to be special. The Blue Devils have the talent in the kicking game to dominate special teams at times this season. Will Snyderwine has established himself as one of the top kickers in the country. Alex King is a proven veteran with experience and versatility. Freshman Jamison Crowder is a playmaker at kick and punt return. Improved depth across the roster should lead to better kick and punt return units. The pieces are in place for a solid special teams effort; the players simply have to execute.

GAME ANALYSIS

Turnovers

To put it lightly, Duke was plagued by turnovers in 2010. Duke’s 28 turnovers, however, are eclipsed by Richmond’s 32 turnovers a season ago. Needless to say, the team that takes care of the football stands to have the best chance of winning this matchup. Late in the season, Sean Renfree appeared to turn a corner, throwing just three interceptions in the final five games. Limiting turnovers has been a point of emphasis for the Duke offense all spring and summer, while the Duke defense is hoping to create more turnovers than they did a year ago. If the Blue Devils can build a first half lead, expect the Duke secondary to make some plays when the Spiders are forced to pass. Duke should win the turnover battle.

Duke's young defensive linemen will need to pressure Richmond's Aaron Corp

Sacks

Richmond plays a physical game of football, and in the last two meetings between these schools, dominated the line of scrimmage. The Duke defense has struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks. With youth along the defensive line and a pass-happy offense, Duke will rarely win the sack battle. The key will be to limit the loss of yards on offense and to make some timely tackles for loss against the Spiders. The Spiders did graduate their top 3 tacklers from 2010, but still have the players to apply some pressure. Richmond will win the sack battle.

3rd Down Production

Richmond converted just 34% of their 3rd downs in 2010, while the Blue Devils were able to convert 40% of 3rd down opportunities. With a veteran offense returning, Duke should again have success on 3rd downs, utilizing their deep receiving corps to pick up 1st down yardage. The Duke defense has struggled on 3rd down in recent years, but with an improved secondary and a better scheme, they should do a better job of limiting big conversions. Duke will win the 3rd down battle.

Ross Cockrell will have a tough matchup with All-CAA WR Tre Grey, BDN Photo

Explosive Plays

The game features a trio of All-Conference wide receivers, all capable of opening the game up with an explosive play. Tre Gray will be a challenge for the Duke secondary, and his matchup with Duke’s Ross Cockrell will be one to watch. The “Killer V’s” will be up to their usual tricks, but Richmond will have to pick their poison as senior Cooper Helfet and sophomore Brandon Braxton also have big-play ability. On the ground, the Spiders will utilize a committee approach, while Duke will feature a heavy dose of Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson, two players who have dominated training camp with big plays. Duke has too many weapons on offense; they will win the explosive play battle.

Rushing TDs

Richmond will look to establish their running game early, and if they are able to control the line of scrimmage, it could be another long season opener for the Blue Devils. Duke will be able to counter with a veteran offensive line and three talented runners of their own in Desmond Scott, Juwan Thompson, and Brandon Connette. With a deep offensive line, Duke should be able to run the ball into the end zone when needed. The Duke defense will have their hands full with trying to keep Richmond’s Kendall Gaskins out of the end zone, but Duke has a deeper stable of proven runners. Duke will punch a few in on the ground.

Field Goals

Both teams feature outstanding All-Conference kickers. Duke’s Will Snyderwine has connected on 86.4% of his career field goal opportunities. Richmond’s Will Kamin has hit 90.9% of his career field goal opportunities. This matchup is a push.

Penalties

Since the arrival of David Cutcliffe in Durham, the Blue Devils have been one of the most disciplined teams in the ACC. In 2010, Duke committed just 55 penalties for an average of 40.6 yards per game. The Spiders were even better, committing just 50 penalties for an average of 35.5 yards per game. That trend should continue under new Head Coach Wayne Lineburg. This matchup is a push.

Let's get this season started!

PREDICTION

Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us. Fool us three times, not going to happen. Duke is ready for Richmond. There are sure to be some first-game jitters, but Duke won’t get tangled in the Spiders’ web. Sean Renfree has emerged as a leader on this Blue Devil team, and he will guide the Duke offense to a big night. The game will be won (or lost) along the line of scrimmage, and Duke’s linemen are bigger and stronger than they were two years ago. Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson will have big days on the ground. Playing from behind, Richmond will be unable to establish a consistent power running game, forcing Corp to make plays through the air against the deep Duke secondary.  The Blue Devils should come away from this game with a lot of positives to build on and a lot to learn from, while Duke fans will leave Wallace Wade Stadium thinking, “this year will be better!”

Duke 34

Richmond 17

Duke safety Matt Daniels is poised for an All-ACC senior season

BDN Football Friday previews the 2011 Duke defense

This is it, baby. The last Football Friday before training camp opens. Get excited, Blue Devil Nation! Football season is here. This week, BDN’s Bob Green looks at the 2011 Blue Devils’ bowl hopes, and we also previewed the October matchup with ACC favorite Florida State. As promised, we’ve got an in-depth look at the 2011 Blue Devil defense this week, so without further ado…

BDN Duke Football 2011 Team Preview: Defense

It’s no secret that the Duke defense struggled mightily in 2010. Simply put, the Blue Devils were unable to stop opposing offenses, placing nearly impossible pressure on the offense and first-year starting QB Sean Renfree to outscore opponents. The experiment with a 3-4 defense was short-lived and essentially doomed the Blue Devil defense. Without a clear defensive scheme or identity, Duke’s defenders often appeared out of position or overmatched. On the whole, the effort was there, but the execution was inconsistent. Jim Knowles takes over as Defensive Coordinator in 2011, and Rick Petri joins the staff as Defensive Line coach.

Defensive Line

Losses: Patrick Egboh, Wesley Oglesby, Eriks Reks

Key returners: Charlie Hatcher (R-Sr.), Kenny Anunike (R-Jr.), Curtis Hazelton (R-Jr.), Justin Foxx (R-So.), Syndey Sarmiento (R-So.)

Newcomers: Jamal Bruce (R-Fr.),Will Bryant (F-Fr.), Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo (R-Fr.), Steven Ingram (R-Fr.), Dezmond Johnson (R-Fr.), Nick Sink (R-Fr.), Jamal Wallace (R-Fr.), Lucas Fisher (Fr.), Carson Ginn (Fr.), Sam Marshall (Fr.), Mario Sanders (Fr.)

2010 Review: Simply put, the Duke defensive line was unable to stop the run and failed to pressure opposing quarterbacks. After showing improvements between 2006 and 2008, the defensive line began a two-year slide in 2009. The line came up with just 19 sacks in 2009, allowing 153 yards per game rushing (4.0 average yards per carry). The numbers declined again in 2010, finishing with just 12 sacks and giving up 208 rushing yards per game (4.8 average yards per game). Those numbers finished last in the ACC and 113th in the country. Overall, the group battled through injuries and midseason schematic changes, but failed to find consistent success.

2011 Outlook: With seven redshirt-freshmen, along with four true freshmen, entering the depth chart this fall, this will be the deepest line Coach Cutcliffe has had at Duke, at least in numbers. With a preponderance of youth and inexperience, the hope is that Coach Petri, who is known as a great teacher, can accelerate the growth of this group. Overall, the unit should have improved size and speed relative to recent years, but significantly less experience. While projected starters Hatcher, Foxx, Sarmiento, and Anunike are expected to play the majority of snaps, they will be frequently rotated with several of the first-year players. Much like the Duke running game, the Blue Devil defensive linemen have to find ways to improve over their 2009 and 2010 numbers. Reports indicate that the talent is there to improve and compete, and now the players will have to go out and execute if Duke hopes to become bowl-eligible in 2011.

 

Duke hopes that Kelby (left) and Kyler (right) Brown will anchor the 2011 linebackers

Linebackers

Losses: Adam Banks, Abraham Kromah, Damian Thornton

Key returners: Austin Gamble (Jr.), Kevin Rojas (R-So.), Kelby Brown (So.)

Newcomers: C.J. France (R-Fr.), Kyler Brown (Fr.), Britton Grier (Fr.), David Helton (Fr.), Jon Woodruff (Fr.)

2010 Review: The Blue Devils’ defense has seen their leading tackler come from the linebacking corps in seven straight seasons, and that tradition continued in 2010 with Abraham Kromah. Kromah was an unsung hero on the Duke defense, finishing with a team-best 123 tackles, which was good enough for 2nd in the ACC behind BC All-American Luke Kuechly. Even with five of the top six linebackers returning in 2010, freshman Kelby Brown proved to be too good to keep off the field. After burning his redshirt against Alabama, Brown was the biggest surprise of the year on defense, earning freshman All-American honors and leading the country in fumble recoveries per game. Injuries slowed the linebackers as a whole, and Brown saw his breakout season come to an early end with a knee injury against Georgia Tech. Departing seniors Kromah, Damian Thornton, and Adam Banks leave big openings on the depth chart heading into 2011.

2011 Outlook: Though the success of the Duke defense will begin (or end) with the defensive line, the linebackers also present question marks heading into the 2011 season. Kelby Brown is the only returning player with significant starting experience, and he is recovering from season-ending ACL surgery. The newcomers are likely to push Gamble and Rojas for playing time, and that competition should be interesting to watch starting on Monday. If Kyler Brown can replicate some of his brother’s freshman success, or if France, Grier, Helton, or Woodruff can contribute ahead of schedule, then this group again could be a pleasant surprise for the 2011 Blue Devils.

Duke safety Matt Daniels is poised for an All-ACC senior season

Safeties

Losses: none

Key returners: Lee Butler (Sr.), Matt Daniels (Sr.), Jordon Byas (R-Jr.), Walt Canty (Jr.), August Campbell (R-So.), Anthony Young-Wiseman (R-So.)

Newcomers: Chris Tavarez (Fr.)

2010 Review: It’s hard to say that any position group had a good year among the 2010 Duke defense, but the safeties probably contributed the most to the small success that was had. Daniels, Canty, and Butler all finished in the top 7 in tackles for the 2010 defense. The safeties produced some of the defenses’ biggest plays in 2010, and that play-making ability ultimately led the staff to end the season with primarily a 4-2-5 scheme. In a tight fourth quarter at Navy, Matt Daniels forced a key fumble to secure the Duke victory. In a game where the offense struggled against Boston College, August Campbell’s school record 95-yard fumble return for a touchdown ignited the Duke team.

2011 Outlook: The deepest position on the Duke defense by far, the success of the 4-2-5 scheme will rely on safeties to become key playmakers. Duke will return all of their safety playmakers from 2010, though they will be without redshirt-freshman Issac Blakeney for academic reasons. Even without Blakeney, this will be the deepest and most experienced group among the Duke defenders. Senior Matt Daniels is poised for an All-ACC campaign, along with fellow senior Lee Butler. Byas, Canty, and Campbell are all capable of significant improvements over their 2010 efforts. If the Duke cornerbacks can provide good coverage, the safeties should find themselves in position to slow oppfisher rushers and make plays all over the field.

Cornerbacks

Losses: Chris Rwabukamba

Key Returners: Johnny Williams (Sr.), Tony Foster (R-Jr.), Zach Greene (R-Jr.), Ross Cockrell (R-So.), Garrett Patterson (R-So.)

Newcomers: Jared Boyd (Fr.), Tim Burton (Fr.)

2010 Review: Cornerback seemed to be a feast or famine position for the 2010 Blue Devils. Missed coverages, poorly-read throws, and converted third-and-longs plagued the Duke corners all year. That being said, senior Chris Rwabukamba was the top coverage guy, forcing opponents to look elsewhere. Cockrell and Williams, two of the team’s top athletes, but both playing their first year of college defense, struggled mightily. Overall, Duke finished last in the ACC in pass defense. Cockerel was just the second freshman to lead the Blue Devils in interceptions, giving fans a glimpse of his potential coverage ability.

2011 Outlook: This is another group that needs to show significant improvement in 2011 for the Blue Devils to win. The inconsistencies and missed coverages seen in 2010 cannot happen if Duke is going to be able to improve on their ACC-worst pass defense. If the corners are unable to shut down opposing receivers, the Duke safeties will be unable to be aggressive against the run. Cockrell, Williams, Greene and Foster are likely to start the year at the top of the depth chart, but any struggles will give an opportunity for highly-touted freshman Jared Boyd. Collectively, Duke has some of their best athletes at cornerback, and those athletes will have to play with more confidence and poise than 2010.

Next week

Practice kicks off on Monday! The Blue Devils will practice every day next week, putting on pads for the first time on Friday morning. BDN will be your best source for coverage inside Duke’s training camp, as the Blue Devils prepare for the 2011 season. WE ARE DUKE.