DURHAM- The Blue Devils wrapped up their spring practice on Saturday with the annual Spring Game in Wallace Wade Stadium. Head Coach David Cutcliffe was pleased with several of the individual efforts he saw on Saturday and throughout the course of spring practice. Coach Cut addressed the media shortly after the scrimmage and gave his thoughts on the game.
The Blue Devils are officially on a roll in the class of 2013, picking up their 4th commitment over the past two weeks in safety Jake Kite. Kite is a 6'1" 180 pound hard-hitter out of Roanoke, Virginia. The Blue Devils beat out in-state ACC rival NC State for Jake, the son of Chris Kite, a former UVA defensive back. Duke was the first school to extend a scholarship offer and made a strong impression on a visit earlier this spring. Kite was on hand for Duke's Spring Game this weekend, and decided to make his pledge to Coach Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils. After his junior season at Hidden Valley HS in which he totaled 149 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 5 interceptions, Kite was named Regional Player of the Year and 1st Team All-State. He runs a 4.5 second 40-yard dash and the Blue Devils hope he'll become a star in Coach Knowles 4-2-5 defense.
Here are three videos from today's Duke Football press conference as Spring Football winds down in Durham. The annual Spring Football Game is tomorrow at 1:00 in Wallace Wade Stadium and it is open and free to the general public. Coach Cutcliffe is up first, the next vids are of defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.
Are you ready for some football, Blue Devil Nation? Saturday afternoon will be your last chance until September 1st to see some Duke Football, so get your fill. The Blue Devils will take to the field on Saturday at 1PM in Wallace Wade Stadium for their annual spring game. BDN's Football Friday is here for your preview.
First of all, highs in the upper 70s, with a slight chance of isolated thunderstorms. Should be a perfect spring day for some football if the rains miss the Methodist Flats. That also means a perfect day for some tailgating. Get there early, as the team will conduct the Blue Devil Walk at 11:00 AM. Team BDN will be there in full force, so be sure to say hi. Here's the information on the parking situation. Bring your wallets, even though admission is free (stadium gates open at 11:15), as there will be plenty of opportunities to get your Blue Devil gear, as well as stuff your face with Chick-fil-a, Domino's, and Blue Devil Concessions. Oh, and the most important reason to bring your wallet is to purchase your 2012 season tickets. Ticket office reps will be on hand and help you pick your exact seats. Try before you buy. The game kicks off at 1PM and Coach Cutcliffe will address the crowd during halftime of the scrimmage. Spring practice awards will also be announced at halftime.
Scouting the Blue Devil Offense
The Duke offense will feature a number of familiar faces, but it's likely to be the unfamiliar ones who will make an impression on Saturday. We all know what Conner Vernon is capable of at wide receiver, but as he's been limited due to injury this spring, expect to see a lot of Blair Holliday and Jamison Crowder, both of whom have had very strong spring performances. Nick Hill is another young face who appears ready to contribute, and Corey Gattis and Tyree Watkins add a veteran presence to the receiving corps. With Jack Farrell and Braxton Deaver sidelined with injuries, the Blue Devils had concerns at wide receiver heading into spring practice. Coming out of spring practice, tight end is no longer a concern, and you'll likely see why as Issac Blakeney and David Reeves are sure to impress.
Up front, the Duke offensive line returns all but graduating senior Kyle Hill, and that continuity should benefit the Blue Devil offense. This group has improved each year under Coach Cutcliffe, and they're looking to take a big step forward this fall under new OL Coach John Latina. Expect to see a few holes opened for the likes of the now healthy Josh Snead and last year's leading rusher Juwan Thompson, who have seen the majority of carries with senior Desmond Scott nursing injury. If that trio isn't impressive enough for you, the Blue Devils will add two more big-time running backs in just a few months, as Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell will push for early playing time.
Am I forgetting something? Ah, yes, quarterback. While Peyton Manning had been a fixture in the Duke practice facilities this offseason, he will not be taking snaps under center for the Blue Devils on Saturday. Sean Renfree remains entrenched as the starter, and he's had yet another good spring running the Duke offense. While much of spring practice is situational, Renfree has shown the ability to get the ball downfield, averaging 15.7 yards per completion in the last scrimmage. But Renfree's old news, right? Coach Cutcliffe and the Duke staff have been looking at ways to get guys like Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone more involved in the offense, and they've done well with running the ball and catching the ball in some unique schemes. But don't get too excited. Knowing the Duke coaching staff, the Blue Devils are unlikely to show off anything particularly new or exciting on Saturday, so we'll all just have to wait until the fall. Expect to see Connette, Boone, and freshman Thomas Sirk take several snaps under center in relief of Renfree; all have taken big steps forward in their command of the offense this spring.
Scouting the Blue Devil Defense
Somehow, it seems that Duke has had a perpetually young defense the past few years, and that remain the case this spring, though they are overall more experienced. The losses of Matt Daniels and Charlie Hatcher will be the biggest voids to fill, and there are a number of candidates looking to contribute. Up front, Duke will be without their top pass-rushers Saturday in Kenny Anunike and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, but will feature much of the same group of athletic ends we saw a year ago, led by Justin Foxx, Dezmond Johnson, and Jamal Wallace. Sydney Sarmiento, Jamal Bruce, and Nick Sink are likely to see the majority of time on the inside up front. The defensive line continues to improve under Coach Petri and has the benefit of going up against a big and experienced offensive line in practice.
At linebacker, the Blue Devils will be without Kelby Brown for the foreseeable future, but expect sophomore David Helton to continue to impress. The redshirt is off for Kelby's younger, but bigger, brother Kyler, and it appears that a nose for the football is in their genes. Austin Gamble is the lone upperclassman, though sophomores C.J. France and Jon Woodruff have some experience. And before you get down on the Blue Devil linebackers, keep in mind that stud recruits Keilin Rayner and Deion Williams will be on campus in just a few months.
Coach Knowles' 4-2-5 scheme relies heavily on the secondary, and the emergence of Ross Cockrell as a shutdown corner is key. He'll be joined by senior Lee Butler at cornerback, though youngsters Jared Boyd and Tim Burton will see time. The leader of the secondary this year is most likely to be leading returning tackler Walt Canty, though hard-hitting Jordon Byas has also turned some heads with August Campbell sidelined this spring. Newcomers to look for at safety include the hard-working Chris Tavarez, Britton Grier, transfer Jeremy Cash, and former WR Brandon Braxton. All should see snaps on Saturday and overall, this group has some of the best playmakers on the defensive side.
Scouting the Blue Devil Special Teams
Will Monday. That's about all you need to know. With Will Snyderwine and Alex King now graduated, Monday has handled all of the punting and kicking duties this spring, and handled them well. By the fall, incoming freshman Ross Martin may challenge him for the placekicking duties, but expect to see Monday handle the punting for the next four years in Durham. On the return side, Jamison Crowder remains the Blue Devils' top threat, but he'll be joined by incoming freshman DeVon Edwards this fall, who took more than a few kicks to the house during his high school career. In all likelihood, getting to see Monday punt and kick should be a refreshing sight for Blue Devil fans and the only real highlight on special teams Saturday.
Recruiting still sizzling
Who are all those people with lanyards and nametags? That would be the dozens of high school prospects and their families who will be on campus this weekend to take in the Blue Devil program. Several members of the Duke class of 2012 will be on hand Saturday, and they'll be joined by a huge group of future prospects. With 3 commitments already on board in 2013, the coaching staff is flying high on the trail and will have in some of their top targets in this class, including a handful considered among the nation's elite. Coach Cutcliffe and his staff work on recruiting every single day, and this weekend will be no exception. And just like the staff, we follow the recruiting trail here at BDN, so be sure to check out some of our recent interviews with the likes of TE Nathan Marcus, and OL Sterling Korona, and of course lots more to come. Don't be surprised if the Blue Devils hear more good news by the end of this weekend.
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The Blue Devils have had a lot of success throwing the ball under Coach Cutcliffe and his spread offense over the past few seasons, including at the tight end position. With the graduation of Cooper Helfet, Duke hopes that their young tight ends Issac Blakeney and David Reeves will be able to help fill the void this fall, but the coaching staff continues to look towards the future on the recruiting trail.
One tight end prospect has recently caught the attention of the Blue Devil coaches, and was extended a verbal scholarship offer on a visit to Durham last weekend. Nathan Marcus is a 6'5" 220 pound tight end from Glen Ellyn, Illinois. After leading Glenbard West to a 10-1 record as a junior and receiving All-Conference and Academic All-State honors, Marcus has seen his recruitment take off this spring, collecting scholarship offers from Boston College, Duke, Indiana, Northwestern, Toledo, and Wake Forest, along with interest from several other schools, including Illinois and Vanderbilt. The Blue Devils hosted Marcus on an unofficial visit this past weekend, and hope he'll become the next big pass-catching tight end in their spread offense. [private]
BDN: How would you describe your strengths as a player?
I’m mostly a wide receiver-type tight end. I like to get out in space and catch the ball, but I’ve also been used as a tackle for the youth football team, so I’m comfortable on the line and split out.
BDN: What are you working on this offseason and what do you hope to accomplish this fall?
Winning a state title, obviously. But personally, I’d like to see the ball more in the air and catch it and work on my blocking, trying to become a more well-rounded tight end.
BDN: As you approach your college decision, what are the most important things you are looking for in a school?
Definitely being able to compete football-wise, and then off the field, academically, because once the football ends, I’d like to be able to have a good job and have a degree from a very good school.
BDN: Which schools have you been hearing the most from and where do you stand with offers?
Who has been contacting me most would be like Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Illinois, those are like the main three, and also Boston College. Now, once I’ve visited Duke and Wake Forest, they’ve both offered me and I’m pretty liked with them too.
BDN: Which schools have you had a chance to visit?
I went to Duke and Wake Forest and now I’m at Vanderbilt right now. I really liked both Duke and Wake [Forest], they’re pretty similar. I’m not really sure if I’m going to see any more [schools], because they’re both pretty high up there and I’m probably going to make my decision sometime soon, maybe late summer or early fall, I’ll decide what school I’m going to commit to.
BDN: What was it that stood out to you about Duke and Wake Forest?
They’re both pretty high-powered offensive programs, so you’ve got to like that as a tight end, and they both pass the ball pretty well, so you’ve got to like that as a tight end that likes to catch the ball. I really liked their academics, and it’s kind of good to get away from Chicago and the snowy weather.
BDN: Thanks a lot, Nathan, and best of luck.
Thank you, it was nice meeting you.
The goal this offseason has been on finding the "best 22" players to put on the field for the Blue Devils. Inevitably, this forces the Duke coaching staff to make some creative and difficult decisions to realize this goal. One of the most prominent changes this spring has involved Brandon Braxton, a once promising wide receiver who has selflessly made the switch to safety. Braxton's strong play on special teams the past two seasons exemplified some of his potential as a defender and tackler, but the learning curve for Coach Knowles' defense is steep. BDN caught up with Brandon after spring practice last week to get an update on his transition.
BDN: How did the decision to switch positions come about?
I had originally heard through the grapevine that they were switching me to defense. I gave Coach Cut a call and went and met with him, and it wasn’t for sure or anything at that point, and he said that they had been thinking about it. I told him I would be willing to switch if they thought that would improve our team, and I ended up switching and so far I like it a lot.
BDN: How do you feel your skill set fits on the defensive side of the ball?
I like the defensive side of the ball because it allows me to react instead of having a set play, so I definitely like that about defense. I also just like flying around and reading, so that’s probably my favorite part about defense.
BDN: You’ve played quite a bit on special teams over the past two seasons, so you’ve had some experience with tackling, but what have you found to be the hardest adjustment to playing defense so far this spring?
There really hasn’t been any really hard thing to pick up, but just learning the defense and knowing checks and seeing different things. Just being comfortable at safety is definitely a huge change from what I have been doing and what I’m used to. I feel like I’m a freshman all over again, learning a whole new system and getting back in the swing of things of college football. I haven’t played defense since junior year of high school, but so far I’m picking it up really fast and feel like every day I’m progressing.
BDN: Now that you’re on the other side of the ball, who’s the toughest receiver to matchup with in practice?
All of them are really good, honestly. Blair Holliday has been playing great. Jamison [Crowder] has been playing really good. Conner [Vernon], everyone already knows that Conner is a stud. Nick Hill is a new and upcoming redshirt-freshman and he’s been playing really good. All of them, really, there isn’t one that I can pinpoint that’s super difficult, they all have different attributes and different things that they bring to the wide receiver.
BDN: You may feel like a freshman all over again, but you’re actually entering your third year with the program. What’s your assessment of the team this spring, compared to when you first arrived at Duke?
This spring, well I’ve only been through two springs, but there was such a period when losing was acceptable, and I think that that whole air and people that were here when that was happening is gone. My teammates now don’t accept losing as an option. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve seen. We’ve all been working really hard and the coaches have been pushing us, and we’re all up to the challenge.
BDN: The secondary is obviously a key to Coach Knowles’ defense. Can you talk a little about some of the players that have impressed you and helped you make your transition?
All of them – Walt [Canty], Jordon [Byas], Anthony Young-Wiseman, they’re all veterans and they’ve all been here awhile. Ross Cockrell, we’re usually on the same side, and he’s been helping me a lot and he’s progressed immensely at the corner position. He’s turned into one heck of a cornerback. They’ve all done their part in helping me pick it up faster and teaching me tricks of the trade and making sure I do well.
BDN: Thanks a lot, Brandon, and best of luck this spring.
Alright, Patrick, thank you so much.