Tag Archives: Cooper Helfet

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

Matt Daniels Makes 1st Team All ACC, 3 other Blue Devils tabbed

DURHAM, N.C. – Duke senior safety Matt Daniels earned first team All-ACC honors as announced Monday afternoon by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association. Three other Blue Devils earned recognition with senior punter Alex King and junior wide receiver Conner Vernon garnering second team accolades while senior tight end Cooper Helfet received an honorable mention citation.
Daniels, a 6-1, 210-pound native of Fayetteville, Ga., is tops among ACC defensive backs and third overall in the league in tackles per game (10.5) after posting 126 total stops on the year. He added 4.0 tackles for loss, two interceptions , one caused fumble and 14 pass break-ups – the second-highest single-season PBU total in Duke history. Daniels, who finished his 46-game career with 324 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 27 pass break-ups, four interceptions, seven caused fumbles and three fumble recoveries, is the first Blue Devil safety to earn first team all-league honors since Ray Farmer turned the trick in back-to-back seasons in 1994-95.

King, a 6-1, 210-pound native of Winston-Salem, N.C., punted 50 times for 2,104 yards and a 42.08 yards per kick average. Currently ranked third in the conference in punting average, King placed 17 boots inside the opponent 20 yard line against just four touchbacks. His season average is the ninth-best in school history.

Vernon, a 6-1, 195-pound native of Miami, Fla., earns second team recognition for the second straight season after posting 70 receptions for 956 yards and six touchdowns – all team bests. In 2011, Vernon matched the school single-season record for most games (9) with five or more catches while becoming the first player in ACC history to post multiple seasons with 70 or more receptions. Through three seasons, he has 198 catches for 2,675 yards and 13 touchdowns to rank second on Duke’s career charts in both receptions and yardage and tied for eighth in TDs.

Helfet, a 6-4, 240-pound native of Kentfield, Calif., picked up an honorable mention citation for the second year in a row after catching 43 passes for 395 yards and four touchdowns. Among Duke tight ends, his 43 grabs are the most since 1994 while matching the seventh-highest single-season total. Helfet finished his 23-game career with 77 catches for 775 yards and six touchdowns.

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

BDN Rapid Reaction: Duke 20, Boston College 19

Duke emerged the victor in Chestnut Hill this afternoon with a 20-19 victory over the Boston College Eagles. It was an up-and-down game for both sides, but the Blue Devils were able to persevere.

No good!

Miscues in the kicking game were the story for both teams, highlighted by Nate Freese’s 23-yard FG try off the left upright with 43 seconds remaining. Freese also had a costly missed extra point earlier in the game. Duke had more than its fair share of kicking struggles, headlined by a blocked Alex King punt, a missed 33-yard FG by Jeff Ijjas, and a kickoff out of bounds by Paul Asack. Duke may have come away with the victory, but the question marks in the kicking game persist, and one has to wonder how long Duke can leave freshman Will Monday on the sideline if Will Snyderwine remains injured.

Killer V’s back on track

After an inconsistent start to the season, Duke’s dynamic receiving duo returned to their All-ACC form on Saturday, finishing with 18 catches and 194 receiving yards combined. Both took a few hard hits from the BC defense, but managed to secure the football and move the chains. Junior Conner Vernon had two impressive TD catches and finished with 6 catches and 112 yards. Senior Donovan Varner had his best game of the season and a career-high 12 catches. Brandon Braxton added 9 catches for 60 yards and tight end Cooper Helfet finished with 6 receptions for 59 yards. Juwan Thompson had 104 all-purpose yards, and overall, the Duke offense racked up 465 yards of total offense.

Renfree gets his mojo back

The story of the day for the Blue Devils, however, was the play of Duke QB Sean Renfree, who finally put up the kind of numbers Duke fans have come to expect from the redshirt-junior. Despite hit after hit from Luke Kuechly and the BC defense, Renfree stood strong and finished with 40 completions, 359 yards, and 2 touchdowns. His 1 interception came on a tipped pass that certainly could have been caught. Perhaps most importantly, it was Renfree, and not redshirt-freshman Anthony Boone, who pushed his way far enough into the end zone for the go-ahead 1-yard TD in the 4th quarter. This definitely was a performance for the second-year starting QB to build on.

Costly mistakes

Duke fans have seen their share of close losses over the years, and it certainly seemed like this was shaping up to be another heartbreaker. Instead, the disappointment falls on Boston College, who squandered their opportunity to win in the final seconds. The Blue Devils, however, made things difficult on themselves with numerous costly mistakes. In addition to the kicking woes, the Blue Devils were whistled for 9 devastating penalties for 79 yards. At least three of those penalties negated first downs for the offense, and a personal foul on the final BC drive nearly cost the game. The Blue Devils will have to eliminate these costly mistakes if they hope to play winning football. Fans and players should enjoy this victory today, and carry the good vibes into next weekend against Tulane. Starting tomorrow, however, it is back to work for #dukegang.

Bring on the Green Wave! WE ARE DUKE!

Sean Renfree paced the Blue Devil offense in a situational scrimmage Tuesday evening. -BDN Photo

Renfree Highlights 60-snap scrimmage

Sean Renfree paced the Blue Devil offense in a situational scrimmage Tuesday evening. -BDN Photo

DURHAM, N.C. – Redshirt junior quarterback Sean Renfree completed 12-of-14 passes for 101 yards and one touchdown to highlight Duke’s 60-play situational scrimmage on Tuesday night at the Brooks Practice Facility.

Renfree’s scoring toss covered 10 yards to senior wideout Donovan Varner while senior tight end Cooper Helfet caught a scrimmage-high three passes for 45 yards.

“We got some good work in tonight,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said.  “We put ourselves in game-like situations to get a better feel.  This is the best camp we’ve had since we’ve been here.  It has been very competitive and very physical.  From August 8th until now, we’ve become a better football team.”

Sophomore running back Juwan Thompson headlined the ground attack with a 20-yard touchdown run.  The Blue Devils scrimmaged without the services of running backs Patrick Kurunwune and Josh Snead, and Cutcliffe expressed concern with the depth at the position.

“Josh Snead got hurt yesterday,” Cutcliffe said.  “We’ll wait for further evaluation by our medical staff before giving an update.  Patrick has missed some time.  Jay (Hollingsworth) has missed some time.  You do the math.”

Duke’s defense received a lift when senior safety Matt Daniels returned a fumble 29 yards for a touchdown.

The Blue Devils open the 2011 season at home against Richmond on September 3 at 7 p.m. in Wallace Wade Stadium.  Tickets are available online at www.GoDuke.com/tickets or by calling the Duke Athletics Ticket Office at 919-681-2583.

BDN Video goes one on one with Duke TE Cooper Helfet

Our Duke Football Camp coverage continues with another one on one interview with Duke Tight End Cooper Helfet.  After coming off a season where he mended a nagging injury, Helfet is sure to be a vital part of the Duke offensive scheme and he’s ready to go in 2011-12.   Hear what Coop had to say for yourself and bookmark Blue Devil Nation for your Duke Football fix -

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

Football Friday, the extended version – previewing the Duke Offense

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

If you think football season is close, consider this: there is only one more Football Friday before Duke opens training camp. If that doesn’t get you excited, hopefully the rest of this column will. Early analysis suggests that this may be the longest Football Friday ever, so pace yourself!

No sales pitch this week. If you’re reading this, you already know how good BDN is. One other note: Duke football season tickets are still available, so if you haven’t got yours yet, time is running out. Away game tickets are also available, and we can say from experience that it’s a lot of fun to be part of the Duke faithful in watching a big Blue Devil road victory. Starting on August 1st, Duke will make single game home tickets available at GoDuke.

What happened?

I don’t know what else to say. Last weekend, all seemed well at the ACC Football Kickoff in Pinehurst. Though still somewhat hard to believe, Butch Davis continued to weather the storm and appeared poised to lead the Tar Heels in 2011. Then, Wednesday happened. For reasons that still remain unclear, Chancellor Holden Thorp fired Davis after a closed-door meeting with the Board of Trustees. Thursday, Athletic Director Dick Baddour announced that he will be stepping down as well, and the Tar Heels later tagged Defensive Coordinator Everett Withers as interim Head Coach. The timing of all this is puzzling, to say the least, and leaves the Tar Heel players, fans, and administration in a difficult position. In addition to the financial costs associated with Coach Davis’ termination, the Tar Heels will now have to pay off their stadium improvements. With many players, fans and boosters upset with the handling of the football scandal for one reason or another, UNC is certainly in an unenviable position. We could spend all Football Friday talking about the scandal and these recent developments, but we’ll just highlight two points:

  1. First, in the current climate of NCAA athletics, let’s be thankful for those who do things the right way. Duke is fortunate to be led by good people who want to win, and want to do it honestly. Thank you to Coach Krzyzewski, Coach Cutcliffe, Dr. Kevin White and Dr. Richard Brodhead for their outstanding character and dedication to Duke University. Every program has problems, but the Blue Devils’ leadership has handled these situations appropriately, consistently, and with class. And thank you to all of the coaches and administrators throughout the NCAA who continue to improve the lives of thousands of student-athletes and uphold the integrity of college athletics.
  2. Those responsible should be held accountable for the egregious transgressions within the North Carolina football program, athletic department, and academic administration. It appears that this is finally being done, and one could argue that there is no wrong time to do the right thing. That being said, this puts the football program in a difficult position, and while it may be difficult for any Duke fan to say something nice about a Tar Heel, we all want what’s best for the ACC and the student-athletes. We want to see the ACC become a more competitive football conference, and we want to see programs win the right way. Hopefully, the Tar Heels will eventually arise from this scandal as a better program and a more respectable member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

    Duke's Brandon Harper signed a free agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars this week

Congratulations to Duke’s Brandon Harper

With the NFL lockout finally over, Duke’s Brandon Harper was the first former Blue Devil to earn an opportunity as a professional, signing a free agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. BDN wishes the best of luck to Brandon and all of the Blue Devil alumni pursuing their NFL dreams!

Dondo Files, episode 4

Duke senior receiver Donovan Varner has started a video blog, the Dondo Files, and released episode 4 this week. He has great messages for young players and fans about hard work and achieving your goals. This week, he discusses being able to take constructive criticism. With that in mind, how about more than 1 touchdown this year, Donovan? In all seriousness, though, we’re looking forward to a big year from the senior receiver and are proud to have him as a role model for young Blue Devils and players everywhere.

BDN previews continue

We hope you’re enjoying our week-by-week preview of Duke’s 2011 opponents. This week, we wrapped up Duke’s first half of the season with Tulane and Florida International, two important, but tough, games for the Blue Devils to win. After the off week, Duke will face yet another top 10 opponent in Wallace Wade Stadium as the ACC-favorite Florida State Seminoles invade Durham. Check back next week for a look at FSU along with Duke’s week 8 opponent, Wake Forest.

Last week, we took a look around the Atlantic Coast Conference, and our predictions weren’t too terribly out of line with the rest of the ACC media. The Blue Devils landed two players on the preseason All-ACC team in WR Conner Vernon and K Will Synderwine. Now that we got the ACC predictions out of the way, let’s take an in-depth look at the team that really matters – the Blue Devils. There are high hopes for a bowl game in 2011, and a lot of that may depend on how good the Duke defense can be, but the reality is that the Duke offense will have to carry this team for much of the season. For that reason, we kickoff our 2011 Duke Football Team Preview with a look at the high-flying Blue Devils’ offense. If this unit lives up to expectations, there should be plenty of excitement in Wallace Wade Stadium this fall.

Duke QB Sean Renfree is ready to lead the 2011 Blue Devils Offense

BDN Duke Football 2011 Team Preview: Offense

With considerable youth and inexperience on defense, the 2011 Duke Football team will rely on a veteran offense that finished 2nd in the ACC in passing offense and 7th in total offense a year ago. While the Duke offense showed flashes of dominance in 2010, there will need to be dramatic improvements across the board if the Blue Devils hope to make a bowl in 2011.

Quarterback

Losses: none

Key returners: Sean Renfree (R-Jr.), Brandon Connette (So.)

Newcomers: Anthony Boone (R-Fr.)

2010 Review: In his first year as a starter, Sean Renfree showed glimpses of his potential, but overall was inconsistent in leading the Duke offense. In particular, Renfree struggled with turnovers, finishing the season with an ACC-high 17 interceptions. Coming off of season-ending knee surgery in 2009, Renfree’s mobility appeared to be limited at times, particularly early in the season. More importantly, and not unexpectedly, the redshirt-sophomore struggled with his confidence throughout the season, especially on the heels of Duke’s embarrassing loss to Alabama. Despite the struggles, it wasn’t all bad for Renfree. He led the Blue Devils to three wins, finished third in the ACC with 3,131 total yards and completed 61.4% of his passes, including a midseason stretch of 16 consecutive completions and 28/30 completions against Navy, both school records. The 3,131 yards were the 3rd highest total in Duke history and helped to earn him the Carmen Falcone Award as Duke’s Most Valuable Player. The biggest area for Renfree to improve is certainly turnovers, and he demonstrated tremendous growth throughout the 2010 season. After throwing 15 interceptions in the first 7 games of the season, Renfree finished the season with just 2 interceptions in the Blue Devils’ final 5 contests.

In 2010, dual-threat QB Brandon Connette served as Renfree’s primary back-up and earned significant playing time with his legs. Connette set a Duke freshman record with 8 rushing touchdowns and finished the year with 321 yards on 78 carries. He struggled to move the ball through the air when called upon, finishing just 10/22 with 2 interceptions.

2011 Outlook: Simply put, the Duke offense will rely heavily on the play of Sean Renfree. If Renfree is unable to significantly reduce his turnovers, the Blue Devils will not be bowling in 2011. Now nearly two years removed from knee surgery and with a year of starting experience under his belt, Renfree’s mobility and confidence should be drastically improved from this time last year. With three of his top four receivers returning, along with 4 of 5 offensive line starters, Renfree will be surrounded by familiar faces and will be counted on to lead the Blue Devil offense. While there is no doubt within the Duke program that Renfree is the clear starter, he will continue to be pushed by a sophomore Connette and redshirt-freshman Anthony Boone, which should only help the Duke offense. Reports from spring practice were overwhelmingly positive for all three quarterbacks and for Renfree in particular. Coach Cutcliffe has anointed Renfree as the best returning quarterback in the ACC in 2011, and believe he is poised to have a “special” season. If the Blue Devils plan on playing in December or January, he will have to play like the best quarterback in the conference.

 

Coach Cutcliffe has senior Donovan Varner and the Blue Devils expecting to win in 2011-GoDuke, Duke Photography

Wide Receiver

Losses: Austin Kelly

Key returners: Conner Vernon (Jr.), Donovan Varner (Sr.), Brandon Braxton (So.), Tyree Watkins (R-So.), Corey Gattis (R-So.)

Newcomers: Jamison Crowder (Fr.), Blair Holliday (Fr.), Nick Hill (Fr.)

2010 Review:  As you might expect, the performance of Duke’s wide receivers mirrored the ups and downs of QB Sean Renfree. Overall, Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon make up one of, if not the, top receiving tandem in college football. After his All-ACC campaign in 2009, Varner became just the 2nd Duke receiver to post back-to-back 60-reception seasons, finishing 2010 with 60 catches for 736 yards and 1 touchdown. After a breakout freshman season that earned him freshman All-American honors, Vernon topped his 2009 campaign with 73 catches for 946 yards and 4 touchdowns. The duo of Varner and Vernon partnered with senior Austin Kelly to form the top receiving trio in Duke history in 2010. Kelly battled injuries throughout his senior year, but still finished tied for the team lead with 4 touchdown catches. Outside of the top three, Duke’s younger receivers had an inconsistent 2010. After a good spring, freshman Brandon Braxton had an up and down season in his first year of college football, playing in 11 games and starting 5. Braxton finished 2010 with 14 catches and 1 touchdown; however, of those 14 receptions, 8 went for a Duke first down. Overall, fans should be excited with his potential and can pencil him in as the third starter alongside Varner and Vernon in 2011 after a strong offseason. Redshirt-freshmen Corey Gattis and Tyree Watkins saw the field sparingly in their first year of college eligibility.

2011 Outlook: Despite the loss of Kelly, Duke’s third-leading receiver in 2010, expectations are extremely high for the 2011 Duke receiving corps. Led by upperclassmen Varner and Vernon, this should be one of the top receiving units in the country. As good as Duke’s receivers were in 2010, they will need to be better in 2011, particularly in finding their way to the end zone and securing passes (not all of Dukes 2010 turnover troubles can be blamed on the QB). Expected improvements in the Duke running game should open up big play possibilities for Duke’s receivers, allowing them to eclipse their previous career highs. With Varner and Vernon likely to draw significant attention from opposing defenses, the opportunities will be there for Duke’s young receivers to step up and make plays. Braxton will get the first shot as the third starter at receiver, and is beginning to develop good chemistry with Renfree. Expect Braxton, Watkins, and Gattis to show dramatic improvement over 2010, and they should be pushed by true freshmen Blair Holliday and Nick Hill for playing time. The athletic ability of freshman Jamison Crowder will be hard to keep off the field, and he may find some time at slot receiver in certain offensive sets. Led by two determined, dynamic upperclassmen, this group has the potential to be the best in the ACC.

 

Senior Cooper Helfet will lead the Blue Devils' Tight Ends in 2011 - Rick Crank, BDN Photo

Tight End

Losses: Brett Huffman, Brandon King

Key returners: Danny Parker (R-Sr.), Cooper Helfet (Sr.), Jack Farrell (R-So.)

Newcomers: Braxton Deaver (R-Fr.), David Reeves (Fr.)

2010 Review: For the past several years, the Duke tight end position has been led by two warriors in Brett Huffman and Brandon King. Seemingly always injured, it took a lot to keep them off the field. With some struggles along the offensive line, Huffman and King were called upon to aid the Blue Devils’ blockers for much of their careers, and did so admirably. The Duke staff likes to move the tight end around in their offense, and the versatility of Huffman and King allowed them to thrive in multiple roles. While Huffman and King assumed roles as the unheralded warriors of the Duke offense, junior college transfer Cooper Helfet emerged as another potent weapon in Sean Renfree’s arsenal. After struggling with an ankle injury early in the season, Helfet finished the year with at least 4 catches in Duke’s final 5 games, leading the team in receiving in two contests and earning two ACC Player of the Week honors.

2011 Outlook: Huffman and King will not be easily replaced in the Duke offense, but with two seniors and a talented group of young players, the tight end should remain a strength for the 2011 Blue Devils. Helfet appears poised for a breakout senior campaign and will be joined by redshirt-senior Danny Parker, who redshirted in 2010 after seeing 232 snaps as a junior in 2009. Redshirt-freshman Braxton Deaver should be ready to contribute in his first season of college eligibility and true freshman David Reeves may be too good to keep off the field in his first year in Durham. The concern for this group will be replacing the blocking of Huffman and King, but their receiving numbers should improve over 2010.

 

Desmond Scott leads an improved Blue Devil running game

Running back

Losses: none

Key returners: Jay Hollingworth (Sr.), Patrick Kurunuwe (R-Jr.), Desmond Scott (Jr.), Josh Snead (So.), Juwan Thompson (So.)

Newcomers: none

2010 Review: The 2010 Duke running game had nowhere to go but up, finishing last in the FBS in rushing in 2009. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Blue Devils took significant steps forward in 2010, increasing their rushing averages by 46.5 yards per game and adding 13 more touchdowns on the ground from 2009. Still, Duke finished last in the ACC in rushing and 104th in the country in 2011. Desmond Scott led the Blue Devils in rushing for the second straight season, finishing with 549 yards and a 4.4 yards per carry average. Scott established himself as Duke’s best all-around back and endeared himself to the Duke faithful with his game-winning touchdown dive against Virginia. Freshman Josh Snead showed flashes of his ability before injuries interrupted his season, but still finished with a team-best 4.9 yards per carry. Fellow freshman Juwan Thompson saw his offensive role increase as he adjusted to the college game, but was primarily limited to kick return duty. Junior Jay Hollingsworth came on strong late in the season, igniting the Duke offense with impressive 2nd half runs against Miami. Redshirt-sophomore Patrick Kurunuwe saw limited action on offense and special teams.

2011 Outlook: Duke returns all of their running backs in 2011, along with four of five starters along the offensive line. While blocking may be partly to blame for Duke’s struggles in the running game, Duke’s rushers must continue to improve their vision, burst, and strength. Improved confidence could go a long way to improving Duke’s running, as some of Duke’s best runs in 2010 appeared to come when the Blue Devil backs were “running with a purpose.” Scott has emerged as the face of Duke’s running game, and must become a consistent threat both on the ground and through the air for the Duke offense. While Scott is likely to again see the majority of carries, Duke’s depth at running back means that there will be significant competition for snaps in training camp and throughout the season, which should force this group to continue to improve. Snead and Thompson should take a big step forward in their second year of college football, and the overall depth at running back should allow Duke to do a better job wearing down opposing defenses. Thompson, in particular, appears poised to be a breakout candidate for the Duke offense. While no one should expect Duke to become a great running team overnight, the pieces are there for the Blue Devils to continue to improve on the ground, open things up in the passing game, and keep opposing offenses off the field.

 

Brian Moore will slide to center and anchor the Duke offensive line in 2011-GoDuke Photo

Offensive Line

Losses: Bryan Morgan, Brandon Harper, Mitchell Lederman

Key returners: Kyle Hill (R-Sr.), Jon Needham (R-Sr.), Brian Moore (R-Jr.), Conor Irwin (R-Jr.), Dave Harding (R-So.), John Coleman (R-So.), Perry Simmons (R-So.)

Newcomers: Takoby Cofield (R-Fr.), Laken Tomlinson (R-Fr.), Marcus Aprahamian (Fr.), Lucas Patrick (Fr.), Cody Robinson (Fr.), Matt Skura (Fr.)

2010 Review: After watching Thaddeus Lewis play under seemingly constant pressure for four years, the Duke offensive line appeared to take a step forward in 2010. The group struggled again in run-blocking, but finished near the top of the ACC in sacks allowed per pass attempt. Morgan, though undersized, was the anchor up front, starting at center for 36 consecutive games. With little depth, the offensive line was asked to play through injury in 2010. For many weeks, Duke’s starters sat out practice but suited up on Saturday. That warrior mentality showed through on the field, as Duke improved their rushing by 46.5 yards per game, and the line successfully protected their first-year QB coming off knee surgery (25 sacks allowed, only 5.1% of dropbacks).

2011 Outlook: Of all the position groups on the Duke offense, the offensive line appears the most ready to take a big step forward in 2011. That being said, this group loses seniors Morgan and Harper and will need to continue to work hard and produce results on the field. Duke’s starting offensive line is expected to average close to 290 pounds in 2011, and that increased size and strength should help in both pass and run blocking.  For the first time since Coach Cutcliffe’s arrival in Durham, the Blue Devils will be able to go two-deep across the offensive line without significant drop-off. In fact, there should be interesting position battles in training camp at right tackle and right guard, where redshirt-freshmen Takoby Cofield and Laken Tomlinson will push Perry Simmons and John Coleman for snaps. A talented group of freshmen offensive linemen should help solidify the position for the next several years and could see the field in the event of a significant injury. For the first time in several years, Duke has multiple NFL prospects among their offensive linemen, led by Brian Moore, Kyle Hill, Laken Tomlinson, Takoby Cofield, and Cody Robinson. Overall, the size, skill, and depth has improved, but this group will need to produce results on the field for the Duke offense to realize its full potential.

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Recruiting updates

There’s more? Sure, why not? To reward our loyal members, let’s take a quick look at where Duke stands with a few uncommitted 2012 prospects:

Mallard Creek RB Jela Duncan is Duke's top remaining priority in the class of 2012

Running back: Jela Duncan is the guy here, and Duke would love to try and secure a commitment from him soon, though he seems content to wait out other offers. Earlier this week, we took a look at possible destinations for the Mallard Creek star, and the smart money is still on the Blue Devils here, whether it’s sooner or later. There’s no telling what will happen with North Carolina, but they remain in play for a few other backs, and with scholarship restrictions on the horizon, new offers will be few and far between. Scholarships are also scarce at South Carolina, another potential competitor for Duncan’s services. As for his current offers, Duncan hasn’t shown a lot of interest in Pittsburgh, Purdue, or Wake Forest up to this point. Some other prospects to keep an eye on include Dondre Brown, Jamie Gilmore, and Chris Mangus, but Duncan is the clear priority.

Braddock HS OL Robert Conyers recently visited Duke

Best available: Outside of running back, the Duke coaching staff feels very good about the class of 2012 and will be in a position to take the best available players with their last 2 or 3 scholarships. In the past week, Duke has hosted OL Robert Conyers and ATH Ryan Janvion, and it looks like a good bet that the Blue Devils will find themselves among the finalists for both of those Florida prospects.

In addition, we’ve long reported Duke’s interest in Korren Kirven, but they face a huge uphill battle against his in-state ACC schools and several top SEC programs. Kirven is expected to narrow his list soon, and it would be nice for the Blue Devils to make the cut, but there are no guarantees. Elsewhere along the defensive line, Duke is still very much in it for Alabama standout Torey Agee, and will likely be a finalist along with Vanderbilt. BDN’s thinking is that Auburn or Georgia Tech would jump to the lead for Agee, if they were to offer. Duke is a longer shot for Greensboro’s D.J. Reader, who plans to play both football and baseball in college. With the academic requirements at Duke, it takes a very dedicated student-athlete to balance classes along with two sports.

Duke has been the leader for top in-state linebacker Keilin Rayner, but something has kept him from pulling the trigger for the Blue Devils so far. He’s been busy on the camp circuit this summer, and we’ll see where things stand with him soon. It appears that other schools have closed the gap, but Duke is still in the running for his services and a good start in September could help the Blue Devils’ chances. Florida athlete Marcus Allen is another intriguing prospect who looks like a good fit in Durham with his success in the classroom and on the field, but with a Florida State offer in hand, it may be tough to pull him out of the sunshine state. California LB Jeremiah Allison is another star student-athlete who seems to fit the Duke mold, and if the Blue Devils can maybe get him on campus for an official visit, they could become a serious contender in his recruitment.

As always, BDN will keep you posted with new developments. By securing a solid 2012 recruiting class early in the summer, the Duke coaching staff has been able to get a head start on evaluating the class of 2013, and we’ll slowly start to introduce members to some of the early targets as we head into the fall.

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Ok, seriously, I can’t write any more, and I bet your eyes hurt if you’ve made it this far. So next week, Duke defense preview time. Until then, WE ARE DUKE.