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.
Head Coach David Cutcliffe and the Duke coaching staff received their 3rd verbal commitment in the class of 2013 on Wednesday from Virginia CB Evrett Edwards. Edwards is a 5’11″ 175 pound cornerback prospect from Woodbridge HS in Woodbridge, VA. Though he didn’t start playing football until 8th grade, Edwards was a quick study, learning from his uncle, Benny Guilbeaux, a former safety at Notre Dame. By his junior year in 2011, Edwards earned 1st Team All-District honors, totaling 38 tackles, 6 interceptions, 4 pass break-ups, 3 fumble recoveries, 2 blocked field goals, and 1 blocked punt. The speedy prospect has seen his recruitment take off in recent weeks, and he chose the Blue Devils over scholarship offers from Boston College, Illinois, Ohio, Wake Forest, and West Virginia. He picked up his Duke scholarship offer on a March 17th visit to Durham and caught up with BDN shortly afterwards. He updated BDN today on his decision to commit to Duke.
BDN: Can you tell us about the decision you made today?
I called Coach Cutcliffe around 2:30 and told him I wanted to be a Blue Devil and I wanted to play for him after I finish high school.
BDN: What did Coach Cutcliffe have to say to you?
We were both very excited. He was proud. He was glad that I called him first, he was very glad about that. He let my position coach and my recruiting coach know.
BDN: I know that your family was involved in your decision; are they excited for you as well?
Yes, very much so!
BDN: What was it that ultimately led to your decision to commit to Duke today?
The fact that - the relationships there. I did my research on the school, I didn't do what most players do and look at uniforms and what not, I looked at the endowment, what I can do for the school and what the school can do for me, and I really liked that. And just the relationships - the conversation that I had with Coach Cutcliffe, it was very big in my decision.
BDN: I'm sure Duke fans will be excited to hear from you; is there anything you want to let them know?
BDN: Alright, thanks a lot Evrett and congratulations!
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.
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.
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 senior WR Conner Vernon is poised to rewrite the Duke and ACC record books during his final campaign in Durham this fall. Vernon will enter his senior year just 34 catches and 842 yards shy of the ACC career record-holders. After flirting with the NFL Draft earlier this offseason, Vernon is committed to finishing what he started at Duke before moving on to the next level.
BDN caught up with the Blue Devils’ star receiver after spring practice earlier this week.
BDN: You've been limited by injury this spring. First of all, how is your health right now?
It’s better. I’m back out there, I was out there today for practice, and I’m looking forward to getting back out there.
BDN: Should fans expect to see you in the Spring Game on March 31?
Yes, that’s what I’m hoping.
BDN: After three All-ACC caliber seasons at Duke, you considered entering the NFL Draft this year. Can you talk a little bit about that process and ultimately, why did you decide to return to Duke for your senior year?
Really, it just came down to just trying to finish what I came here to do at Duke, and that’s to get them back to the program they once were. I really just wanted to jump start the new direction that Coach Cutcliffe has turned this program around in. Also, finishing up graduating and getting my degree was a really big thing for me and my family, so that also played a role into it.
BDN: As a rising senior, you now become one of the veterans and leaders on this team. What is your assessment of the team in spring practice so far, especially as you compare it to past seasons?
This team, we’re a really young team, but we have a lot of talent, which is something we’ve had in the past, but I think the difference now is that we have a lot more depth at each position, and that’s going to help us a lot. We have a lot of young guys who have grown up a lot this spring, who have shown that they can play at this level, which is a big improvement from prior years. We have a very good recruiting class coming in that will have some guys who can play right away, and we’re hoping that will push some of the older guys to keep working to keep getting better. Really, that’s what this spring is all about. The competition level has been a lot higher than it has been in the past.
BDN: You mentioned the youth on this team and the higher level of competition in practices. Who are some of your younger teammates that have impressed you this spring?
From what I’ve seen so far, some of the young guys who have really stepped up is Blair Holliday at the receiver position, he’s taken on a starting role and has been playing a lot with the 1 offense, he’s really stepped up. On the defensive side, Kyler Brown, Kelby’s younger brother, he’s been all over the field, flying around, so that’s been really good to see. I’m definitely missing a few, there’s been a bunch. Dezmond Johnson has really stepped up on defense. There’s been a bunch of guys I’m missing right now, but when we pull up the tape you’ll see flashes from some guys that are really impressive and things that they haven’t shown in the past.
BDN: Over the past couple of seasons, Duke has struggled to score in the red zone. Why do you think this is? What are you working on this spring to improve the red zone offense?
I think it’s really just an execution standpoint, for some reason down there we just lack execution. It’s something we have to fix because we have to score points down there, field goals aren’t going to cut it, we need touchdowns. Also, down there execution is very important because you don’t have a lot of room to work with. It’s difficult down there to throw the ball so we have to have our running game, which has stepped up a lot this spring. That’s something we’re looking forward to this fall, being able to run the ball down there as opposed to relying on the past.
BDN: You're closing in on an historic career at Duke, and looking to lead this team back to a bowl game in your senior year. What are some of the things that come to mind as you reflect back on your decision to come to Duke and your career here?
If I could do it all over again, I would do everything the same. This has been home for the last four years and it’s been a great four years. I’ve been put in a position with this offense and Coach Cutcliffe’s game plan to be able to be successful and have these kind of records, it’s an honor. From the moment I stepped on campus to where we are now, the difference is monumental. From our new facilities, we have the new Pascal Indoor Facility. When I first got here, the Brooks Facility wasn’t up yet, so I got to see that develop. Then we’ve added to our weight room, and really just the buzz around town is that Duke Football isn’t an afterthought now. It’s what’s happening now around Durham, and that’s something that was nonexistent before Coach Cutcliffe got here. Getting to see that grow has really been fun to watch.
BDN: Thanks a lot, Conner, and best of luck this fall.
Thank you so much, Patrick!
As Signing Day 2012 approaches, the focus remains on rounding out this year's recruiting class. However, the Blue Devil coaching staff has strengthened their roster with the transfer of a hard-hitting defender from The Ohio State University. Duke sources have confirmed to BDN that 6'2" 190 pound safety Jeremy Cash has transferred to Duke and enrolled in classes for the spring 2012 semester.
Cash enrolled at Ohio State last January and played in five games as a true freshman and registered 3 tackles. A native of Plantation, Florida, Cash was rated a 4-star prospect by ESPN coming out of high school and held scholarship offers from Arizona State, Florida State, Louisville, LSU, Miami, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Stanford, Wake Forest, and Wisconsin. A 4.0-student, Cash will have three years of eligibility remaining in Durham. He will join a Duke secondary that will have to replace All-ACC safety Matt Daniels in 2012.
The Blue Devils will host their final official visits of the 2012 recruiting season this weekend and BDN will have all the coverage as Duke looks to finish out this year's class strong.
Head Coach David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils had a productive weekend, hosting 13 prospects on official visits and securing three verbal commitments. The commitments bring Duke's class of 2012 to a total of 18 verbal commitments and help to solidify key areas of need for the program. Here's a quick look at the newest Blue Devils. Check back in to BDN for the latest from the players themselves. Welcome to Duke!
RB Shaquille Powell
Weight: 200 pounds
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada
High School: Bishop Gorman
Statistics: 2,427 yards and 40 touchdowns
Scholarship offers: Arizona State, Vanderbilt, Fresno State, San Diego State, Illinois, UNLV, Northern Arizona
BDN Scouting Report: Powell is an excellent between the tackles runner and brings an added dimension to the Duke backfield. He does not have elite speed, but is elusive and was a workhorse in high school for Bishop Gorman. He should be an excellent short-yardage and goal-line threat from day one. He will need to continue to improve his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and block to become an every down back at the college level. Overall, however, Duke fans should be excited about this pick-up. The coaching staff worked hard to land an elite back in this class and Powell is a great fit. The addition of a blazer like Jela Duncan could be the perfect complement to finish off the Blue Devil class of 2012.
DT Terrell Jackson
Weight: 270 pounds
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
High School: Marion-Franklin
Statistics: 75 tackles and 20 sacks
Scholarship offers: Akron, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami (OH), Toledo
BDN Scouting Report: Jackson is an under the radar lineman who impressed the staff at camp this summer. He will have to add some size and strength to play DT at the next level, but has the instincts and technique to be a solid ACC lineman in Durham. He's shown flashes of ability as a run-stopper and was an elite pass-rusher in high school, earning 1st Team All-State honors. An intelligent player, he should be a quick study at the college level. Overall, Jackson is another player who fits the athletic mold Duke has been recruiting on the defensive line over the past few classes. Under Rick Petri's tutelage, this group should continue to outperform expectations.
SAF Corbin McCarthy
Weight: 205 pounds
Hometown: Norco, California
High School: Norco High School
Statistics: 50 tackles, 25 passes defended
Scholarship offers: Cal Poly
BDN Scouting Report: McCarthy joins several other lightly-recruited Californians in Durham. The hard-hitting safety has had aspirations of playing ACC football and the Blue Devils were the first to offer him that opportunity. McCarthy will have work to do to become an ACC caliber defender, primarily in the weight room where he needs to get stronger and faster. He's another intelligent football player with good instincts, and that should help him adjust to the college game. Coach Cutcliffe has focused on bringing in better athletes to Durham, and though undersized, McCarthy fits that bill. Coach Knowles has developed a group of outstanding safeties in Durham, and McCarthy has the tools to continue that tradition.