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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.

NFL stars Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks have been working out at Duke this week.

BDN’s Football Friday

NFL stars Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks have been working out at Duke this week.

Fear not, loyal fans, Football Friday returns! If you’ve been under a rock for the past week, please be sure to check out all of our great interviews and reports from the NBPA Top 100 Camp. BDN was on the scene as always and has the best content with Duke’s prospects in 2012 and beyond. After a week hiatus here at Football Friday, we have a lot to discuss this week, so…lesssgo.

Congratulations to Kyrie, Nolan, and Kyle

All of us at Blue Devil Nation wish the best to Kyrie Irving, Nolan Smith, and Kyle Singler, as they begin their NBA journey. To hear their names called last night was certainly a dream come true for each of them and their families. We’ll be pulling for them and we know they will continue to make Duke fans proud in all that they do.

NFL stars invade Duke Football Facilities

With the NFL lockout continuing to drag on, former Duke QB Thad Lewis has become a fixture around campus this summer, but the Duke players were in for a surprise this week as they hit the weight room and the practice field. New York Giants Super Bowl XLII MVP QB Eli Manning has been working out at Duke this week with his receivers, including former UNC star Hakeem Nicks. The NFL players’ presence created a buzz on campus and among the Duke players, generating some excitement around Duke Football during the dog days of summer. It’s a great testament to the investment Duke has made in their football facilities that NFL players are working out on campus. As the program continues to build, Duke’s presence in the NFL should continue to improve.

Duke solidified their special teams for the future with Thursday's commitment from Ross Martin

 

Nine in Class of 2012

Duke is up to nine verbal commitments in the class of 2012 with the addition of kicker Ross Martin and offensive linemen Casey Blaser and Tanner Stone in the past week. All three were on campus recently for Duke’s football camps and outworked the competition to earn scholarship offers. At 6’5” and 6’6”, Casey and Tanner have solid frames to grow into with some work in the weight room, and appear poised to help anchor the Blue Devil line in 2012 and beyond. Martin is ranked as one of the top placekickers in the country by kicking guru Chris Sailer, and will join 2011 punter Will Monday to solidify Duke’s special teams for years to come.

Camp All-Stars

Duke hosted hundreds of young football players over the past two weeks, all of whom were looking to make a name for themselves in the eyes of the Duke coaching staff. Overall, the competition was outstanding and the Duke staff was thrilled with the turnout from not only the class of 2012, but future classes as well. Several of the camp standouts are already members of the Duke class of 2012, validating the staff’s previous scouting and evaluation. Jacksonville stars Dwayne Norman and Erich Schneider were impressive at safety and tight end; both remain solid verbal commitments to the Blue Devils. Along the offensive line, the two newest Blue Devils, Blaser and Stone, were among the best blockers on the field. The two big linemen have great athletic ability, work ethic, and football mentality.

Three 2012 quarterbacks stood out among the dozens of signal-callers who attended the various Duke camps and the David Cutcliffe QB College. The Blue Devils first offered Miami’s Bilal Marshall back in January, and they remain impressed with his dual-threat ability, hoping he will choose to become an impact player for the Blue Devil program. Highly-coveted lefty Tyler Cameron also showed great dual-threat ability, while 6’5” sleeper Thomas Sirk simply blew the staff away with his arm, ultimately earning himself a scholarship offer from Coach Cutcliffe. At the other skill positions, two receivers from the class of 2013 also earned themselves early scholarship offers. Jacksonville’s Ahmad Fulwood, at 6’4,” seemed to haul in everything thrown his way, while Ohio’s Shelton Gibson showcased his tremendous speed. Charlotte’s Jela Duncan posted a blazing fast 40 time, and he remains at the top of Duke’s RB wish list, along with Tarboro star Todd Gurley and bruising SC back Dondre Brown.

Duke was the first to offer Tarboro RB Todd Gurley, and he remains their top target

 

Rubber, meet road

With Duke’s camps now complete and fall training camp still over a month away, the focus over the next several weeks will almost exclusively be on filling out the class of 2012. With the advent of the internet, everyone is now able to become a self-proclaimed expert when it comes to recruiting. But unlike basketball, where one recruit can truly make or break a class, it’s essential to see the big picture in football recruiting. Let’s try to take a look at the forest, instead of the trees.

The best place to start is probably with a rough sketch of the Duke 2012 roster, barring any early defections or injuries, to give us a sense of the Blue Devils’ scholarship situation, depth, and needs:

QB (4): Sean Renfree (R-Sr.), Sean Schroeder (R-Jr.), Brandon Connette (Jr.), Anthony Boone (R-So.)

RB (4): Patrick Kurunuwe (R-Sr.), Desmond Scott (Sr.), Josh Snead (Jr.), Juwan Thompson (Jr.)

WR (8): Conner Vernon (Sr.), Corey Gattis (R-Jr.), Tyree Watkins (R-Jr.), Brandon Braxton (Jr.), Jamison Crowder (?So.), Blair Holliday (R-Fr.), Nick Hill (R-Fr.), Max McCaffrey (Fr.)

TE (5): Jack Farrell (R-Jr.), Ryan Hall (R-Jr.), Braxton Deaver (R-So.), David Reeves (?So.), Erich Schneider (Fr.)

OT (5): Perry Simmons (R-Jr.), Takoby Cofield (R-So.), Marcus Aprahamian (R-Fr.), Casey Blaser (Fr.), Tanner Stone (Fr.)

OG (6): Dave Harding (R-Jr.), Joey Finison (R-Jr.), John Coleman (R-Jr.), Laken Tomlinson (R-So.), Lucas Patrick (R-Fr.), Cody Robinson (R-Fr.)

C (3): Brian Moore (R-Sr.), Conor Irwin (R-Sr.), Matt Skura (R-Fr.)

DE (10): Kenny Anunike (R-Sr.), Justin Foxx (R-Jr.), Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo (R-So.), Dezmond Johnson (R-So.), Nick Sink (R-So.), Jamal Wallace (R-So.), Sam Marshall (R-Fr.), Mario Sanders (R-Fr.), Allen Jackson (Fr.), Carlos Wray (Fr.)

DT (7): Curtis Hazelton (R-Sr.), Sydney Sarmiento (R-Jr.), Will Bryant (R-So.), Steven Ingram (R-So.), Jamal Bruce (R-So.), Lucas Fisher (R-Fr.), Carson Ginn (R-Fr.)

LB (9): Austin Gamble (Sr.), Kevin Rojas (R-Jr.), Kelby Brown (Jr.), C.J. France (R-So.), Kyler Brown (?So.), David Helton (?So.), Britton Grier (R-Fr.), Jon Woodruff (R-Fr.), Deion Williams (Fr.)

CB (8): Tony Foster (R-Sr.), Zach Greene (Sr.), Ross Cockrell (R-Jr.), Lex Butler (R-Jr.), Garrett Patterson (R-Jr.), Quan Stevenson (R-So.), Jared Boyd (?So.), Tim Burton (R-Fr.)

SAF (8): Jordon Byas (R-Sr.), Walt Canty (Sr.), Taylor Sowell (R-Jr.), August Campbell (R-Jr.), Anthony Young-Wiseman (R-Jr.), Issac Blakeney (R-So.), Chris Tavarez (R-Fr.), Dwayne Norman (Fr.)

K (2): Paul Asack (R-Sr.), Ross Martin (Fr.)

P (1): Will Monday (So.)

WR Drae Bowles could become a program-changer for the Blue Devils, on and off the field

With only a handful of scholarships remaining (if my math is right, please don’t check me), Duke has a glaring need at RB, where they will only have four scholarship players and no underclassmen. The expectation is that Duke will look to add at least one, but probably two running back prospects with their remaining scholarships. We also think that the staff would love to add a top QB to follow behind Boone, with Bilal Marshall and Thomas Sirk at the top of the list. At receiver, Duke could look to add someone alongside McCaffrey, and Drae Bowles is the number one priority; those around the program call the highly-coveted Bowles a potential program-changing recruit for the Blue Devils.

Duke probably needs to add another tight end in 2012 to join Erich Schneider, and the top two targets are currently Dan Beilinson and Ryan Morris. Elsewhere along the offensive line, Duke has a great amount of depth, which will allow Blaser and Stone to develop during their first years in Durham. There could be room for at least one more lineman in this class, and Duke remains hopeful that Alex Kozan or Andrew Jelks (who will not be announcing his decision soon, contrary to reports) will make their pledge to the Blue Devils.

Defensively, Duke has to be thrilled with the first three members of the class of 2012; both Wray and Jackson should develop into top ACC pass-rushing ends, and Norman is the prototypical hard-hitting safety the coaching staff loves. The biggest remaining need defensively is probably at defensive tackle, where Duke would love to add a potential program-changer in Korren Kirven (although another option could be to move Wray to DT and add an elite DE). A top prospect like Keilin Rayner or Jeremiah Allison to join under-the-radar commit Deion Williams would solidify the linebacking corps, and there’s room for at least one more defensive back at corner or safety.

With the graduation of pre-season All-ACC and All-American selection Will Snyderwine, there will be big shoes to fill at placekicker, and Duke hopes that Ross Martin, one of the top five kickers in the country, will be up to the task. Alongside Will Monday, Martin should carry the Duke kicking game for the next several years.

Give us back the Victory Bell, cheaters

 

Closing thoughts

With so many moving pieces, it’s hard to keep a finger on the pulse of football recruiting, and even harder to objectively evaluate individual commitments. Duke has done a nice job so far of adding solid athletes at positions of need (DE, SAF), while also bringing in a few prospects with high potential at positions of depth (OL, WR). Scholarships remain available for potential program-changers like Drae Bowles or Korren Kirven, and the best way to secure those commitments will be to win games this fall.

Well, that was quite the whirlwind of name-dropping. If we still haven’t satisfied your craving for Duke football, be sure to check out our recent previews featured on College Football Zealots and BC Interruption. And of course follow us on Twitter for up to the minute updates on Duke Football recruiting and team news. We’re on Facebook, too, by the way. And if you clicked on all the links in this article and are wondering why you can’t read the interviews, then it’s time for you to join BDN Premium. If you want to discuss Duke Football, correct my earlier math, or simply just want to become the most well-informed Duke fan on the planet, then you should also join BDN Premium. And current members, be sure to check out our new-look Football Message Boards today.

I guess that’s it for this week. Seriously? You were going to let me get away with that? Yeah, something kind of big happened in Chapel Hill this week. But see, there isn’t much to say, really, the NCAA took care of that for me. And so did Stewart Mandel. And Brett McMurphy. Good luck with all that, Butch. And give us back the Victory Bell.

Until next week, WE ARE DUKE.

This is a sample of the weekly Duke Football updates you’ll have access to as a BDN Premium member.  Join today and get inside access to happenings around the athletic programs where you’ll have a front row seat on the recruiting front.

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

BDN’s Football Friday!

It’s Friday afternoon, which can only mean one thing – Football Friday! This week, we take a look at Duke’s 2011 ACC opponents spring practices along with some recruiting updates. [private]

It’s a long one this week, so I won’t distract you with any witty opening filler. Let’s get right to it.

Matt Daniels named to Lott IMPACT Trophy Watch List

Duke DB Matt Daniels strikes a pose for BDN Photo

That’s a mouthful of an accomplishment. Interestingly, there were 11 candidates from the ACC, more than any other conference. Daniels is a player that I’ve enjoyed watching develop over his four years in Durham, and I always feel like he has another level we still haven’t seen. Hopefully, this will be the year that he reaches that level and helps to turn around the Duke defensive unit. As one of the most versatile players on defense, his playmaking ability will be key to the Blue Devils’ success in 2011.

Scouting the ACC spring practices

With lots of transitions occurring on the sidelines and under center around the ACC this year, it may be a good opportunity for the Blue Devils to pull off a few upsets. Several teams will wrap up their 2011 spring practice this weekend with their spring games, so be sure to tune in to the ESPN family of networks to scout out some of Duke’s 2011 opponents (ESPN – you can email me for the address to mail my endorsement check). So sit back and enjoy a cold one while we take a whirlwind tour around the ACC. Oh wait, you’re still at work, so grab a cup of coffee instead? Anyway, here are some of the headlines from Duke’s 2011 ACC opponents this spring:

Boston College: the Eagles will be Duke’s first ACC opponent this fall, which may be a good thing for the Blue Devils. BC will return nearly all of their offensive starters, who will be operating under a new coordinator in Kevin Rogers. The emphasis so far this spring appears to be on the passing game, which has been inconsistent so far this spring. In the first scrimmage of the spring, Chase Rettig was on the same page with his receivers, and the BC offense finished with 5 touchdowns. In their second scrimmage, however, the defense had their way with the new offense, finishing with 4 interceptions and 4 sacks. BC will be a tough opponent, as we saw last year in Wallace Wade Stadium, mostly due to Montel Harris on the ground, and Luke Kuechly on defense. If Rettig and his receivers can develop consistency, BC will be a dangerous team for the entire ACC.

Florida State: most expect the Seminoles to be at the top of the ACC in 2011, and you can see for yourself on Saturday at 4PM on ESPN3. This team will go as far as QB E.J. Manuel can take them, and the indications this spring are pretty good. Manuel is the athletic signal-caller that has given the Blue Devils trouble in recent years. Perhaps the biggest question for the Seminoles will be their offensive line, where they will have to replace 2 starters and had 4 players out for spring practice. Overall, the Seminoles lost only 3 starters each on offense and defense, and the expectations are high in Tallahassee.

Wake Forest: the Deacs’ will hold their spring game on Saturday at 1 PM. After a disappointing 2010, Wake Forest loses 8 starters. Tanner Price is the unquestioned starter on offense and will be backed up by Ted Stachitas. Both players gave the Blue Devils trouble last year in a  54-48 loss in Winston-Salem. Much like the Blue Devils, the Deacs struggled mightily on defense last year, and Coach Jim Grobe has been pleased with the defensive intensity this spring. The running game will be led by Josh Harris and Brandon Pendergrass, but questions remain in the kicking game for Wake Forest. The expectation is for this team to be improved from a season ago, but in order for that to happen, they will have to show more consistency this fall than they have this spring.

Virginia Tech: the Hokies lose perhaps the most of any Duke opponent in 2011, but in Blacksburg, they reload, not rebuild. The defending ACC champs lose QB Tyrod Taylor along with RB Ryan Williams and RB Darren Evans to the NFL, leaving the Hokies’ offense in the hands of redshirt-sophomore Logan Thomas and junior tailback David Wilson. There have been rave reviews this spring for Wilson (even though he’s missed several practices due to track), who is working under first year running back coach Shane Beamer (yes, Frank’s son), after long-time assistant Billy Hite retired. The VT defense also has questions as they replace 5 starters from 2010, but the Blue Devils will have to keep the ball away from returning CB Jayron Hosley, who led the country with 9 interceptions and 17 defended passes in 2010.

Miami: lots of changes in Coral Gables this spring under new head coach Al Golden. The Hurricanes will hold their spring game on Saturday at 3 PM, and questions still remain heading into the fall. The coaching staff has been openly disappointed in the intensity and conditioning of many of the Miami players this spring, and Golden has left the depth chart up for grabs this spring. That includes quarterback, where Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris are battling for the starting job, though Spencer Whippel was the starter heading into the spring. We’ll get to see lots more from the Hurricanes, as they’ve struck a deal with ESPNU to air a series of All-Access shows this spring.

Virginia: the Wahoos wrapped up spring practice last week with nearly as many questions as answers. It’s a complete toss-up at quarterback, where the updated depth chart lists Michael Rocco and Ross Matheney in the “first group” and Michael Strauss and David Watford in the “second group.” In short, no one has established themselves as the leader of this offense this spring, and that has to be a concern for a team that loses 19 lettermen, including 5 starters. After a shootout in Wallace Wade Stadium last year, the Blue Devils will be glad to hear that QB Marc Verica and RB Keith Payne are among the starters lost. The Cavaliers’ defense should be improved from a year ago as they enter their second year in the 4-3 scheme, and will be anchored in the secondary by CB Chase Minnifield, who finished 2010 with 6 interceptions. Offensively, it’s tough to evaluate a team with 4 inexperienced potential starters at QB.

Georgia Tech: the Yellow Jackets are yet another ACC team who will be breaking in a new QB in 2011, as Tevin Washington takes over for Josh Nesbitt. The Blue Devils saw plenty of Washington in 2010 in their 30-20 loss in Atlanta. This spring, head coach Paul Johnson has been disappointed in the play of his offensive line, which returns three starters from a year ago. In addition to Nesbitt, the Jackets’ triple-option offense will have to replace Anthony Allen at B-back, but return Roddy Jones and Orwin Smith at A-back. Defensively, GT will have to replace 6 starters, but they do return all 3 starters up front in Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme. The front three will have to be the strength of this defense, and it has impressed the coaching staff this spring.

North Carolina: if you thought Bieber fever was annoying, wait until you meet the Tar Heels with Renner fever. Bryn Renner inherits the starting job at quarterback, and impressed the Tar Heel faithful with a 9/13, 123 yard performance in their spring game. The highlight was a 43-yard pass to Erik Highsmith, something UNC saw far less often during the T.J. Yates era. After a tumultuous 2010 and an ongoing NCAA investigation, the Tar Heels will have several new faces on both sides of the ball in 2011. Five starters depart on both offense and defense, which means that the few returning starters, such as senior DE Quinton Coples and senior TB Ryan Houston will have to shoulder (no pun intended) much of the load on defense and offense, respectively. Despite suffering a broken scapula in the spring game, head coach Butch Davis expects Houston to be an every-down back for the Tar Heels this fall.

 

Spring evaluation period starts today

Ok, I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted after that tour of the ACC. That took some serious work, and I didn’t even talk about NC State, Clemson, or Maryland. Anyway, recruiting gets back into full gear today, as the spring evaluation period opens up. So what does that actually mean? The Duke staff has 168 evaluation days to use between now and May 31. An evaluation day is a day spent in evaluation of a prospect’s athletic and/or academic ability. The staff is limited to 1 athletic evaluation and 1 academic evaluation per prospect during this time. So whom will the staff be visiting? Let’s take a look at the offers out there by position.

Bilal Marshall is the first 2012 QB with a Duke offer

Quarterbacks: we’ll start with the glamour position, and one that Duke has built into a strength for 2011 with Sean Renfree, Brandon Connette, and Anthony Boone. Miami’s Bilal Marshall remains the only quarterback prospect with a Duke offer, and we’ll check back in with him soon to get an update on his recruitment. There are 19 other QBs on the board, highlighted by names like Bart Houston, Casey Cochran, and Matt Johnson.

Running backs: Duke remains committed to taking at least one or two running backs in the class of 2012, and they’ve extended 7 offers with 17 other prospects under evaluation. Keith Marshall is at the top of every school’s list, but he’s joined by Todd Gurley, Dami Ayoola, Dondre Brown, Dontonio Jordan, Jay Jay McCullough, and Nick Tompkins as prospects with verbal offers.

Wide receivers: with Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon now upperclassmen, the Blue Devils will look to reload at receiver in the class of 2012. Seven receivers have verbal offers, which include Nelson Agholor, Jared Crump, Desmond Frye, P.J. Harris, Justin Johnson, Max McCaffrey, and Darius Powe. Twelve other receivers are on the Blue Devils’ list of 2012 prospects.

Tight ends: the Blue Devils’ got on the board early with a commitment from Erich Schneider, but remain in pursuit of top TEs Dan Beilinson, Kent Taylor, and Evan Baylis.

Linemen: as would be expected, linemen make up the majority of verbal scholarship offers to date. On the offensive line, Duke is looking to add a few top prospects and has extended 11 offers to players like Patrick DeStefano, Mark Harrell, D.J. Humphries, Andrew Jelks, Eric Olson, and Max Tuerk. The emphasis, however, is the defensive line, where Duke has extended 17 verbal offers to players like Allen Jackson (committed), Korren Kirven, D.J. Reader, Jordan Watkins, and Carlos Wray. In addition to the prospects with offers, Duke has over 40 other linemen on their recruiting board.

Linebackers: Duke is going hard after two linebackers in particular early in Keilin Rayner and Deion Williams. There are several others under evaluation, but the Blue Devils remain in good shape with those two players.

Secondary: the defensive secondary is another position of emphasis in the class of 2012, and the Blue Devils have extended offers to 13 prospects at cornerback and safety. In addition to players like Michael Summers, Albert Reid, Ron Geohaghan, and Dwayne Norman, the staff is evaluating another 15 prospects.

We’ll be back

Lots of recruiting coverage coming this week as the staff hits the recruiting trail and we tag along for the ride. No idea what we’ll talk about next week, so you’ll just have to come back to find out. As always, feel free to join in the discussion on our message board if you need a football fix before next Friday. WE ARE DUKE.

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