Tag Archives: Donovan Varner

Let's get this season started!

It’s always football season at BDN’s Football Friday

Happy Independence Day, Blue Devil Nation!

Even on a holiday weekend, it’s still time for BDN’s Football Friday, a weekly look inside the world of Duke Football. If you enjoy this weekly column, please consider becoming a BDN Premium Member and joining our growing community of Duke Football fans. As we say goodbye to the month of June, it’s time to look back at an eventful month in Duke Football, and look ahead to the 2011 season, which kicks off in just 63 days!!! Of course, it’s always football season at Football Friday.

It’s finally here!

Next week kicks off the release of college football’s preseason award lists. What, you thought I was talking about Harry Potter? Oh, please. Starting on Tuesday, the College Football Awards Association will release their preseason award watch lists. While Duke still has a long way to go in regards to earning the respect of the national college football community, there are a few Duke players who should be nominated. On Wednesday, the Biletnikoff (top WR) and Mackey Award (top TE) watch lists will be announced, and Duke’s Conner Vernon, Donovan Varner, and Cooper Helfet are certainly deserving of consideration. As a 2010 semi-finalist, Duke’s Will Snyderwine should be named to the Lou Groza Award watch list on Thursday. Of course, the awards will ultimately be earned on the field, but it’s important for Duke players to receive the preseason recognition they deserve.

Changing of the guard

Head Coach David Cutcliffe announced a few changes to his football staff today. “We are very excited with our recent hires and adjustments to the staff,” Cutcliffe stated.  “I have either coached or fostered long term relationships with each of these young people and their families.  It is great to surround yourself with people you deeply care for and know are winners on and off the field.  We approach the 2011 season with great enthusiasm.” Among the changes, the staff welcomes back former Blue Devil All-American defensive lineman Vince Oghobaase as a staff assistant. John Russell, a former NFL and Wake Forest linebacker, joins the staff as a graduate assistant, and current recruiting assistant Ben Loebner has been promoted to a graduate assistant. Former Duke All-ACC cornerback Leon Wright has been named a Defensive Operations assistant and Jomar Wright switches his title from graduate assistant to recruiting assistant. Marcus Johnson, a former NFL and All-SEC offensive lineman, joins the Duke strength and conditioning staff. Welcome to all the new coaches, and good luck this fall!

Welcome to Duke, Thomas!

Boy, that escalated quickly…

Duke entered the month of June with four verbal commitments in the class of 2012: TE Erich Schneider, DE Allen Jackson, SAF Dwayne Norman, and LB Deion Williams. We now leave the month of June with twelve verbal commitments, capped off by a big week, in which the Blue Devils added their QB of the future in Thomas Sirk and one of the top TEs in the state in Dan Beilinson. BDN members were the first to hear about these commitments, and we’ll continue to bring you the best Duke Football recruiting coverage around.

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

 

 

Get ‘em while they’re hot…

With only a handful of scholarships remaining in the class of 2012, Duke is hoping to land a few impact players over the next several weeks. As we’ve mentioned earlier, the Blue Devils will need to add a RB in this class, and Tarboro’s Todd Gurley, along with Charlotte’s Jela Duncan, remain the coaching staff’s top two priorities. Gurley recently won a national championship in track and will represent the US in France later this summer. The Duke staff continues to work hard on the recruiting trail, hoping to cap off the class of 2012 with a program-changer or two like WR Drae Bowles or DT Korren Kirven. A quick look at the 2011 Duke roster shows that Duke will graduate 18 players this season. Duke is certainly hopeful that the group of redshirt-juniors will stay with the program for their final year of eligibility in 2012, meaning that scholarships are getting tight in the class of 2012. For those remaining prospects considering Duke offers, the smart move would be to act quickly.

Rams' QB Thad Lewis has high expectations for the 2011 Blue Devils

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say they’ll go bowling…”

With the NFL lockout dragging on, Duke has been fortunate to have former QB Thad Lewis around campus for most of the summer. BDN caught up with the Blue Devil record-holder earlier this summer, and GoDuke featured an interview earlier this week. Thad has big expectations for Sean Renfree and the Blue Devils in 2011, and after leading Duke to 5 wins in his senior year, he knows what it takes to win in the ACC.

Reasons for optimism

Overall, there is tremendous optimism around the Duke Football program, and many fans (with a few outspoken exceptions) have high hopes for the 2011 season. Starting next week, BDN will take an in-depth look at each of Duke’s 2011 opponents, beginning with the Richmond Spiders. We’re fortunate to have been able to team up with some great writers from other schools to give us an inside look at Duke’s competition. In general, though, we know Duke faces a tough schedule this fall, and after a 3-win season in 2010, why all the optimism? Before we start analyzing Duke’s opponents, let’s take a brief look at some 2010 statistics, and a 2011 position group assessment.

  • In 2010, Duke lost 4 games by 6 points or less.
  • Duke had 43 trips to the redzone in 2010, but found the end zone only 22 times, barely 50% of the time. Luckily, pre-season All-ACC kicker Will Snyderwine was able to add 16 field goals to help keep the Blue Devils in games.
  • The 3rd quarter was unkind to the 2010 Blue Devils. Duke either had a lead, or were within 1 score at halftime in 8 of their 12 games, but only won 3 games.
  • Finishing games was also difficult for the 2010 Duke team, as they had a lead or were within 1 score entering the 4th quarter in 6 of their 12 games, but again, only won 3 games.
  • Turnover margin may have been the key statistic to Duke’s 2010 season, but there is reason for optimism. Over the first 7 games, Duke had a turnover margin of -12 (21 to 9), but a turnover margin of +1 in their final 5 games (7 to 8).
  • The much-maligned Duke defense had difficult pressuring the quarterback all season, but again, there was subtle improvement. With just 4 sacks through their first 6 games, Duke finished with 8 sacks in their final 6 games. Five of Duke’s final six opponents were bowl teams.

It's no secret that Duke's 2011 hopes rest on the shoulders of QB Sean Renfree

 

 

QB: Duke returns their top two quarterbacks in 2011 in starting redshirt-junior Sean Renfree and sophomore backup Brandon Connette. With a year of starting experience under his belt, the expectations are sky-high for Renfree, who Coach Cutcliffe described as having a “great” spring. Anthony Boone will add depth to the position after redshirting in 2010.

RB: Duke returns all five of their running backs from 2010, led by junior Desmond Scott, who has paced the Blue Devils in rushing as both a freshman and a sophomore. Duke improved their rushing yards by 46.5 yards per game from 2009 to 2010, and scored 13 more touchdowns on the ground. With all of their top rushers and blockers returning, there is no reason not to expect similar improvement in 2011.

WR: Duke loses Austin Kelly, who had been a solid receiver for the program in his four years in Durham, but brings back All-ACC receivers Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon. Sophomore Brandon Braxton, after catching 14 passes in 2010, is expected to see an increased role as he fills in for Kelly. Tyree Watkins and Corey Gattis are two more underclassmen expected to fill out the depth chart at receiver in 2011.

TE: By the end of the 2011 season, junior college transfer Cooper Helfet established himself as one of Renfree’s favorite targets, and one of the top tight ends in the ACC. After a slow start and a nagging ankle injury, Helfet finished with at least 4 catches in his final 5 games, including a 122-yard game against Virginia. Redshirt-senior Danny Parker rejoins the tight end corps after the graduation of Brett Huffman and Brandon King. Redshirt-freshman Braxton Deaver is expected to compete for a starting spot this fall, and true freshman David Reeves is one of the top prospects in Duke’s class of 2011.

OL: Duke will return four of five starters in 2011, the lone loss being center Bryan Morgan. With Brian Moore sliding over to center from right guard, Duke’s entire offensive line should weigh in at 275 pounds or greater; redshirt-freshman Takoby Cofield and Laken Tomlinson both eclipse 300 pounds and are expected to compete for snaps.

DL: This position is the big question mark on the 2011 Duke team, but there are plenty of reasons to expect improvement over 2010. Despite losing starters Patrick Egboh and Wes Oglesby, Duke will add seven (7!) redshirt-freshmen to the depth chart along the defensive line in 2011. The Blue Devils return redshirt-senior Charlie Hatcher, along with redshirt-junior Kenny Anunike, redshirt-sophomore Justin Foxx, and redshirt-sophomore Sydney Sarmiento. This spring, however, it was the redshirt-freshmen who earned the highest accolades from the Duke coaching staff, led by DE Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and DT Jamal Bruce. With the coaching of Rick Petri, athleticism of the young redshirt-freshmen, and overall increased depth, this is a unit that should improve week-to-week in 2011 and give the Blue Devils a chance to win ball games.

LB: While most fans are concerned about the Blue Devils’ defensive line, the linebackers are another area that needs to improve from 2010, but has significant losses. Leading tackler Abraham Kromah has graduated along with Damian Thornton and Adam Banks. Standout freshman Kelby Brown returns after knee surgery, but is expected to be a full participant in fall camp. Duke has to hope that junior Austin Gamble and redshirt-sophomore Kevin Rojas, who have shown flashes of potential in the past, are ready for a breakout season in 2011. Coach Jim Collins has developed some great linebackers at Duke, and he will need to work his magic this year, as outside of those top three, the depth chart will be filled with first-year players in redshirt-freshman C.J. France, freshman Kyler Brown, freshman Britton Grier, freshman David Helton, and freshman Jon Woodruff.

CB: The loss of senior Chris Rwabukamba will be sorely missed within the Duke secondary, but the coaching staff believes the Blue Devils have several athletes ready to step up at cornerback, led by redshirt-sophomore Ross Cockrell. Despite an inconsistent freshman year as a starter, Cockrell finished 6th on the team with 60 tackles, and led the Blue Devils with 3 interceptions and was 2nd with 7 pass break-ups. Cockrell should take a step forward, as will senior Johnny Williams, in his second full year at cornerback. Zach Greene, Tony Foster, and Lex Butler will fill out the depth chart, but they may be pushed by freshmen Jared Boyd and Tim Burton.

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

SAF: The strongest positon group on Duke’s defense is safety, and the new 4-2-5 defense is designed to exploit that strength. Senior Matt Daniels should be poised for an All-ACC caliber year alongside fellow senior Lee Butler. The Duke staff has high expectations for redshirt-sophomore August Campbell and redshirt-freshman Issac Blakeney.

ST: Duke’s special teams has developed into a strength in recent years, and with Will Snyderwine handling the placekicking, it should remain a strength in 2011. Freshman Will Monday is expected to come in and compete with senior Alex King for the starting punter job, and it should be a good competition to watch in August.

Next week

Man, I thought it was going to be a short column this week. That never works out. If you’ve missed any of our recruiting coverage over the past month, be sure to catch up, as it is sure to be a sprint to the finish here in July. The entire class of 2011 will be on campus starting this weekend, and on behalf of all of us in the Blue Devil Nation, welcome to Duke! We have big expectations for this class, and we know they’ll have great success in Durham.

Some upcoming highlights to note – we will kickoff our 2011 previews next week with Richmond and Stanford, so be sure to check back for those. We’ll also run an in-depth interview with one of Duke’s top running back prospects this weekend, so check back in between fireworks shows. Be sure to join our Facebook group and follow us on Twitter. Have a great holiday weekend! Until next week, WE ARE DUKE.

 

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

 

DL Carlos Wray is the 6th verbal commitment in the class of 2012

BDN Free Football Friday Encore

DL Carlos Wray is the 6th verbal commitment in the class of 2012

Is it Friday already? Time flies when you’re knee deep in recruiting season. As we did last week, we’ll share Football Friday with everyone this week. If you like reading what we have to say, please consider joining BDN Premium. We’ve quickly become the best resource for all things Duke athletics around, and we’d love to have you join our community.

 

College football preview season

We mentioned last week that college football previews are in full swing as magazines hit newsstands and websites begin publishing their own predictions. While Duke is flying under the radar for most prognosticators in 2011, several Blue Devil players have garnered pre-season accolades. Will Snyderwine and Conner Vernon were named as preseason 1st Team All-ACC, while Matt Daniels, Cooper Helfet, Kyle Hill, Sean Renfree, and Donovan Varner were tabbed on the 3rd Team by Athlon Sports. I would caution those who are sleeping on Renfree and Varner in 2011; both have taken huge steps forward this offseason and are poised to lead the Blue Devils to a bowl this fall.

Chris Tavarez featured

Duke’s freshman safety has already made a name for himself in the acting world, and will star in a new NBC movie, “Field of Vision.” The Blue Devils are looking forward to Tavarez’s arrival on campus later this month.

Busy week

It’s been rapid fire at BDN this week, kicking off with the Blue Devils’ 6th verbal commitment in the class of 2012. Carlos Wray joins Allen Jackson as future Duke defensive linemen under new Coach Rick Petri. Wray and Jackson are both athletic prospects who will be fun to watch in Wallace Wade Stadium in the years to come.

With camp season in full swing, BDN checked in with several new Blue Devil prospects to learn more about where they are in their recruiting process, and learned that Duke has made a significant impression on many of them. Some of the new interviews we featured this week included:

LB Jeremiah Allison

OL Steven Foster

OL Bryce Kennedy

OL Casey Blaser

Duke would love for Keilin Rayner to join Deion Williams at LB in the class of 2012

We’ve also recently checked back in with two of Duke’s top targets on the defensive side of the ball:

LB Keilin Rayner

DT Korren Kirven

If you’ve followed Duke football recruiting in recent years, you know we are just getting started here in early June. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

 

Recruiting rewind

Most Duke fans are conditioned to expect recruiting success due to Coach K’s historic run in Durham. In football recruiting, you win some and you lose some. At BDN, we believe it’s more important to focus on the recruiting victories and keep things in perspective. Here’s a quick recap of some of Duke’s biggest recruiting coups in the last two classes alone.

Class of 2010

LB Kelby Brown

Duke fans didn’t know how good of a player they were getting when Brown committed to the Blue Devils in July 2009. The coaching staff was able to secure Kelby’s commitment over nine other scholarship offers from programs like Arkansas, Boston College, Louisville, Northwestern, UCLA, and Wisconsin. After knee surgery cut his freshman year short in 2010, Duke fans are expecting Brown to lead the Blue Devil defense in 2011 and beyond.

QB Brandon Connette

With Sean Renfree entrenched as the heir to Thad Lewis, it was easy to overlook the commitment from Connette, which the Blue Devils received early in the recruiting season, in May 2009. The Duke staff was able to beat out in-state power Stanford for Connette, who came in and led the Blue Devils with 8 rushing touchdowns as a freshman, a new school record.

RB Juwan Thompson

The Duke coaching staff went down to Georgia in the spring of 2009 and stole a pretty good running back prospect from the Peach State. Thompson committed to Duke in June 2009 over offers from Minnesota, Ole Miss, Stanford, UVA, and Wake Forest. After finishing in the ACC’s top 10 in kickoff returns as a freshman, the Blue Devils expect Thompson to see an increased workload in 2011.

RB Josh Snead

After landing 4-star prospect Desmond Scott in 2009, the Duke staff continued their impressive in-state recruiting, adding the speedy Snead to the class of 2010 in December 2009. Snead chose the Blue Devils over Georgia Tech, Louisville, NC State, and Vanderbilt. Along with Scott and Thompson, Snead is expected to be a key playmaker in the 2011 Blue Devil backfield.

 

Kyler and Kelby Brown are two of the Blue Devils' biggest recent recruiting successes

Class of 2011

OL Cody Robinson

The Duke coaching staff landed four impressive prospects from the state of Tennessee in the class of 2011, led by the 300-pound Robinson. Cody chose the Blue Devils over 8 other scholarship offers and is expected to anchor the Duke offensive line for years to come.

OL Marcus Aprahamian

Coach Luke and the Blue Devils went into the Midwest and secured a commitment from the top offensive line prospect in the state of Wisconsin in May 2010. Aprahamian, who called Duke his “dream school,” is expected to join fellow 300-pounder Robinson and anchor the Blue Devil offensive line.

LB David Helton

Another good-looking Tennessee prospect, Helton chose Duke over 7 other scholarship offers, including ACC rival Georgia Tech. Helton is a player many think could contribute as a true freshman in 2011.

CB Jared Boyd, CB Tim Burton, S Chris Tavarez

Duke fans are going to love watching this trio of defensive backs develop in Wallace Wade Stadium. The three bring a distinct swagger to Durham, and they all know how to make plays. Boyd, who hails from Georgia powerhouse Stephenson High School, chose Duke over 14 other scholarship offers, including programs like Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Stanford, and Vanderbilt. Burton brings the reputation of a big-time speedster and trash-talker from the talent-rich state of Florida, where he chose Duke over 7 other offers, including Big Ten power Wisconsin. Tavarez may be best known for his career as an actor so far, but he plans to make a name for himself on the gridiron at Duke, which he chose over 6 other offers, which included Maryland and Vanderbilt.

DE/LB Kyler Brown, ATH Jamison Crowder

Do you remember where you were on February 9, 2011? What about March 13, 2011? Of course, you were watching the Blue Devils beat the Tar Heels on the hardwood. What a great feeling for a Duke fan! So why don’t you remember July 20, 2010? Or February 1, 2011? Duke beat the Tar Heels on those days as well, landing commitments from Jamison Crowder and Kyler Brown. With Crowder’s athleticism and Brown’s family lineage, Blue Devil fans should know to expect both to find a way to make an impact this fall.

You could certainly add more to this list – TE David Reeves, who signed with Duke after a late push by SEC power Auburn; WR Blair Holliday, who chose Duke over hometown UCLA; big DL Sam Marshall, who chose Duke over ACC rivals NC State and Virginia; Will Monday, the top ranked punter in the class; and several others. For a program whose last bowl game was over 15 years ago, the Blue Devil coaching staff is doing an impressive job on the recruiting trail. If recruiting success is any indicator, Duke fans should expect to see results on the field sooner rather than later.

 

Keep up with all things Duke athletics here at BDN. As always, thanks for reading. Until next week, WE ARE DUKE.

 

Football Friday wishes Blue Devil Nation a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend

BDN Premium Football Friday: Recruiting updates

Football Friday wishes Blue Devil Nation a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend

In case you haven’t noticed, things tend to come in waves here at BDN Premium. With AAU coverage in full swing, we’re also entering the heat of the college football recruiting season. The Blue Devils have added another verbal commitment this week, and they’re just getting started. [private]

 

Class of 2012 up to 4

California LB Deion Williams joined TE Erich Schneider, DE Allen Jackson, and SAF Dwayne Norman as the first four verbal commitments in the class of 2012 this week. As a junior, Williams earned 2nd Team All-Trinity League honors, playing on both sides of the ball. Though Duke was his only offer to date, the coaching staff targeted Williams early on in the recruiting season and there’s reason to believe that they expect him to develop into a solid college player.

Back to the board

During the recent spring evaluation period, the Duke coaching staff was out in full force, scouting the country for players who will make an impact for their program. At the start of the evaluation period, Duke had extended around 50-60 offers. That number has now swelled to nearly 100, so let’s take another look at the recruiting board by position.

Duke was the first to offer Tarboro RB Todd Gurley

Running backs

Let’s start with one of the positions of greatest need in 2012, after not bringing in a running back in 2011. Duke is up to 12 offers at running back, a good indication that they hope to take more than one in this class. Eleven of those prospects are still undecided, with J.C. Coleman, a Virginia Tech commit, being the lone exception. Dontonio Jordan is expected to announce his decision today, with most expecting his pick to be Kansas or Stanford. We’ve already heard from several of the remaining prospects, so we have some idea of where Duke stands with them: Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, l’Tavius Mathers and Nick Tompkins. Interviews with some of the new names will be posted this week.

Offensive linemen

The offensive linemen are widely considered to be the strength of the class of 2011, and Duke hopes that success continues in the class of 2012. So far, Coach Luke and the staff have come up empty, losing six offensive line prospects to other schools; most recently, Patrick DeStefano to Clemson and Max Tuerk to USC. There are eleven uncommitted offensive line prospects remaining on Duke’s board, and we will focus on this position in interviews next week.

Defensive linemen

It’s no secret that Duke needs to improve on defense, and recruiting well along the defensive front would go a long way towards that cause. With an athletic defensive end prospect in Allen Jackson already on board, Duke is looking at 8 additional defensive end prospects and 12 defensive tackle prospects. Of those offered, only two have committed elsewhere: Brent Wilkerson to Penn State and Matt Godin to Michigan. Again, a lot of these prospects aren’t new to us: Torey Agee, Korren Kirven, David Reader, Jordan Watkins, and Carlos Wray.

Duke would love for Keilin Rayner to join Deion Williams at LB in the class of 2012

 

Linebackers

The Blue Devils added Deion Williams to the class of 2012 this week, and will look to add at least one additional linebacker in this class. Keilin Rayner remains at the top of the list, but Jeremiah Allison is a new west coast prospect that has entered the mix. We’ll hear from him this week as well.

Safeties

Dwayne Norman became the newest member of the Duke secondary last week, but he is joined by five other uncommitted prospects on the recruiting board, which includes Ron Geohaghan, C.J. Prosise, and Jonavaughn Williams.

Cornerbacks

After losing out on Ronald Darby to Notre Dame, Duke remains focused on a group of five cornerbacks, led by Larry Hope and Albert Reid.

Tight ends

Duke views Erich Schneider, the first commitment of the class of 2012, as a tight end prospect, but will need to add at least one more to build depth at the position with the graduation of Cooper Helfet and Danny Parker. While they lost out on Evan Baylis to Oregon, Duke remains aggressive with a group of elite tight ends, headlined by Dan Beilinson, Justin Meredith, Kent Taylor, and Colin Thompson.

Wide receivers

The Duke offense remains attractive to elite wide receivers, and with All-ACC receivers Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon now upperclassmen, the Blue Devils will need to reload at the position in the class of 2012. Micheal Summers is an athlete we recently heard from who could fit nicely as a slot receiver, and Duke continues to pursue Jared Crump, Justin Johnson, and Max McCaffrey.

Duke has offered GA dual-threat QB Chris Moody

Quarterbacks

So now you’re asking, did he really mean quarterbacks? I thought Bilal Marshall was the only one with an offer. Well, here’s your reward for reading this far. Duke has extended an offer to Georgia QB Chris Moody, another dual-threat prospect in the class of 2012. Moody has offers from other ACC programs such as Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech, along with an offer from Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks. Here’s a highlight clip for those who want to see more.

Busy week

For most of you, this is a holiday weekend, and we wish you a safe and happy Memorial Day. For those of us here at BDN Premium, it will be a busy weekend, and we hope you’ll come back for the best AAU and Duke football recruiting coverage around. WE ARE DUKE.

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Colorado WR Max McCaffrey, son of former NFL WR Ed McCaffrey and nephew of 1991 Duke National Champion Billy McCaffrey, was in Durham recently.

Football Friday: Mythbusters

You still haven’t joined BDN Premium? Man, you’re missing out!

collapsing the distinction between the exasperatingly silly and the charmingly naughty

…delivers plenty of wit, verve and surreal mayhem to entice…

A piece of fluff as artificially sweetened as a fuchsia Peep…

Thanks to its fondness for smushing together seemingly incongruous elements…is just demented enough to deliver a fleeting sugar rush… [private]

Surprisingly, those were the reviews for the movie Hop, not Football Friday, but I sure would have been honored. Oh well, I don’t let the critics read my column, anyway. We start on two down notes today, but we’ll rally down the home stretch.

Tornadoes hit the South this week, including this massive twister just outside Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, AL.

 

Deadly storms in the South

Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected by the strong storms and tornadoes that tore through the South on Wednesday, claiming nearly 300 lives. Neighborhoods and communities have been severely damaged and destroyed. It will take many months to piece back together the lives of the families affected, and there are many noble organizations that have quickly mobilized relief efforts. Please consider donating your time, money, goods, blood – whatever you can – to help those in need: American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, among many other deserving national and local groups. Head Coach David Cutcliffe, an Alabama native, will assist with a Time Warner Cable Recovery Drive today at 4 PM.

Anita Caldwell passes at age 103

There are only a select few who could honestly lay claim to the title “Duke Football’s Greatest Fan,” and Mrs. Caldwell would make the short list. The widow of former Duke Assistant Coach Herschel Caldwell, who came to Duke as an assistant one year before Wallace Wade, Mrs. Caldwell passed away this week on her 103rd birthday. A remarkable woman, Mrs. Caldwell missed only two Duke football home games in the past 77 years. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to The Good Samaritan Fund, c/o Duke Memorial United Methodist Church, 504 W. Chapel Hill Street, Durham, N.C., 27701 or to The Discretionary Fund, c/o Father Bert Eaton, St. Peters by the Sea, P.O. Box 337 Swansboro, N.C., 28584.

Recent visitors on campus

Colorado WR Max McCaffrey, son of former NFL WR Ed McCaffrey and nephew of 1991 Duke National Champion Billy McCaffrey, was in Durham recently.

In today’s recruiting, it’s a rarity for a prospect to commit to a school sight unseen. Thus, getting a prospect on campus for an unofficial visit, whether it’s for a game, a junior day, a summer camp or just a campus tour, is an important component of the recruiting process. In the world of emails, texting, and Facebook, there’s still no substitute for seeing coaches, players, and facilities in person. Even though spring practices are well behind us and the spring evaluation period is underway, three key prospects have been on campus over the past week.

Max McCaffrey: the 6’2” 180 pound wide receiver prospect from Highlands Ranch, Colorado made the trip to Duke with his mother recently. The son of former NFL and Stanford WR Ed McCaffrey, Max is also the nephew of former Duke men’s basketball player Billy McCaffrey, who transferred to Vanderbilt after the 1991 National Championship. Max and his younger brother, Christian (a rising sophomore running back) will look to lead Valor Christian to their third state championship this fall. Max currently has scholarship offers from Duke, Wake Forest, and Arizona State.

Eric Olson: Coach Luke would love to continue his success in recruiting talented offensive linemen, and Olson would certainly fit the bill. An athletic 6’6” 265 pound prospect from Cambridge, Massachusetts, Olson also played basketball briefly for Buckingham Browne & Nichols (per BDN’s Andrew Slater). Olson was on campus last weekend for an overnight visit, just a month after visiting for Duke’s spring game. Olson grew up a Duke basketball fan and the Blue Devils remain a major player in Olson’s recruitment, even though he is now up to 8 offers, including Boston College, Connecticut, Virginia, and Wake Forest, with interest from Northwestern and Stanford.

Dan Beilinson: If it’s good to get a prospect on campus for a visit, then it has to be very good to get a prospect on campus frequently. There are a handful of North Carolina prospects who have been frequent visitors to Wallace Wade Stadium, and the 6’5” 220 pound tight end Beilinson is one of them. Out of nearby Panther Creek in Cary, Beilinson has focused his visits so far on the three Triangle schools, and has developed a close relationship with the Duke staff. With some added weight, Beilinson has the tools to be a complete tight end that could thrive alongside current 2012 commit Erich Schneider in the Blue Devils’ prolific passing offense. The talented athlete already has five scholarship offers, including Duke, NC State, and Vanderbilt, with interest from Auburn, Florida, North Carolina, and Wake Forest.

Deconstructing some myths about Duke Football

Have you ever seen that show “Myth Busters?” I haven’t. I don’t even know what channel it’s on. If it’s any good, let me know. Anyway, most of us here at BDN, myself included, like to keep our fingers on the pulse of all things Duke athletics. Though happily entrenched here at BDN, I will admit that I occasionally do lurk on other free message boards to try to obtain some insight into the hearts and minds of Duke fans, especially when it comes to Duke football. As a self-admitted eternal optimist when it comes to Duke, it can be tough to read some of the unfounded criticism that is out there. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of room for criticism – when your last bowl game was in 1994, there’s obviously a lot of things wrong with the program. However, it’s important to keep in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day. For those who have followed the program through the bad times, it’s hard not to see that things are heading in the right direction. I apologize in advance for my ranting, but I have to vent about some of the things I’ve heard and read recently about Duke football. Let’s take a look at some of the less-than-factual criticism from some of the more impatient Duke football fans:

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

 

1. Coach Cutcliffe always speaks in hyperbole, creating unrealistic expectations.

First of all, what college head coach doesn’t? It’s basically in the job description. In Coach Cutcliffe’s case, he inherited a program defined by its culture of losing. Before you can succeed, you have to believe you can succeed, and that mentality has to be embraced throughout the program – from the administration to the coaching staff to the players to the fans. There’s no question that Coach Cutcliffe has done a remarkable job of changing the culture at Duke, to the point that coaches, players, and fans expect Duke to win games. Perhaps the best indicator of this is the incoming recruiting class of 2011 – several players have told BDN that they’re coming to Duke not just for the education or the chance to play football, but they plan on winning an ACC Championship. As for this year’s squad, when asked about the Blue Devils’ 2011 bowl chances, Cutcliffe said, “I don’t think there’s any question we’re at that level. We don’t have a huge margin of error just yet, but not anybody does, for the most part.” With a potent, veteran offense and a young, athletic defense, that sounds like a pretty fair assessment.

2. Duke has not been recruiting 4- and 5-star talent.

The correct criticism here is that Duke has not been bringing in 4- and 5-star talent, but it isn’t from a lack of effort. In the class of 2010, the Blue Devils offered at least 3 5-star prospects and 38 4-star prospects (and secured an initial commitment from LB Aramide Olaniyan). In 2011, Duke offered at least 4 5-star prospects and 51 4-star prospects (and nearly landed TE Cam Clear). While the class of 2012 rankings have yet to be released, Duke is going up against national powers for some of the top recruits and appears to be holding their own in at least a few cases so far. There’s no question that Duke needs to land some of these commits, and winning games will go a long way to helping that cause.

3. Duke has focused too much on regional recruiting.

There are two things wrong with this presumption. First, focusing on regional recruiting is probably the right thing to do. The majority of football players don’t go to school far from home, so it makes sense to spend a significant amount of time building relationships and recruiting within a home region. Let’s look at the number of in-state players on the rosters of four private schools that many love to compare Duke to:

Duke: 28%

Northwestern: 27%

Stanford: 37%

Vanderbilt: 12%

Wake Forest: 29%

If you expand those percentages to within a region (Midwest, Southeast, West Coast), they grow even larger, but it’s clear that Duke is not over-emphasizing in-state players relative to other schools. The in-state numbers are also similar when comparing the incoming class of 2011:

Duke 25%

Northwestern: 29%

Stanford 26%

Vanderbilt 24%

Wake Forest 19%

The second problem with the presumption is that it’s simply wrong. Less than one-third of the roster is from in-state, and with regards to recruiting, let’s look at the top states represented on the recruiting board, which contains only the players Duke actively recruited, from the past two years:

2011: AL (10), FL (37), GA (19), NC (50), NJ (7), OH (20), PA (8), SC (11), TN (11), TX (15), VA (14)

2012: CA (11), CO (5), FL (22), GA (16), MA (5), MD (10), NC (39), OH (23), PA (5), SC (12), TN (12), TX (6), VA (6)

Those numbers indicate to me that Duke is recruiting where the talent is, but by all means, please check my math.

There's excitement back in Wallace Wade Stadium - it's time to get on board the Duke Football bandwagon.

 

4. It’s still the same old Duke.

Bottom line, the talk of rebuilding our football program is getting tiresome to many fans, but progress is being made. The university has invested in the football program (check out our new indoor practice facility – sah-weet!) and fans are trickling back in to Wallace Wade Stadium, as season ticket sales have steadily increased. Even with a 3-win season in 2010, the Blue Devils have won more games under Coach Cutcliffe than they did in the previous 8 seasons (12 wins 2008-2010, 10 wins 2000-2007). No one is more tired of the talk than the players and coaches, who are ready to produce results on the field. Behind a strong offensive line, a solid stable of running backs, an All-ACC receiving corps, and arguably the best returning QB in the conference, this Blue Devil team has high hopes for the fall. There’s no question that the next step is to put together a winning season, and I can’t wait to find out if this Blue Devil team is tough enough to do it.

Seems like a good note to end on. WE ARE DUKE.

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Duke will hold its annual spring game Saturday at 3PM in Wallace Wade Stadium

Football Friday looks at Duke’s spring game

Duke will hold its annual spring game Saturday at 3PM in Wallace Wade Stadium

Duke Football will hold its annual spring game this Saturday at 3 PM in Wallace Wade Stadium. The event is free to the public and offers fans a chance to get a first look at the 2011 Blue Devils. Duke men’s lacrosse will host Georgetown at 1 PM in Koskinen stadium, so be sure to come out and support Duke athletics on what should be a fun Saturday in Durham!

 

Rejoice, Blue Devil fans! Football Friday is here. Ok, today is not a day for rejoicing. But let’s at least talk some football to take our minds off the…disappointment. And after today’s day of mourning, maybe you can put that bottle down and head out to Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday afternoon to check out the 2011 Blue Devils? Think you could do that for me, sport? Sure, why not!

Well, if you do go, and I truly hope you will, here are five questions to think about as you watch the spring game in Wallace Wade on Saturday:

1. Can the Duke defensive line slow down the run?

I’m sure most have already determined that I’m an eternal optimist when it comes to Duke football. That being said, I have no delusions of Duke having a dominant defense in 2011. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and for a squad that finished 2010 ranking113th out of 120 FBS programs against the run, Duke has a long way to go. In 2009, the Blue Devils ranked 74th against the run, and I’m hoping that with the addition of Rick Petri and a group of young and athletic linemen, Duke moves back in that direction. The defensive line should benefit from going up against a pretty good and healthy Duke offensive line, so this is definitely a matchup to watch on Saturday.

2. Can the Duke defensive line pressure the quarterback?

I promise, all the questions won’t be about the defensive line – just most of them. In addition to struggling against the run in 2010, Duke finished 108th in pass efficiency defense, 113th in sacks, and 109th in tackles for a loss. These are not numbers we want to show potential donors when pitching the Wallace Wade upgrades. There is no question that there was room for improvement in the Duke secondary last year as well, but in general, opposing quarterbacks were way too comfortable throwing against the Blue Devils. The good news is that Rick Petri comes from a Miami defense that led the country in tackles for loss, so he may have a few tricks to help Duke find their way into the backfield. We’ll also have to see if new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has any new ideas for how to bring pressure from Duke’s linebackers and safeties.

3. Have Sean Renfree and the Duke offense taken a step forward this spring, especially in terms of taking care of the football?

In an earlier edition of Football Friday, I mentioned the key to 2011 success likely lies in the ability of the offense to take care of the football. The 2010 Blue Devils were turnover machines, finishing last in the ACC and 112th in the country in turnover margin. With a full year of starting experience under his belt, the hope is that Sean Renfree and his receivers will be able to eliminate many of their mistakes from a season ago. Of course, in the spring game, this is difficult to evaluate. If the offense takes care of the ball, is that because the defense didn’t apply pressure (see question 2)? These are things that the coaching staff, and fans, should keep a close eye on Saturday.

4. Will Duke be able to consistently run the ball behind a stronger, deeper offensive line?

If you’ve followed some of Duke’s spring practice reports, you might think that Duke has a stable of Heisman-caliber running backs, along with dual-threat QB Brandon Connette. Early in spring practice, many of Duke’s young defensive linemen were still getting their feet wet, and the defense as a whole was adapting to a new coordinator. By the spring game, many of those kinks should be worked out for the defense, and it should be a good matchup in the trenches. Duke’s running backs have been a little beat up this spring, but those who have played, have played fairly well. A consistent rushing attack will alleviate some of the pressure on Duke’s passing game and even the defense.

5. Who will step up and be the leaders of this year’s Blue Devils?

I debated whether to talk about leadership or surprise players in this last question, and I think leadership is more important. Some of the surprise players may not even be on campus yet, but this year’s leaders have to be. If Duke wants any chance of a bowl game in 2011, they will need a group of strong, vocal leaders on both sides of the ball. With a year of starting experience, I expect Sean Renfree to take control of the Blue Devil offense, aided by a group of upperclassmen at running back (Jay Hollingsworth and Desmond Scott), receiver (Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon), and the offensive line (Kyle Hill and Brian Moore). Defensively, leadership is much more of a question mark. Charlie Hatcher is a warrior and the lone senior along the defensive line, while seniors Matt Daniels and Lee Butler (who has missed all of spring practice) should anchor the secondary. Outside of those three players, Duke lacks significant game experience on defense, which means that players like sophomore Kelby Brown and junior Jordon Byas may have to assume leadership roles. On Saturday, keep an eye on the sidelines and in the huddle to see which players are ready to step up and lead this young Blue Devil team.

 

 

Stats Update: Duke runs over Virginia

I remain convinced a team must successfully run the ball to consistently compete to win. After rushing 45 times for 142 yards in the win at Navy, Duke followed up by rushing for 230 yards on 45 attempts with six rushing touchdowns in Saturday’s 55-48 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers. So far in 2010, through nine games, Duke is averaging 132.8 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 85th out of 120 Football Bowl Series teams. Last season, Duke finished 120th in rushing.

On Saturday, Desmond Scott rushed for 97 yards on 17 carries including the decisive 35 yard touchdown scamper on a toss sweep. Brandon Connette was Duke’s second leading rusher gaining 78 yards on 12 carries, followed by Sean Renfree who gained 22 yards on 10 carries. Connette and Renfree each scored two rushing touchdowns.

Wide Receiver Donovan Varner was the fourth Blue Devil to score a rushing touchdown when he went in motion out of the slot, received an inside hand-off from Connette on a QB option, and darted off tackle for nine yards into the end zone. Varner gained 14 yards on two carries.

Improvement in the ground attack is a positive indicator Duke continues to progress toward turning the football program into an ACC contender.

It is no coincidence Duke has a plus five (+5) turnover margin in their three victories while being minus 14 (-14) during the six losses. Turnovers kill a team’s ability to win games. Duke remains last in the ACC in turnover margin at minus nine (-9) so if they are to extend their current two game winning streak they must value the football.

With all the success Duke has had running the ball recently, make no mistake, the Blue Devils remain a pass oriented offense. Duke is third in the ACC in passing offense averaging 261.3 yards per game. Sean Renfree has passed for 2270 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.

Conner Vernon (5.4), Donovan Varner (5.2) and Austin Kelly (4.4) are first, third and eighth in the ACC respectively, in receptions per game. With Austin Kelly out for the game and Conner Vernon injured returning a kick-off, tight end Cooper Helfet stepped up and caught seven passes for 126 yards against the Cavaliers. Helfet has 20 catches in eight games this season for a 2.5 receptions per game average. He was named one of the ACC players of the week for the second consecutive week.

On Duke’s game winning drive, Donovan Varner converted the critical first down when he caught a 26 yard pass on fourth and 18.

The kicking game is another phase of the game where Duke is excelling. Will Snyderwine is ranked number three in the ACC in scoring (kick) with 72 points. He has made 15 field goals out of 16 attempts plus all 27 extra points attempted.

Duke has attempted six onsides kicks this season and been successful four times.

Lee Butler averages 9.5 yards per punt return, which is fifth in the ACC. His longest return this season is 33 yards and he returned one punt for 26 yards in this week’s victory.

Desmond Scott is sixth in the ACC in all purpose yards with 957. Scott has rushed for 489 yards, gained 260 on kick returns, and caught 22 passes for 208 yards this season.

On the defensive side of the ball, Abraham Kromah ranks second in the ACC in tackles per game at 10.1. Kelby Brown is eighth with 7.6 and Matt Daniels is tied for eleventh with 6.9.

Injuries are starting to mount and could become an issue over the last three weeks of the season so I’m awaiting Thursday’s injury report with trepidation. Duke seeks to extend their winning streak to three games when the Boston College Eagles visit Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday.