Tag Archives: Duke Football Spring Game

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Happy New Beer’s Eve from BDN Football Friday

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Two weeks of Football Friday in a row? For what do we deserve such fortune, you ask? I guess it just seemed like the right thing to do. Or maybe because it’s New Beer’s Eve, one of America’s terrific obscure holidays. In all seriousness, though, thanks for reading and please spread the word that Blue Devil Nation is home of the best Duke Football coverage around.

Spring Game Recap

One – okay, three – important points to remember about last Saturday’s scrimmage.

1. It’s a spring game. The team is a work in progress; September 1st is still nearly five months away.
2. It’s a spring game. Several starters did not play; players with injuries have plenty of time to heal.
3. It’s a spring game. Duke played against Duke; who knows how they’ll look against another opponent.

All that being said, there was plenty to be excited about and a number of things to be concerned about based on Saturday’s performances. If you haven’t checked them out already, be sure to watch our video interviews with Coach Cutcliffe, Sean Renfree, Ross Cockrell, and David Reeves to get their thoughts on Duke’s spring.

Ross Cockrell is developing into a shutdown corner for the Blue Devils -BDN Photo

The Good

Honestly, I don’t think it was a fluke that the starting defense outplayed the starting offense. Even without Kelby Brown, August Campbell, Kenny Anunike, and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, the white team defense took it to the blue team offense. And it was a balanced effort. The secondary, crucial to Duke’s 4-2-5 scheme, was particularly encouraging. Brandon Braxton looked comfortable at safety and led the way with 5 tackles, a number that was matched by his replacement, redshirt-freshman Chris Tavarez, who also forced and recovered a fumble late in the game. Jordon Byas and Walt Canty, two veterans at safety, also had strong efforts, each adding 3 tacklesincluding a tackle for a loss by Byas. Cornerbacks Ross Cockrell, Lee Butler, Anthony Young-Wiseman and Tony Foster held the blue team’s top receivers, Blair Holliday and Jamison Crowder, without a touchdown and to just 4 total catches on the day. Of course, it was Cockrell’s forced fumble on Josh Snead that was the play of the day and earned him defensive MVP honors. Kyler Brown and David Helton added strong performances from the linebacker position, and the Blue Devils will need them to continue to matuer ahead of schedule this fall. Duke was able to pressure the blue QBs from a number of positions, as DE Jamal Wallace registered a sack, while Braxton, Cockrell, and LB David Helton all were credited with a QB pressure. As with all things, it’s far from perfect, but the overall defensive effort appeared to be a big step in the right direction heading to the fall.

On the opposite side of the ball, there were plenty of flashes from individual players, but the blue team offense never seemed to be clicking on all cylinders – yet. Brandon Connette, the offensive MVP, certainly had a strong performance, highlighted by two powerful runs through the teeth of the defense to put the blue team on the scoreboard for the first time all afternoon, halfway through the 2nd quarter. Of note, he was also an efficient 4/7 through the air for 83 yards, including a 27-yard TD strike to Josh Snead. Speaking of Josh Snead, it was great to see him healthy and focused. His burst and speed was something that was lacking in Duke’s running game a year ago. All indications are that with the return of Snead alongside last year’s leading rusher Juwan Thompson and senior Desmond Scott, this should be Duke’s strongest running game under Coach Cutcliffe. We certainly saw flashes from some other players, such as David Reeves and Will Monday, all of which were encouraging. Perhaps most encouraging, however, was a glimpse at the increased tempo and diverse schemes utilized by the blue offense. It’s all still a work in progress, with much more to be added in terms of personnel and plays, but opposing defenses should have a lot to prepare for against this year’s Duke offense.

And finally, a look at the future. With the way the teams were divided, it was hard to take much of anything away from the matchup of the white offense against the blue defense, as both units were comprised primarily of walk-ons. Several walk-ons did have strong efforts, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see guys like Chris Hoover, Brandon Watkins and Eric Adams eventually play a few snaps in limited situations. Their blue-collar efforts are to be commended, and it was great for them to receive recognition. The scholarship players on those units, however, provide a nice glimpse into the future of the Blue Devil program. Obviously, freshman Thomas Sirk is the most notable, and he played well on Saturday. But before we crown him the starting QB, remember that most of his snaps came against an inexperienced defense and he still only played one year of quarterback in high school. All that being said, Sirk has the tools to compete for snaps in 2013, and given the depth issues at wide receiver, it’s too early to rule out lining him up out wide at some point this fall. Another strong performance was put in by redshirt-freshman WR Nick Hill, who has an excellent opportunity with the recent loss of senior WR Tyree Watkins. Defensively, Tim Burton, Britton Grier, and Sam Marshall all piled up tackles; they will push the starters on the depth chart for sure this fall, but realistically may be a year away from significantly contributing.

Sean Renfree had a forgettable spring game -BDN Photo

The Bad

Ok, let’s get it out of the way. Sean Renfree had a forgettable spring game. He finished 10/23 for 104 yards with 2 interceptions. His first interception was a poor throw that shouldn’t be made by a redshirt-senior QB; the second was slightly more forgivable, as the ball appeared to be tipped into the waiting arms of Kyler Brown. Most concerning, however, was the apparent lack of rhythm with the new offense, and the lack of chemistry with some of the younger wide receivers. Fortunately, Renfree is his own biggest critic, and one of the hardest workers on this team; fully expect for him to put in the work to be ready for a strong senior campaign. After a big spring, WR Blair Holliday didn’t have the breakout performance many expected, and he and Jamison Crowder will have to emerge as consistent threats if Duke is to have any success moving the ball this fall.

The other biggest concern of the day was the play along the line of scrimmage. Neither the offensive nor defensive line was able to control the game, and I think there’s still a lot of work to be done along both units. The offensive line needs to get Brian Moore back at center, and the hope is that this group will be able to stay healthy and consistent this fall. They will have to be a stabilizing force for a potentially dynamic and at times unconventional offense. The defensive line remains the big weakness of this team, overall. Brandon Connette exposed the weakness up the middle on two big runs in the 2nd quarter. Hopefully, the return of Kenny Anunike and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, along with another year under Coach Petri, will allow this group to take a big step forward this fall.

Duke hosted QB Chavas Rawlins on an unofficial visit Thursday

The Awesome

Come on, you didn’t really think I was going to end on a down note, did you? I thought it might be more fun to discuss recruiting than to argue over whether or not to renew your season tickets, debate the temperature of the leather chair in Coach Cutcliffe’s office, or complain about play-calling. Just my opinion. I’m sure you can find a place to discuss those things.

As for recruiting, Duke locked up two more verbal commitments over the weekend, solidifying the defensive backfield in the class of 2013. Safety prospect Jake Kite is receiving rave reviews for a highlight video that has basically gone viral throughout the Duke Football fanbase. At 6’1,” the junior from Roanoke packs a heavy punch, and Duke fans should be very excited to watch this young man bring down opponents in Wallace Wade Stadium. About a month ago, BDN spoke with a little-known sleeper prospect from Nash County in Dequavais Mann. At 5’9″ and playing multiple positions for a Northern Nash team that finished 2-8 last year, Mann’s recruitment got off to a slow start. That changed quickly when the junior athlete posted a 4.42 second 40-yard dash at a recent combine, and showcased his abilities as a lockdown defender. Mann started lining up visits, starting with a return trip to Durham for the Duke Spring Game. The Blue Devils extended a scholarship and it took just two days for Mann to offer his commitment to Coach Cutcliffe. And the staff is keeping the pedal to the metal, hosting top Pennsylvania QB Chavas Rawlins on an unofficial visit in Durham yesterday.

Don’t expect things to slow down anytime soon; we’re just getting started. The spring evaluation period kicks off on April 14th and lasts through the end of May, nicely coinciding with most high school spring football schedules. With their own spring practice behind them, the Duke staff will be out in full force, evaluating dozens of prospects and checking up on others. We’ll then reach the height of the recruting season in June, as Duke hosts their annual football camps, an opportunity for serious evaluation for both the prospects and coaches. So in other words, if you want to keep up with the latest in Duke Football, now would be an excellent time to try out a BDN Premium Membership. Ok, that’s my pitch for the day.

I know, these columns get wordier and wordier. Though in person I’m known for brevity, my writing clearly is not. Check back next week for another helping of Football Friday, provided I am able to purchase a new ribbon for my typewriter. In the meantime, enjoy the Masters for you golf fans, Happy Easter to the Christians, and regardless of your interests or beliefs, I hope you all enjoy National Beer Day on Saturday. WE ARE DUKE.

Duke TE David Reeves -BDN Photo

Redshirt-freshman tight end David Reeves discusses his first spring in Durham

DURHAM- After the graduation of Cooper Helfet and Danny Parker, and with Braxton Deaver and Jack Farrell sidelined, the Blue Devils turned to two young, athletic tight ends to carry the load this spring. A little over a year ago, David Reeves was an important late addition to the 2012 Duke recruiting class, and big things are expected from him in Durham. At 6’5″ and 250 pounds, Reeves turned a lot of heads this spring with his playmaking ability at the tight end position. BDN caught up with David after his spring game performance, where he hauled in 3 catches for 49 yards.

Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe -BDN Photo

Coach Cutcliffe recaps Duke’s Spring Game

DURHAM- The Blue Devils wrapped up their spring practice on Saturday with the annual Spring Game in Wallace Wade Stadium. Head Coach David Cutcliffe was pleased with several of the individual efforts he saw on Saturday and throughout the course of spring practice. Coach Cut addressed the media shortly after the scrimmage and gave his thoughts on the game.

Duke-football

BDN Football Friday: Spring update, to ease the pain

Duke hosted Mallard Creek WR Marquez North earlier this spring

It has been suggested that writing a spring update on Duke Football might help make the nightmares about mountain hawks go away, so here it is. In fact, there’s actually a lot to be excited about with regards to Duke Football. Yeah, yeah, we always say that and then we’re all disappointed come the fall. But you’ve got to see the forest instead of the trees, people!

Recruiting off to a hot start

Ok, show of hands. How many of you just went and checked the Duke 2013 commitment list when you read that sub-headline? Or, another way of asking the same question, how many of you have been following Duke Football recruiting during basketball season? Well, either way, you’ve probably figured out that Duke has yet to secure a verbal commitment in the class of 2013. (Saturday afternoon edit: Duke landed a commitment from QB Quay Chambers and OL Austin Davis this morning)

So, how can recruiting be off to a hot start? Generally speaking, you’ve got to get a prospect on campus if you have any hope of landing a commitment, and Coach Cutcliffe and his staff have hosted an impressive list of visitors already this spring. In fact, Duke has already had more than 10 members of the ESPNU150 Watch List (an unofficial list of the top 300 HS rising seniors in the country) on campus in Durham. Most recently, the Blue Devils had 9 top targets in the class of 2013 on campus for the North Carolina basketball game, including Watch List members WR Marquez North, LB Peter Kalambayi, OL Mike McGlinchey, and OL Tyrone Crowder. The coaching staff has been in contact early and often with a number of other Watch List members, including several on the West Coast, and hope to host several more visitors later this spring and summer. As you know, we’ll continue to bring you the best coverage of Duke Football and Duke Football Recruiting around.

Duke WR Conner Vernon scores his 1st of 2 TDs against Tulane last year -BDN Photo

Spring practice highly competitive

The Blue Devils returned to the field this past week to start the second half of their spring practice, and the competition level has been at its highest in the Cutcliffe era. We checked in with WR Conner Vernon earlier this week, and he confirmed that across the board, Duke is a deeper and more competitive team. The Blue Devils return 17 starters this fall, but each of those players will be pushed by younger players on the depth chart. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

The Duke defense loses two of its leaders to graduation in S Matt Daniels and NG Charlie Hatcher, but there is real competition to fill their starting job. At safety, Walt Canty, Jordon Byas, and August Campbell will be projected to start heading into the fall, but they are being pushed everyday in practice by newcomer Jeremy Cash, former WR Brandon Braxton, and youngsters such as Chris Tavarez and Britton Grier. Also, it can’t be ruled out that Issac Blakeney won’t see some time on defense, as he has established himself as one of the team’s best pass-rushers last spring from the safety position. To fill Hatcher’s void up front, the Blue Devils have Jamal Bruce, along with two 300-pound players in Will Bryant (recently returned from injury) and Steven Ingram. To put it in March Madness terms, I wouldn’t “go Sharpie” on anyone’s starting job quite yet.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Blue Devils have struggled in the red zone in recent years. The coaching staff has utilized an option style attack with Brandon Connette or Anthony Boone under center. Fans and media alike have questioned the success of this approach, as it seemed to lack creativity and often stalled drives. This year, however, it appears that won’t be the case. Coach Cutcliffe has used the “best 22 players” mantra as a focus for this offseason, and the quarterback position has been one of the most impacted. With three players with significant game experience under center in Sean Renfree, Connette, and Boone, Duke is looking at ways to put all of their weapons on the field, especially in red zone situations. Based on early returns from this spring, both Boone and Connette will not only be used under center, but also at tailback and tight end. As two of the better athletes on the roster, these alignments, if nothing else, should have fans excited for the fall.

Kenny Anunike granted 6th year of eligibility

This is big-time news. Duke defensive end Kenny Anunike has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.  Based on the ruling, he is eligible to participate in the 2012 and 2013 football seasons.

A 6-5, 250-pound native Galena, Ohio, Anunike appeared in four games last fall before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Tulane. Prior to the injury, he was leading the ACC in quarterback sacks (4.0) and was credited with 13 total tackles including five for loss on the year.  Anunike has not participated in spring drills while recovering from knee surgery performed last fall.

Anunike also missed the 2008 season while recovering from knee surgery.  He played in all 12 games in 2009 as a reserve tight end before shifting to the defensive line, where he registered 23 tackles in 12 games during the 2010 campaign.

Kelby Brown undergoes 2nd ACL repair

Duke rising junior Kelby Brown underwent his 2nd ACL repair on February 22, putting his health for the 2012 season into question. The revision surgery was performed on Wednesday by Dr. Claude T. Moorman III, Duke’s head team physician and the director of Duke Sports Medicine.  Brown originally injured the knee on November 20, 2010 against Georgia Tech, and underwent surgery weeks later.  He re-injured the knee earlier in February 2012.

A 6-2, 220-pound native of Matthews, N.C., Brown has played in 19 games with 17 starting assignments over the past two years.  Last year, he led Duke in tackles for loss (7.0) while posting 65 total stops and received the program’s Mike Curtis Award as Duke’s most outstanding linebacker.

Brown’s career totals include 128 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, four fumble recoveries, one caused fumble, three pass breakups and seven quarterback pressures.  In addition, he is a two-time selection to the Academic All-ACC squad.

Should Kelby not be available to play this fall, he does have a redshirt year available, and would therefore still have two years of eligibility remaining. It should also be noted that WR Conner Vernon pointed to Kelby’s younger (but bigger) brother, Kyler, as one of the young Blue Devils who has been most impressive this spring.

Preferred walk-on program thriving

Ok, so I don’t leave you in Negative Town, let’s talk about another bright spot for the Duke Football program. Since Coach Cutcliffe’s arrival, he has built the walk-on program at Duke into an asset for Duke Football. First, allow me to give you some perspective.

A 5’10” 165 pound, slow-footed freshman from upstate New York enrolled at Duke a few (I mean several – ok, fine, it was over a decade) years ago, and within his welcome packet to the university, he received a letter inviting him to walk on to the football team. While I did not elect to subject my body to the punishment of collegiate football, I imagine several other equally qualified freshmen received similar letters back then, and some probably did. Flash forward to 2012, and Duke Football secures a commitment from one of the top 10 long snappers in the nation…as a preferred walk-on.

Slightly different use of the walk-on program, eh? Last week’s commitment from Thomas Hennessy was just the latest among several preferred walk-ons for the program. When Coach Cutcliffe arrived in Durham, he had one quarterback to get through spring practice. This year, he has seven, including two preferred walk-ons. That’s seven QBs to practice snaps under center, seven QBs to practice handoffs to RBs, seven QBs to practice routes with WRs, and seven QBs for defenders to pass rush. Across the board, the walk-ons that Coach Cutcliffe have brought in have improved the program by allowing for more reps and more productive practices. While many of these preferred walk-ons may not make a significant individual contribution to the box score, they make their teammates better everyday in practice.

Sweet, I knew I could make it through an article without mentioning Peyton Manning (he’s been working out at Duke, in case you’ve been living under a rock). So, I haven’t forgotten about Football Friday, but my schedule simply doesn’t allow me to commit the time needed to it. But I’ll make a deal with you, since we’re all feeling down today. This won’t be the last football update you read this spring. We’ll keep it coming, as time allows. And also, we’ll have lots of prospect interviews and several updates from current players and coaches as we head towards the spring game – March 31, Wallace Wade Stadium, 1:00 PM ET. Be there. I’ll be looking for you.

WE ARE DUKE.

Sean Renfree found Conner Vernon for a 6-yard 2nd quarter TD.  BDN Photo

White defeats Blue, 21-14 in Duke Football Spring Game

Sean Renfree found Conner Vernon for a 6-yard 2nd quarter TD. BDN Photo

DURHAM, N.C. – Anthony Boone’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Tyree Watkins with 11:15 remaining in the fourth period lifted the White squad to a come-from-behind victory over the Blue unit in Duke’s annual Spring Game on Saturday afternoon at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Saturday’s event brought spring practice to a close for the Blue Devils.

The Blue team opened the scoring with a 14-yard touchdown run by Patrick Kurunwune at the 8:51 mark of the first period.  Just over four minutes later, Brandon Connette found the end zone from 14 yards out on the ground to push the lead to 14-0.  The White team managed to pull within seven prior to halftime when Sean Renfree hooked up with Conner Vernon on a six-yard touchdown pass.

Midway through the third quarter, Desmond Scott brought the White unit even on the scoreboard with a 16-yard touchdown run.

On the day, Renfree connected on eight-of-14 passes for 105 yards and one touchdowns while Boone was seven-of-15 through the air for 94 yards with one touchdown and one interception.  Scott paced the White team with 56 rushing yards on 13 carries while Juwan Thompson gained 35 yards on nine rushes.  For the Blue unit, Connette completed 10-of-16 throws for 102 yards while rushing for 34 yards on eight attempts whileJosh Snead picked up 54 yards on six carries.

Watkins finished with six receptions for 67 yards while Brandon Braxton (21 yards), Cooper Helfet (64 yards) and Vernon (19 yards) had three catches apiece.

Defensively, Jamal Wallace carded a game-high seven tackles while Austin Gamble had six total stops.  Issac Blakeney, Walt Canty, Matt Daniels, C.J. France, Tyree Glover and Jonathan Woodruff logged five tackles each, with Blakeney also contributing two tackles for loss, one quarterback sack, one caused fumble, one quarterback pressure and one pass breakup.  Charlie Hatcher, Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Tony Foster each recorded one quarterback sack while Garrett Rider’s interception in the fourth quarter was the game’s lone turnover.

Cutcliffe also announced the program’s award winners for spring practice award winners with Thompson (Most Improved Offensive Player), Ross Cockrell (Most Improved Defensive Player) and Preston Scott (Blue Devil Heart Award) claiming honors.

Duke opens the 2011 season at home on September 3 against Richmond.  Season tickets are available online at GoDuke.com or by calling the Duke Athletic Ticket Office at 1-877-631-3853.

White 21, Blue 14

1st – 8:51 – Blue – Patrick Kurunwune 14 run (Jeffrey Ijjas kick)
1st – 4:15 – Blue – Brandon Connette 14 run (Paul Asack kick)
2nd – 7:05 – White – Conner Vernon 6 pass from Sean Renfree (Will Snyderwine kick)
3rd – 7:30 – White – Desmond Scott 16 run (Will Snyderwine kick)
4th – 11:15 – White – Tyree Watkins 32 pass from Anthony Boone (Will Snyderwine kick)

RUSHING: Desmond Scott 13-56, Josh Snead 6-54, Juwan Thompson 9-35, Brandon Connette 8-34, Anthony Boone 5-31, Sean Renfree 2-25, Patrick Kurunwune 4-23, Sean Schroeder 3-7, Team 1-(-1)
PASSING: Sean Renfree 8-14-0-105, Brandon Connette 10-16-0-102, Anthony Boone 7-15-1-94, Sean Schroeder 3-8-0-13
RECEIVING: Tyree Watkins 6-67, Cooper Helfet 3-64, Brandon Braxton 3-21, Conner Vernon 3-19, Juwan Thompson 2-43, Josh Trezvant 2-31, Desmond Scott 2-16, Braxton Deaver 2-13, Josh Snead 1-20, Preston Scott 1-12, Danny Parker 1-4, Jack Farrell 1-3, Patrick Kurunwune 1-1
PUNTING: Alex King 5-204-40.8
FIELD GOALS: Jeffrey Ijjas – 44 (no good)
TACKLES: Jamal Wallace 7, Austin Gamble 6, Issac Blakeney 5, Walt Canty 5, Matt Daniels 5, C.J. France 5, Tyree Glover 5, Jonathan Woodruff 5, Charlie Hatcher 4, Kevin Rojas 4, August Campbell 3, Nick Sink 3, Jordan Byas 2, Ross Cockrell 2, Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo 2, Anthony Young-Wiseman 2, Garrett Rider 2, Tony Foster 2, Jamal Bruce 2, Zach Greene 1, Garett Patterson 1, Curtis Hazelton 1, Steven Ingram 1, Will Boeckman 1, Sydney Sarmiento 1
TACKLES FOR LOSS: Issac Blakeney 2, Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo 1, Tony Foster 1, Charlie Hatcher 1
QUARTERBACK SACKS: Issac Blakeney 1, Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo 1, Tony Foster 1, Charlie Hatcher 1
PASS BREAKUPS: Issac Blakeney 1, Jordan Byas 1, C.J. France 1, Ned Smith 1, Johnny Williams 1, Anthony Young-Wiseman 1
QB PRESSURES: Issac Blakeney 1, Kevin Rojas 1, Jamal Wallace 1, Anthony Young-Wiseman 1
CAUSED FUMBLES: Issac Blakeney 1
INTERCEPTIONS: Garrett Rider 1