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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.



California LB Deion Williams will visit Duke this weekend

Lutheran (CA) LB Deion Williams will visit for Duke's spring game

In 2010, Duke coaches and fans were impressed by the play of freshman linebacker Kelby Brown. On the recruiting trail, the Duke coaching staff is searching for more hard-hitting linebackers to join Brown on the Blue Devil defense. Deion Williams is a 6’0” 215 pound linebacker prospect from Orange, California. The Blue Devils have had recent recruiting success on the west coast, bringing QB Brandon Connette, TE Cooper Helfet and WR Blair Holliday to Durham in recent classes. They hope that trend continues with Williams, who has already received a verbal scholarship offer from Duke. As a junior, Williams was named 2nd Team All-Trinity League, and plans to make the trip across the country to attend Duke’s spring game this weekend.


BDN: Can you start out by describing your strengths as a player?

Well, my strengths really, they come from just playing together and the chemistry of the team.  Without them I wouldn’t be able to do anything.

BDN: What are some of the things you have been working on this offseason?

Just getting my feet work together, quicker feet, and my speed.

BDN: What are your goals for yourself and for your team in your senior year?

For my senior year, I really just want to come together with my teammates and just become more of a family.  Winning is obviously great, but it’s not what football’s all about to me.

BDN: What are the most important factors you’re looking for in a college?

Just the things that I can get out of it, as I go on to pursue my goals in life.

BDN: What are some of those goals?

I just recently sparked an interest in genetics, and looking at humans, how they’re made – what their makeup is, and what they look – how they look.

BDN: What schools have you heard the most from so far? Who were the first schools to contact you?

Duke was actually one of the very first schools that showed, sparked an interest in me, and aside from that I got some things from Cal and San Jose State, schools like that.

BDN: Which schools have you had a chance to visit so far?

None yet.  I’m actually coming out to North Carolina at the end of this month for the spring game on the 26th at Duke.

BDN: Have any schools stood out to you at this point in the process?

I just want to play it by ear for now, but I’m really – I have a big interest in Duke, so they will be one of my top choices.

BDN: Do you have plans to visit any other schools this spring or summer?

I plan to visit Stanford pretty soon, I’m hoping that they will get back to me, and then other than that just some other schools around, in the area.

BDN: Is there anything else that you think is important for college football fans to know about you?

Just that I play the game for the Lord, I play for God, and when it comes down to it that’s really all I’m about.

BDN: Thanks a lot, Deion, and best of luck to you.

Thank you, and I thank you for the opportunity.


Quick Hitter – Kyle Hill talks of his position switch and Duke Football

Kyle Hill (right)
Kyle Hill (right)

For Duke to have a successful 2009 campaign, it will be important for young players like Kyle Hill to lead the way for the offensive line.  BDN talked with Kyle after the spring football game and here are his thoughts going into the off season.  It is worth noting that once again, Coach David Cutcliffe said that all of his players would stick around and workout this summer.

You have switched positions on the offensive line, how is that going?

It's been going pretty good, I'm enjoying it.  I was playing left tackle last spring and guard last Fall, so it's a nice switch to go back to left tackle.

Do you feel like this team is now looking to you for leadership on the offensive line?

I think they are really just looking for whoever can step forward and be a good leader.  You know, myself and Brian have been trying to do our best to be good examples and work hard for the rest of the line to follow us.

Coach said you've have put on a little  weight, can you talk about that?

I've put on about twenty pounds and I can definitely feel the strength difference.  It feels a lot better and it is helping me in a positive way and has helped out a lot.

You have two years under Coach Cutcliffe and have seen last year's team and this year's team.  Do you feel that you can be as good or better than last year?

Oh, I definitely think so.  The amount of intensity and the work ethic is unbelievable.  We just keep working hard and feel at least as good as we did if not better.  I really feel we can do better than we did last year.

What are your thoughts on the spring game?

It was very game like.  It was fast paced for a spring game and we competed hard against the defense which was a lot of fun and a good experience.

Quarterbacks Lewis and Renfree shine in Spring Game

Redshirt freshman Sean Renfree - BDN Photo
Redshirt freshman Sean Renfree - BDN Photo

DURHAM, N.C. -- Redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Renfree threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns to lead the White squad to a 24-17 victory over the Blue team in front of 4,162 fans at the annual Spring Football game held Saturday afternoon at Wallace Wade Stadium.

“The game was crisp with few penalties," Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said.  "No one was sloppy with the football and I thought the game was intense. I told the players before the game that we are a good football team.  I thought they played like one today.  We had really good execution for the most part throughout the game."
Renfree completed 15-of-24 throws on the day with scoring strikes of 17 yards to wide receiver Matt Pridemore and 17 yards to tight end Danny Parker.  Pridemore led the White team with five receptions for 67 yards while running back Patrick Kurunwune paced the ground attack with 66 yards on 13 attempts while hauling in four passes for an additional 67 yards.  Running back Tony Jackson added a touchdown run and finished with 34 yards on six carries.

“The passing game is something we have elevated," said Cutcliffe.  "We are stretching the field better.  There were some nice plays made.  I thought the quarterbacks both had a good day.  I also thought we ran the ball well.  It was encouraging to see the second offense execute as well as they did.”

For the Blue unit, quarterback Thaddeus Lewis hit on 17-of-23 passes for 257 yards while rushing for a pair of one-yard touchdowns.  His favorite target was wide receiver Donovan Varner who had six grabs for 116 yards.

“We went out there and executed," Lewis said.  "We had some big plays today.  The coaches put us in good situations.  We can go to the tight ends over the middle and to our shifty guys who can get yards after the catch.  If they leave our running backs open we can get the ball to those guys with space and let them do what they do best.”
Cutcliffe announced the recipients of the program's annual spring awards: Jeremy Ringfield (Most Improved Special Teams Player), Pontus Bondeson (Co-Most Improved Offensive Player), Danny Parker (Co-Most Improved Offensive Player), Damian Thornton (Co-Most Improved Defensive Player), Charlie Hatcher (Co-Most Improved Defensive Player) and Vincent Rey (Blue Devil Heart).
Blue -- Thaddeus Lewis 1 run (Nick Maggio kick)
White -- Matt Pridemore 17 pass from Sean Renfree (Will Snyderwine kick)
Blue -- Thaddeus Lewis 1 run (Nick Maggio kick)
White -- Danny Parker 17 pass from Sean Renfree (Will Snyderwine kick)
White -- Tony Jackson 1 run (Will Snyderwine kick)
Blue -- Nick Maggio 25 FG
White -- Paul Asack 30 FG
Blue -- Cameron Jones 10-20, Re'quan Boyette 7-19
White -- Patrick Kurunwune 13-66, Tony Jackson 6-34, Sean Renfree 3-16
Blue -- Thaddeus Lewis 17-23, 257 yards
White -- Sean Renfree 15-24, 210 yards, 2 touchdowns
Blue -- Donovan Varner 6-116, Cameron Jones 2-44
White -- Matt Pridemore 5-67, Patrick Kurunwune 4-67
Blue -- Adam Banks 8, Curtis Hazelton 5, Colin Jones 5, Zack Asack 4, Jeremy Ringfield 4
White -- Matt Daniels 7, Vincent Rey 7, Catron Gainey 5, Ayanga Okpokowuruk 5
Blue -- Jeremy Ringfield 1 (-3)
White -- Ayanga Okpokowuruk 2 (-13)