lt was a great night for quarterback Sean Renfree (20 of 30, 290 yards, 2 touchdowns) and one of his favorite targets was Jamison Crowder (6 catches for 102 yards and 1 TD). Check out what they had to say post-game after the Blue Devils’ huge opening day victory over Florida International.
Are you ready for some football, Blue Devil Nation? Saturday afternoon will be your last chance until September 1st to see some Duke Football, so get your fill. The Blue Devils will take to the field on Saturday at 1PM in Wallace Wade Stadium for their annual spring game. BDN’s Football Friday is here for your preview.
First of all, highs in the upper 70s, with a slight chance of isolated thunderstorms. Should be a perfect spring day for some football if the rains miss the Methodist Flats. That also means a perfect day for some tailgating. Get there early, as the team will conduct the Blue Devil Walk at 11:00 AM. Team BDN will be there in full force, so be sure to say hi. Here’s the information on the parking situation. Bring your wallets, even though admission is free (stadium gates open at 11:15), as there will be plenty of opportunities to get your Blue Devil gear, as well as stuff your face with Chick-fil-a, Domino’s, and Blue Devil Concessions. Oh, and the most important reason to bring your wallet is to purchase your 2012 season tickets. Ticket office reps will be on hand and help you pick your exact seats. Try before you buy. The game kicks off at 1PM and Coach Cutcliffe will address the crowd during halftime of the scrimmage. Spring practice awards will also be announced at halftime.
Scouting the Blue Devil Offense
The Duke offense will feature a number of familiar faces, but it’s likely to be the unfamiliar ones who will make an impression on Saturday. We all know what Conner Vernon is capable of at wide receiver, but as he’s been limited due to injury this spring, expect to see a lot of Blair Holliday and Jamison Crowder, both of whom have had very strong spring performances. Nick Hill is another young face who appears ready to contribute, and Corey Gattis and Tyree Watkins add a veteran presence to the receiving corps. With Jack Farrell and Braxton Deaver sidelined with injuries, the Blue Devils had concerns at wide receiver heading into spring practice. Coming out of spring practice, tight end is no longer a concern, and you’ll likely see why as Issac Blakeney and David Reeves are sure to impress.
Up front, the Duke offensive line returns all but graduating senior Kyle Hill, and that continuity should benefit the Blue Devil offense. This group has improved each year under Coach Cutcliffe, and they’re looking to take a big step forward this fall under new OL Coach John Latina. Expect to see a few holes opened for the likes of the now healthy Josh Snead and last year’s leading rusher Juwan Thompson, who have seen the majority of carries with senior Desmond Scott nursing injury. If that trio isn’t impressive enough for you, the Blue Devils will add two more big-time running backs in just a few months, as Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell will push for early playing time.
Am I forgetting something? Ah, yes, quarterback. While Peyton Manning had been a fixture in the Duke practice facilities this offseason, he will not be taking snaps under center for the Blue Devils on Saturday. Sean Renfree remains entrenched as the starter, and he’s had yet another good spring running the Duke offense. While much of spring practice is situational, Renfree has shown the ability to get the ball downfield, averaging 15.7 yards per completion in the last scrimmage. But Renfree’s old news, right? Coach Cutcliffe and the Duke staff have been looking at ways to get guys like Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone more involved in the offense, and they’ve done well with running the ball and catching the ball in some unique schemes. But don’t get too excited. Knowing the Duke coaching staff, the Blue Devils are unlikely to show off anything particularly new or exciting on Saturday, so we’ll all just have to wait until the fall. Expect to see Connette, Boone, and freshman Thomas Sirk take several snaps under center in relief of Renfree; all have taken big steps forward in their command of the offense this spring.
Scouting the Blue Devil Defense
Somehow, it seems that Duke has had a perpetually young defense the past few years, and that remain the case this spring, though they are overall more experienced. The losses of Matt Daniels and Charlie Hatcher will be the biggest voids to fill, and there are a number of candidates looking to contribute. Up front, Duke will be without their top pass-rushers Saturday in Kenny Anunike and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, but will feature much of the same group of athletic ends we saw a year ago, led by Justin Foxx, Dezmond Johnson, and Jamal Wallace. Sydney Sarmiento, Jamal Bruce, and Nick Sink are likely to see the majority of time on the inside up front. The defensive line continues to improve under Coach Petri and has the benefit of going up against a big and experienced offensive line in practice.
At linebacker, the Blue Devils will be without Kelby Brown for the foreseeable future, but expect sophomore David Helton to continue to impress. The redshirt is off for Kelby’s younger, but bigger, brother Kyler, and it appears that a nose for the football is in their genes. Austin Gamble is the lone upperclassman, though sophomores C.J. France and Jon Woodruff have some experience. And before you get down on the Blue Devil linebackers, keep in mind that stud recruits Keilin Rayner and Deion Williams will be on campus in just a few months.
Coach Knowles’ 4-2-5 scheme relies heavily on the secondary, and the emergence of Ross Cockrell as a shutdown corner is key. He’ll be joined by senior Lee Butler at cornerback, though youngsters Jared Boyd and Tim Burton will see time. The leader of the secondary this year is most likely to be leading returning tackler Walt Canty, though hard-hitting Jordon Byas has also turned some heads with August Campbell sidelined this spring. Newcomers to look for at safety include the hard-working Chris Tavarez, Britton Grier, transfer Jeremy Cash, and former WR Brandon Braxton. All should see snaps on Saturday and overall, this group has some of the best playmakers on the defensive side.
Scouting the Blue Devil Special Teams
Will Monday. That’s about all you need to know. With Will Snyderwine and Alex King now graduated, Monday has handled all of the punting and kicking duties this spring, and handled them well. By the fall, incoming freshman Ross Martin may challenge him for the placekicking duties, but expect to see Monday handle the punting for the next four years in Durham. On the return side, Jamison Crowder remains the Blue Devils’ top threat, but he’ll be joined by incoming freshman DeVon Edwards this fall, who took more than a few kicks to the house during his high school career. In all likelihood, getting to see Monday punt and kick should be a refreshing sight for Blue Devil fans and the only real highlight on special teams Saturday.
Recruiting still sizzling
Who are all those people with lanyards and nametags? That would be the dozens of high school prospects and their families who will be on campus this weekend to take in the Blue Devil program. Several members of the Duke class of 2012 will be on hand Saturday, and they’ll be joined by a huge group of future prospects. With 3 commitments already on board in 2013, the coaching staff is flying high on the trail and will have in some of their top targets in this class, including a handful considered among the nation’s elite. Coach Cutcliffe and his staff work on recruiting every single day, and this weekend will be no exception. And just like the staff, we follow the recruiting trail here at BDN, so be sure to check out some of our recent interviews with the likes of TE Nathan Marcus, and OL Sterling Korona, and of course lots more to come. Don’t be surprised if the Blue Devils hear more good news by the end of this weekend.
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The goal this offseason has been on finding the “best 22″ players to put on the field for the Blue Devils. Inevitably, this forces the Duke coaching staff to make some creative and difficult decisions to realize this goal. One of the most prominent changes this spring has involved Brandon Braxton, a once promising wide receiver who has selflessly made the switch to safety. Braxton’s strong play on special teams the past two seasons exemplified some of his potential as a defender and tackler, but the learning curve for Coach Knowles’ defense is steep. BDN caught up with Brandon after spring practice last week to get an update on his transition.
BDN: How did the decision to switch positions come about?
I had originally heard through the grapevine that they were switching me to defense. I gave Coach Cut a call and went and met with him, and it wasn’t for sure or anything at that point, and he said that they had been thinking about it. I told him I would be willing to switch if they thought that would improve our team, and I ended up switching and so far I like it a lot.
BDN: How do you feel your skill set fits on the defensive side of the ball?
I like the defensive side of the ball because it allows me to react instead of having a set play, so I definitely like that about defense. I also just like flying around and reading, so that’s probably my favorite part about defense.
BDN: You’ve played quite a bit on special teams over the past two seasons, so you’ve had some experience with tackling, but what have you found to be the hardest adjustment to playing defense so far this spring?
There really hasn’t been any really hard thing to pick up, but just learning the defense and knowing checks and seeing different things. Just being comfortable at safety is definitely a huge change from what I have been doing and what I’m used to. I feel like I’m a freshman all over again, learning a whole new system and getting back in the swing of things of college football. I haven’t played defense since junior year of high school, but so far I’m picking it up really fast and feel like every day I’m progressing.
BDN: Now that you’re on the other side of the ball, who’s the toughest receiver to matchup with in practice?
All of them are really good, honestly. Blair Holliday has been playing great. Jamison [Crowder] has been playing really good. Conner [Vernon], everyone already knows that Conner is a stud. Nick Hill is a new and upcoming redshirt-freshman and he’s been playing really good. All of them, really, there isn’t one that I can pinpoint that’s super difficult, they all have different attributes and different things that they bring to the wide receiver.
BDN: You may feel like a freshman all over again, but you’re actually entering your third year with the program. What’s your assessment of the team this spring, compared to when you first arrived at Duke?
This spring, well I’ve only been through two springs, but there was such a period when losing was acceptable, and I think that that whole air and people that were here when that was happening is gone. My teammates now don’t accept losing as an option. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve seen. We’ve all been working really hard and the coaches have been pushing us, and we’re all up to the challenge.
BDN: The secondary is obviously a key to Coach Knowles’ defense. Can you talk a little about some of the players that have impressed you and helped you make your transition?
All of them – Walt [Canty], Jordon [Byas], Anthony Young-Wiseman, they’re all veterans and they’ve all been here awhile. Ross Cockrell, we’re usually on the same side, and he’s been helping me a lot and he’s progressed immensely at the corner position. He’s turned into one heck of a cornerback. They’ve all done their part in helping me pick it up faster and teaching me tricks of the trade and making sure I do well.
BDN: Thanks a lot, Brandon, and best of luck this spring.
Alright, Patrick, thank you so much.
Coach Cutcliffe added his first commitments in the Duke class of 2013 today as Monroe QB Quay Chambers and Texas OL Austin Davis committed to the Blue Devils.
Chambers is a 6’3″ 190 pound dual-threat prospect from Monroe High School, the same program that has produced current Duke players Issac Blakeney and Jamison Crowder. The Blue Devils were the first program to offer Chambers a scholarship back in February, and hosted the speedy athlete on an unofficial visit on March 3. After missing most of his sophomore year with an ankle injury, Chambers finished his junior season at Monroe with 1,776 yards and 23 touchdowns through the air and 1,221 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. His efforts earned him All-Conference honors for his junior season. The Blue Devils will likely bring Chambers in as an athlete, as they have with Crowder and Blakeney. “It wasn’t a hard decision because Duke was my favorite school growing up and I always wanted to go there, so when they offered me, I had to take advantage of it,” Chambers told BDN Saturday afternoon. “Coach Cutcliffe and Coach Lubick have been recruiting me and talking about playing QB or WR.” Chambers was also receiving interest from UNC, NC State, and ECU.
Davis is a 6’5″ 295 pound offensive lineman who projects as a center at the college level, but can also play guard and tackle. Davis received his first scholarship offer from Duke and had been receiving interest from Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, SMU, and Georgia Tech. The big prospect gave his pledge to Coach Cutcliffe during his unofficial visit on Saturday to take in the Blue Devils’ spring scrimmage. A two-time 1st Team All-District selection, his highlight video can be seen here.
Check back with BDN for more on the newest Blue Devils.
DURHAM, N.C. – Quarterback Sean Renfree completed 15-of-19 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns while wideout Blair Holliday caught eight passes for 84 yards to highlight Duke’s 60-play scrimmage Saturday morning at Wallace Wade Stadium.
“We really got what we wanted out of it,” said Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. “We wanted to extend play. We’ve done a lot of fundamental work. This is practice nine. Probably more fundamental work and less team work than we’ve had in any time since we’ve been here. But we’ve worked on some of the ‘how’ before we were doing the ‘what’. I think it’s paid off. It’s paid off with players like Blair Holliday, who you can just see has jumped leaps and bounds from where he was. It’s paid off in a lot of our offensive and defensive linemen – first team and second team.”
Renfree’s two scoring throws covered eight and 15 yards, respectively, to Jamison Crowder and Holliday. Crowder finished the day with six grabs for 67 yards. Running back Josh Snead spearheaded the ground attack with 61 yards on eight attempts, including a one-yard touchdown plunge, while quarterback Brandon Connette rushed five times for 29 yards with a nine-yard touchdown.
“The coaches have shown great trust in all our receivers,” Holliday said. “We changed our offense around a bit where every receiver needs to know the positions; every receiver needs to come up and make big plays. It really just shows how much trust they have in us to put us out there and make plays.”
The final scoring play of the morning came on a 40-yard strike from Connette to tight end Issac Blakeney.
“Issac Blakeney and David Reeves are two very young tight ends that I can see now all of the work they’ve put in,” Cutcliffe noted. “If I had to probably pick one thing that the naked eye caught was Sean Renfree. He was a senior quarterback today. He was really sharp, and not just in the scrimmaging parts. From the first part of practice on — I watched him through seven-on-seven — everything was at a very high level. A lot of encouragement today.”
Safety Walt Canty registered the lone turnover of the day with an interception. Kicker Will Monday booted a 26-yard field goal along with a pair of PATs.
Duke will host the annual Spring Game presented by PNC Bank on Saturday, March 31 in Wallace Wade Stadium. Kick-off is set for 1 p.m. and admission is free of charge.
With wins over Tulane and Florida International, Duke heads into their Bye Week with a 3-2 record riding a three game win streak. In the two wins, the Blue Devils racked up 868 yards total offense and scored 79 points, while allowing Tulane and Florida International to combine for 886 yards total offense and 54 points.
Seeing as Red Zone performance was prominently featured in “The Ugly” section of this season’s first stats article, it seems appropriate to address the team’s success at the top of this update. Duke scored on all 10 Red Zone possessions in the last two games. Eight of the ten scores were touchdowns. Juwan Thompson ran for four touchdowns of 20, 9, 6 and 1 yards. The ability to successfully run the ball in the Red Zone is a development, which should pay huge dividends in the future.
Duke made all four field goals attempted in the two games. Will Snyderwine made three successful kicks and Jeffrey Ijjas was successful on one kick.
While Duke has shown vast improvement in these two areas, it is worth noting they still rank last in the ACC in these categories due to the bad start so it is important for the team to maintain improved performance.
Key Team Accomplishments
Obviously, the most relevant team accomplishment the past two weeks was winning the games. In the final analysis, the final score is the most important statistic.
Passing Offense improved from 297 to 311 yards per game. Duke is now ranked three of 12 in the ACC (up from number five) and 19 of 120 nationally (up from number 25). Numbers for Total Offense are also impressive with Duke’s 409 yards per game ranks six of 12 in the ACC and 56 of 120 nationally.
The ability to sustain long drives results in Duke being ranked two of 12 in the ACC and number 17 of 120 nationally in Time of Possession at 32 minutes and 56 seconds per game. Against Tulane, the Blue Devils reeled off touchdown drives of 18, 12 and 9 plays; while against Florida International they had an 11 play drive which ended with a field goal.
Duke’s four touchdown drives in the FIU game were short drives of 1, 3, 4 and 5 plays.
Even though Duke achieved success running the ball in the Red Zone the past two weeks, overall Rushing Offense remains a concern. At 97 yards per game, Duke is 11 of 12 in the ACC and number 108 nationally.
Key Individual Accomplishments
Conner Vernon leads the ACC in Receptions per Game. His 6.8 receptions per game place him at number 23 in the nation. Vernon is also third in the ACC in Receiving Yards per Game at 101.
Matt Daniels leads the ACC in Passes Defended. His 1.8 passes defended per game place him at number five in the nation. Additionally, he is sixth in the ACC in Tackles with 48.
Sean Renfree is third in the ACC in Passing Average per Game. His 272.2 passing yards per game place him at number 25 in the nation.
Jamison Crowder is sixth in the ACC in Kick Return Average and ninth in the ACC in All Purpose Yards. He is averaging 21.8 yards per kick return and 127.4 all purpose yards per game.
Alex King is fifth in the ACC in Punting averaging 41.2 yards per punt.
Donovan Varner is seventh in the ACC in Receptions per Game at 5.8.
The next three games will be played in Wallace Wade Stadium so Duke will have home field advantage accompanying momentum gained during the current three game win streak. It is time for the Blue Devils to step up and record a signature victory in order to make the rest of the ACC sit up and take notice. The first opportunity will be on October 15th against the Florida State Seminoles.