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.
In case you haven't figured it out already, Blue Devil Nation is the place to be for Duke Football fans. We cover the team year-round, and would love to have you join our growing BDN Premium community. We can't wait to see you all in Wallace Wade Stadium this Saturday. WE ARE DUKE.
Duke Assistant Coach Jim Collins is quietly building a tradition of quality linebackers in Durham. The Blue Devil linebacker alumni are headlined by recent standouts such as Mike Tauiliili (All-ACC), Vincent Rey of the Cincinnati Bengals, and Abraham Kromah of the CFL. Over the past two seasons, the Blue Devil linebackers have been led by standout freshmen in Freshman All-American Kelby Brown in 2010 and All-ACC Academic selection David Helton in 2011. With the recent signing day addition of talented in-state LB Keilin Rayner, the Blue Devils hope that trend will continue in 2012 and beyond. In the class of 2013, one elite LB has quickly risen to the top of Duke's wish list. Peter Kalambayi is a 6'2" 230 pound prospect from Butler High School in Matthews, NC. A member of the ESPNU150 Watch List, Kalambayi has already amassed over 20 scholarship offers. With 80 tackles and 6 sacks as a junior, Kalambayi has established himself as one of the top players in the class of 2013 in the state, and with a 4.3 GPA, he's also the star student that could excel in Durham. BDN caught up with the elite student-athlete after his visit to Duke for the UNC basketball game on March 4. [private]
BDN: How would you describe your strengths as a player?
I have really good speed and pass-rushing ability.
BDN: What are you working on this offseason as you prepare for your senior year?
My hands and my quickness, overall quickness.
BDN: As you approach your college decision, what are the most important things you are looking for in a school?
A school with a consistently good football program and a great academic school as well.
BDN: Do you have any ideas for what you might want to study in college?
No, not yet.
BDN: Where do you stand with offers and which schools are you hearing from the most?
I think I have 21 [offers]. Clemson, UNC, Stanford, Duke, UVA, they’re recruiting me pretty hard right now.
BDN: Which schools have you had a chance to visit recently?
Duke, UNC, and UVA.
BDN: What stood out to you on your visits to those schools?
All 3 are good schools. UVA, I only went once. UNC, I went multiple times. Duke, I went multiple times. They’re all just great schools. Duke’s football program is developing, but UVA and UNC have great football programs and I like them all.
BDN: Are there any coaches you have started to develop a close relationship with?
Coach Brown from UVA, Coach Brewer from UNC, and Coach Cutcliffe from Duke.
BDN: Are there any other schools you plan to visit or would like to hear from?
I have no plans, but I want to visit Clemson and Stanford sometime before next year.
BDN: Do you have a timeline in mind for when you plan to narrow things down or make your final decision?
Probably after football season. I don’t know, I guess I’ll start narrowing it down before my season.
Historically, National Signing Day has been a lackluster affair for Blue Devil fans, as Coach Cutcliffe and his staff typically work hard to secure verbal commitments during the summer and fall recruiting seasons. Last year, Duke fans were pleasantly surprised by the Signing Day commitment of Alabama TE David Reeves. This year, however, Duke Football fans will finally get to experience some authentic Signing Day drama. Duke is a finalist for two of the top uncommitted prospects in North Carolina, Jela Duncan and Keilin Rayner. [private]
RB Jela Duncan
Weight: 190 pounds
High School: Mallard Creek
Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina
BDN Scouting Report: With Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley heading to UGA, Duncan will be the top running back to remain in the state of North Carolina. After an outstanding high school season at Mallard Creek, Duncan capped off his career with 112 yards on only 7 carries in the 75th Annual Shrine Bowl. Duncan is an outstanding runner; he’s physical for his size, has great hands and good vision. There is no question that he has the tools to be successful at the college level and the ability to make an immediate impact for a program like Duke.
Duke: Ever since he blew away the Duke coaching staff with his performance at camp last June, Duncan has been at the top of the Blue Devils’ recruiting board. Duke was the early leader, but seemed to fade slightly as other schools became involved. To those who have followed his recruitment and spoken with Jela throughout the process, it has always seemed like there’s something missing at Duke for him. The Blue Devils were fortunate to be able to take a commitment from Shaquille Powell in December, and a backfield of Powell and Duncan could become one of the ACC’s best. That being said, relative to their competition, Duke does have a crowded backfield, and Duncan will have to earn early playing time. Duke put forth their best on his official visit to Durham, and Duncan remains closest with Coach Cutcliffe, who followed up with an in-home visit last week.
ECU: Seemingly on the outside looking in for much of his recruitment, ECU has surged of late. After an official visit to in early January, Duncan seemed to find what he was looking for, and declared ECU his new leader. The Pirates offer a great social scene, immediate playing time, and perhaps most importantly, an NFL RB legacy. Football is king as ECU, and a star RB could quickly find himself crowned BMOC. With the upcoming conference realignments, ECU will face a relatively weak C-USA schedule and their national exposure may not match that of their ACC brethren. ECU, however, does not have a current RB commitment in the class of 2012.
Wake Forest: For those handicapping this recruitment, Wake Forest was a natural dark horse candidate: closest to home, recent success in the ACC, a run-heavy offense, and a solid academic reputation. It should be no surprise, then, that the Demon Deacons’ hit a home run with their recent official visit and have become a major player in Duncan’s decision. The Deacs’ already have an under-the-radar RB committed in the class of 2012 in Texan Joshua Wilhite. Still, Coach Grobe likely was able to sell Duncan on being the understudy and heir apparent to breakout star Josh Harris.
Summary: First and foremost, whichever school ends up with a commitment from Jela on National Signing day, they’re getting a good kid and a great running back. When recruiting battles get heated, players often are vilified, and that shouldn’t happen here. Duncan has been polite and conscientious throughout this process. He took his time, focused on his senior season, and then evaluated all of his options. This is not a decision he nor his family takes lightly, and in the end, he will select the school he feels offers him the best opportunity of fulfilling his dreams.
Weight: 215 pounds
High School: North Brunswick
Hometown: Leland, North Carolina
BDN Scouting Report: Rayner is a prolific run-stopper from either the LB or DE position. His size and speed likely translate best as an outside linebacker at the college level, but his versatility is one of his strengths. A tackling-machine, Rayner has a great nose for the football and the strength to wrap up ball-carriers. He has the instincts and athleticism to be a playmaker in the ACC, but must improve his coverage skills to earn early playing time on defense. His tackling ability and motor make him an excellent candidate to see early action on special teams.
Duke: Duke was also an early leader for Rayner, as the Blue Devils were among the first to offer the in-state defensive star. By the fall, however, it appeared that Duke has fallen back to the pack, though the staff continued to communicate with Keilin. From Duke’s perspective, Rayner is the prototypical linebacker for their 4-2-5 defensive scheme. He has the tackling ability and frame that is reminiscent of current Bengals’ LB Vincent Rey, a former Duke star. Rayner would have the ability to earn immediate playing time, while also setting himself up for life after football, something important to his family.
ECU: The Pirates are the hometown school for Rayner, and that proximity to home is always tough to beat. Rayner shared his official visit to Greenville with Duncan, and all reports are that the staff hit a home run that weekend. ECU offers the same things as above: social scene, passion for football, and immediate playing time.
Summary: Rayner has played things incredibly close to the vest over the past week, making this a tough one to call. Reports are that the Blue Devils’ are the favorite among his family, but that the official visit to ECU is still looming large in Keilin’s mind. As with Duncan, it’s important to note that Rayner will be an excellent representative of whichever program he chooses. He’s been great to interview and will be a great addition to any football program.
While it’s seemingly easy for fans to make these decisions, each prospect has his own priorities, pressures, likes, and dislikes. Duke has done a good job in recruiting both players and has remained in both recruitments from day 1. The Blue Devils have earned a hat on each table and we’ll all have our fingers crossed on Signing Day. The addition of either Duncan or Rayner would be a perfect ending to what appears to be one of Duke’s strongest recruiting classes in recent years. The addition of both could just be the turning point this program has been looking for.
Be sure to check in with BDN for all the latest Duke Signing Day coverage. [/private]
If you think football season is close, consider this: there is only one more Football Friday before Duke opens training camp. If that doesn’t get you excited, hopefully the rest of this column will. Early analysis suggests that this may be the longest Football Friday ever, so pace yourself!
No sales pitch this week. If you’re reading this, you already know how good BDN is. One other note: Duke football season tickets are still available, so if you haven’t got yours yet, time is running out. Away game tickets are also available, and we can say from experience that it’s a lot of fun to be part of the Duke faithful in watching a big Blue Devil road victory. Starting on August 1st, Duke will make single game home tickets available at GoDuke.
I don’t know what else to say. Last weekend, all seemed well at the ACC Football Kickoff in Pinehurst. Though still somewhat hard to believe, Butch Davis continued to weather the storm and appeared poised to lead the Tar Heels in 2011. Then, Wednesday happened. For reasons that still remain unclear, Chancellor Holden Thorp fired Davis after a closed-door meeting with the Board of Trustees. Thursday, Athletic Director Dick Baddour announced that he will be stepping down as well, and the Tar Heels later tagged Defensive Coordinator Everett Withers as interim Head Coach. The timing of all this is puzzling, to say the least, and leaves the Tar Heel players, fans, and administration in a difficult position. In addition to the financial costs associated with Coach Davis’ termination, the Tar Heels will now have to pay off their stadium improvements. With many players, fans and boosters upset with the handling of the football scandal for one reason or another, UNC is certainly in an unenviable position. We could spend all Football Friday talking about the scandal and these recent developments, but we’ll just highlight two points:
First, in the current climate of NCAA athletics, let’s be thankful for those who do things the right way. Duke is fortunate to be led by good people who want to win, and want to do it honestly. Thank you to Coach Krzyzewski, Coach Cutcliffe, Dr. Kevin White and Dr. Richard Brodhead for their outstanding character and dedication to Duke University. Every program has problems, but the Blue Devils’ leadership has handled these situations appropriately, consistently, and with class. And thank you to all of the coaches and administrators throughout the NCAA who continue to improve the lives of thousands of student-athletes and uphold the integrity of college athletics.
Those responsible should be held accountable for the egregious transgressions within the North Carolina football program, athletic department, and academic administration. It appears that this is finally being done, and one could argue that there is no wrong time to do the right thing. That being said, this puts the football program in a difficult position, and while it may be difficult for any Duke fan to say something nice about a Tar Heel, we all want what’s best for the ACC and the student-athletes. We want to see the ACC become a more competitive football conference, and we want to see programs win the right way. Hopefully, the Tar Heels will eventually arise from this scandal as a better program and a more respectable member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Congratulations to Duke’s Brandon Harper
With the NFL lockout finally over, Duke’s Brandon Harper was the first former Blue Devil to earn an opportunity as a professional, signing a free agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. BDN wishes the best of luck to Brandon and all of the Blue Devil alumni pursuing their NFL dreams!
Dondo Files, episode 4
Duke senior receiver Donovan Varner has started a video blog, the Dondo Files, and released episode 4 this week. He has great messages for young players and fans about hard work and achieving your goals. This week, he discusses being able to take constructive criticism. With that in mind, how about more than 1 touchdown this year, Donovan? In all seriousness, though, we’re looking forward to a big year from the senior receiver and are proud to have him as a role model for young Blue Devils and players everywhere.
BDN previews continue
We hope you’re enjoying our week-by-week preview of Duke’s 2011 opponents. This week, we wrapped up Duke’s first half of the season with Tulane and Florida International, two important, but tough, games for the Blue Devils to win. After the off week, Duke will face yet another top 10 opponent in Wallace Wade Stadium as the ACC-favorite Florida State Seminoles invade Durham. Check back next week for a look at FSU along with Duke’s week 8 opponent, Wake Forest.
Last week, we took a look around the Atlantic Coast Conference, and our predictions weren’t too terribly out of line with the rest of the ACC media. The Blue Devils landed two players on the preseason All-ACC team in WR Conner Vernon and K Will Synderwine. Now that we got the ACC predictions out of the way, let’s take an in-depth look at the team that really matters - the Blue Devils. There are high hopes for a bowl game in 2011, and a lot of that may depend on how good the Duke defense can be, but the reality is that the Duke offense will have to carry this team for much of the season. For that reason, we kickoff our 2011 Duke Football Team Preview with a look at the high-flying Blue Devils’ offense. If this unit lives up to expectations, there should be plenty of excitement in Wallace Wade Stadium this fall.
BDN Duke Football 2011 Team Preview: Offense
With considerable youth and inexperience on defense, the 2011 Duke Football team will rely on a veteran offense that finished 2nd in the ACC in passing offense and 7th in total offense a year ago. While the Duke offense showed flashes of dominance in 2010, there will need to be dramatic improvements across the board if the Blue Devils hope to make a bowl in 2011.
Key returners: Sean Renfree (R-Jr.), Brandon Connette (So.)
Newcomers: Anthony Boone (R-Fr.)
2010 Review: In his first year as a starter, Sean Renfree showed glimpses of his potential, but overall was inconsistent in leading the Duke offense. In particular, Renfree struggled with turnovers, finishing the season with an ACC-high 17 interceptions. Coming off of season-ending knee surgery in 2009, Renfree’s mobility appeared to be limited at times, particularly early in the season. More importantly, and not unexpectedly, the redshirt-sophomore struggled with his confidence throughout the season, especially on the heels of Duke’s embarrassing loss to Alabama. Despite the struggles, it wasn’t all bad for Renfree. He led the Blue Devils to three wins, finished third in the ACC with 3,131 total yards and completed 61.4% of his passes, including a midseason stretch of 16 consecutive completions and 28/30 completions against Navy, both school records. The 3,131 yards were the 3rd highest total in Duke history and helped to earn him the Carmen Falcone Award as Duke’s Most Valuable Player. The biggest area for Renfree to improve is certainly turnovers, and he demonstrated tremendous growth throughout the 2010 season. After throwing 15 interceptions in the first 7 games of the season, Renfree finished the season with just 2 interceptions in the Blue Devils’ final 5 contests.
In 2010, dual-threat QB Brandon Connette served as Renfree’s primary back-up and earned significant playing time with his legs. Connette set a Duke freshman record with 8 rushing touchdowns and finished the year with 321 yards on 78 carries. He struggled to move the ball through the air when called upon, finishing just 10/22 with 2 interceptions.
2011 Outlook: Simply put, the Duke offense will rely heavily on the play of Sean Renfree. If Renfree is unable to significantly reduce his turnovers, the Blue Devils will not be bowling in 2011. Now nearly two years removed from knee surgery and with a year of starting experience under his belt, Renfree’s mobility and confidence should be drastically improved from this time last year. With three of his top four receivers returning, along with 4 of 5 offensive line starters, Renfree will be surrounded by familiar faces and will be counted on to lead the Blue Devil offense. While there is no doubt within the Duke program that Renfree is the clear starter, he will continue to be pushed by a sophomore Connette and redshirt-freshman Anthony Boone, which should only help the Duke offense. Reports from spring practice were overwhelmingly positive for all three quarterbacks and for Renfree in particular. Coach Cutcliffe has anointed Renfree as the best returning quarterback in the ACC in 2011, and believe he is poised to have a “special” season. If the Blue Devils plan on playing in December or January, he will have to play like the best quarterback in the conference.
Newcomers: Jamison Crowder (Fr.), Blair Holliday (Fr.), Nick Hill (Fr.)
2010 Review: As you might expect, the performance of Duke’s wide receivers mirrored the ups and downs of QB Sean Renfree. Overall, Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon make up one of, if not the, top receiving tandem in college football. After his All-ACC campaign in 2009, Varner became just the 2nd Duke receiver to post back-to-back 60-reception seasons, finishing 2010 with 60 catches for 736 yards and 1 touchdown. After a breakout freshman season that earned him freshman All-American honors, Vernon topped his 2009 campaign with 73 catches for 946 yards and 4 touchdowns. The duo of Varner and Vernon partnered with senior Austin Kelly to form the top receiving trio in Duke history in 2010. Kelly battled injuries throughout his senior year, but still finished tied for the team lead with 4 touchdown catches. Outside of the top three, Duke’s younger receivers had an inconsistent 2010. After a good spring, freshman Brandon Braxton had an up and down season in his first year of college football, playing in 11 games and starting 5. Braxton finished 2010 with 14 catches and 1 touchdown; however, of those 14 receptions, 8 went for a Duke first down. Overall, fans should be excited with his potential and can pencil him in as the third starter alongside Varner and Vernon in 2011 after a strong offseason. Redshirt-freshmen Corey Gattis and Tyree Watkins saw the field sparingly in their first year of college eligibility.
2011 Outlook: Despite the loss of Kelly, Duke’s third-leading receiver in 2010, expectations are extremely high for the 2011 Duke receiving corps. Led by upperclassmen Varner and Vernon, this should be one of the top receiving units in the country. As good as Duke’s receivers were in 2010, they will need to be better in 2011, particularly in finding their way to the end zone and securing passes (not all of Dukes 2010 turnover troubles can be blamed on the QB). Expected improvements in the Duke running game should open up big play possibilities for Duke’s receivers, allowing them to eclipse their previous career highs. With Varner and Vernon likely to draw significant attention from opposing defenses, the opportunities will be there for Duke’s young receivers to step up and make plays. Braxton will get the first shot as the third starter at receiver, and is beginning to develop good chemistry with Renfree. Expect Braxton, Watkins, and Gattis to show dramatic improvement over 2010, and they should be pushed by true freshmen Blair Holliday and Nick Hill for playing time. The athletic ability of freshman Jamison Crowder will be hard to keep off the field, and he may find some time at slot receiver in certain offensive sets. Led by two determined, dynamic upperclassmen, this group has the potential to be the best in the ACC.
Losses: Brett Huffman, Brandon King
Key returners: Danny Parker (R-Sr.), Cooper Helfet (Sr.), Jack Farrell (R-So.)
Newcomers: Braxton Deaver (R-Fr.), David Reeves (Fr.)
2010 Review: For the past several years, the Duke tight end position has been led by two warriors in Brett Huffman and Brandon King. Seemingly always injured, it took a lot to keep them off the field. With some struggles along the offensive line, Huffman and King were called upon to aid the Blue Devils’ blockers for much of their careers, and did so admirably. The Duke staff likes to move the tight end around in their offense, and the versatility of Huffman and King allowed them to thrive in multiple roles. While Huffman and King assumed roles as the unheralded warriors of the Duke offense, junior college transfer Cooper Helfet emerged as another potent weapon in Sean Renfree’s arsenal. After struggling with an ankle injury early in the season, Helfet finished the year with at least 4 catches in Duke’s final 5 games, leading the team in receiving in two contests and earning two ACC Player of the Week honors.
2011 Outlook: Huffman and King will not be easily replaced in the Duke offense, but with two seniors and a talented group of young players, the tight end should remain a strength for the 2011 Blue Devils. Helfet appears poised for a breakout senior campaign and will be joined by redshirt-senior Danny Parker, who redshirted in 2010 after seeing 232 snaps as a junior in 2009. Redshirt-freshman Braxton Deaver should be ready to contribute in his first season of college eligibility and true freshman David Reeves may be too good to keep off the field in his first year in Durham. The concern for this group will be replacing the blocking of Huffman and King, but their receiving numbers should improve over 2010.
Key returners: Jay Hollingworth (Sr.), Patrick Kurunuwe (R-Jr.), Desmond Scott (Jr.), Josh Snead (So.), Juwan Thompson (So.)
2010 Review: The 2010 Duke running game had nowhere to go but up, finishing last in the FBS in rushing in 2009. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Blue Devils took significant steps forward in 2010, increasing their rushing averages by 46.5 yards per game and adding 13 more touchdowns on the ground from 2009. Still, Duke finished last in the ACC in rushing and 104th in the country in 2011. Desmond Scott led the Blue Devils in rushing for the second straight season, finishing with 549 yards and a 4.4 yards per carry average. Scott established himself as Duke’s best all-around back and endeared himself to the Duke faithful with his game-winning touchdown dive against Virginia. Freshman Josh Snead showed flashes of his ability before injuries interrupted his season, but still finished with a team-best 4.9 yards per carry. Fellow freshman Juwan Thompson saw his offensive role increase as he adjusted to the college game, but was primarily limited to kick return duty. Junior Jay Hollingsworth came on strong late in the season, igniting the Duke offense with impressive 2nd half runs against Miami. Redshirt-sophomore Patrick Kurunuwe saw limited action on offense and special teams.
2011 Outlook: Duke returns all of their running backs in 2011, along with four of five starters along the offensive line. While blocking may be partly to blame for Duke’s struggles in the running game, Duke’s rushers must continue to improve their vision, burst, and strength. Improved confidence could go a long way to improving Duke’s running, as some of Duke’s best runs in 2010 appeared to come when the Blue Devil backs were “running with a purpose.” Scott has emerged as the face of Duke’s running game, and must become a consistent threat both on the ground and through the air for the Duke offense. While Scott is likely to again see the majority of carries, Duke’s depth at running back means that there will be significant competition for snaps in training camp and throughout the season, which should force this group to continue to improve. Snead and Thompson should take a big step forward in their second year of college football, and the overall depth at running back should allow Duke to do a better job wearing down opposing defenses. Thompson, in particular, appears poised to be a breakout candidate for the Duke offense. While no one should expect Duke to become a great running team overnight, the pieces are there for the Blue Devils to continue to improve on the ground, open things up in the passing game, and keep opposing offenses off the field.
Key returners: Kyle Hill (R-Sr.), Jon Needham (R-Sr.), Brian Moore (R-Jr.), Conor Irwin (R-Jr.), Dave Harding (R-So.), John Coleman (R-So.), Perry Simmons (R-So.)
Newcomers: Takoby Cofield (R-Fr.), Laken Tomlinson (R-Fr.), Marcus Aprahamian (Fr.), Lucas Patrick (Fr.), Cody Robinson (Fr.), Matt Skura (Fr.)
2010 Review: After watching Thaddeus Lewis play under seemingly constant pressure for four years, the Duke offensive line appeared to take a step forward in 2010. The group struggled again in run-blocking, but finished near the top of the ACC in sacks allowed per pass attempt. Morgan, though undersized, was the anchor up front, starting at center for 36 consecutive games. With little depth, the offensive line was asked to play through injury in 2010. For many weeks, Duke’s starters sat out practice but suited up on Saturday. That warrior mentality showed through on the field, as Duke improved their rushing by 46.5 yards per game, and the line successfully protected their first-year QB coming off knee surgery (25 sacks allowed, only 5.1% of dropbacks).
2011 Outlook: Of all the position groups on the Duke offense, the offensive line appears the most ready to take a big step forward in 2011. That being said, this group loses seniors Morgan and Harper and will need to continue to work hard and produce results on the field. Duke’s starting offensive line is expected to average close to 290 pounds in 2011, and that increased size and strength should help in both pass and run blocking. For the first time since Coach Cutcliffe’s arrival in Durham, the Blue Devils will be able to go two-deep across the offensive line without significant drop-off. In fact, there should be interesting position battles in training camp at right tackle and right guard, where redshirt-freshmen Takoby Cofield and Laken Tomlinson will push Perry Simmons and John Coleman for snaps. A talented group of freshmen offensive linemen should help solidify the position for the next several years and could see the field in the event of a significant injury. For the first time in several years, Duke has multiple NFL prospects among their offensive linemen, led by Brian Moore, Kyle Hill, Laken Tomlinson, Takoby Cofield, and Cody Robinson. Overall, the size, skill, and depth has improved, but this group will need to produce results on the field for the Duke offense to realize its full potential.
There’s more? Sure, why not? To reward our loyal members, let’s take a quick look at where Duke stands with a few uncommitted 2012 prospects:
Running back: Jela Duncan is the guy here, and Duke would love to try and secure a commitment from him soon, though he seems content to wait out other offers. Earlier this week, we took a look at possible destinations for the Mallard Creek star, and the smart money is still on the Blue Devils here, whether it’s sooner or later. There’s no telling what will happen with North Carolina, but they remain in play for a few other backs, and with scholarship restrictions on the horizon, new offers will be few and far between. Scholarships are also scarce at South Carolina, another potential competitor for Duncan’s services. As for his current offers, Duncan hasn’t shown a lot of interest in Pittsburgh, Purdue, or Wake Forest up to this point. Some other prospects to keep an eye on include Dondre Brown, Jamie Gilmore, and Chris Mangus, but Duncan is the clear priority.
Best available: Outside of running back, the Duke coaching staff feels very good about the class of 2012 and will be in a position to take the best available players with their last 2 or 3 scholarships. In the past week, Duke has hosted OL Robert Conyers and ATH Ryan Janvion, and it looks like a good bet that the Blue Devils will find themselves among the finalists for both of those Florida prospects.
In addition, we’ve long reported Duke’s interest in Korren Kirven, but they face a huge uphill battle against his in-state ACC schools and several top SEC programs. Kirven is expected to narrow his list soon, and it would be nice for the Blue Devils to make the cut, but there are no guarantees. Elsewhere along the defensive line, Duke is still very much in it for Alabama standout Torey Agee, and will likely be a finalist along with Vanderbilt. BDN’s thinking is that Auburn or Georgia Tech would jump to the lead for Agee, if they were to offer. Duke is a longer shot for Greensboro’s D.J. Reader, who plans to play both football and baseball in college. With the academic requirements at Duke, it takes a very dedicated student-athlete to balance classes along with two sports.
Duke has been the leader for top in-state linebacker Keilin Rayner, but something has kept him from pulling the trigger for the Blue Devils so far. He’s been busy on the camp circuit this summer, and we’ll see where things stand with him soon. It appears that other schools have closed the gap, but Duke is still in the running for his services and a good start in September could help the Blue Devils’ chances. Florida athlete Marcus Allen is another intriguing prospect who looks like a good fit in Durham with his success in the classroom and on the field, but with a Florida State offer in hand, it may be tough to pull him out of the sunshine state. California LB Jeremiah Allison is another star student-athlete who seems to fit the Duke mold, and if the Blue Devils can maybe get him on campus for an official visit, they could become a serious contender in his recruitment.
As always, BDN will keep you posted with new developments. By securing a solid 2012 recruiting class early in the summer, the Duke coaching staff has been able to get a head start on evaluating the class of 2013, and we’ll slowly start to introduce members to some of the early targets as we head into the fall.
Ok, seriously, I can’t write any more, and I bet your eyes hurt if you’ve made it this far. So next week, Duke defense preview time. Until then, WE ARE DUKE.
Football Friday comes to you fashionably late this week, and in abbreviated form so that you can get in line for Harry Potter early. Has anyone camped out for three months for seats to Harry Potter? I didn’t think so. That takes real dedication. Here’s to you, Cameron Crazies – and here’s hoping to see all of you in Wallace Wade Stadium this fall.
Clarkston Hines HOF 2011
Congratulations to Duke alumnus Clarkston Hines, who will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Indiana. The ceremonies will kick off at 9:30 AM and conclude with a dinner and ceremony at 7:30 PM. The “Frequent Flyer” holds Duke records in receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and 100-yard receiving games. He also holds ACC records in touchdown receptions and 100-yard receiving games. The 1989 ACC Player of the Year, Hines led the Blue Devils to a share of the ACC Championship and was named a first team All-American.
To put some of Hines’ accomplishments in perspective, consider how his career compares to current Duke stars Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon.
Conner Vernon (2009-2010): 128 receptions, 1719 yards, 7 touchdowns, 7 100-yard receiving games
While Varner and Vernon may have a chance to approach Hines’ reception total, they would have to put up some impressive seasons to approach his yardage, touchdown, or 100-yard game records. It’s clear that Hines is more than deserving of his enshrinement. Congratulations!
More preseason accolades
It wasn’t that long ago when Duke was being shut out of most national preseason Award Watch Lists. Well, the times, they are a’changin. This year, it might be hard for you to keep track, so let us recap for you:
SAF Matt Daniels: Athlon Sports 3rd Team All-ACC
TE Cooper Helfet: Mackey Award Watch List, CFPA TE Watch List, Athlon Sports 3rd Team All-ACC, Lindy’s Sports 2nd Team All-ACC
OT Kyle Hill: Athlon Sports 3rd Team All-ACC
C Brian Moore: Rimington Trophy Watch List
QB Sean Renfree: Davey O'Brien Award Watch List, CFPA QB Watch List, Athlon Sports 3rd Team All-ACC, Lindy’s Sports ACC “Strongest Arm”
K Will Snyderwine: Groza Award Watch List, CFPA K Watch List, Athlon Sports 1st Team All-ACC, Lindy’s Sports 1st Team All-ACC, Sporting News 2nd Team All-American, Sporting News 1st Team All-ACC
WR Donovan Varner: Biletnikoff Award Watch List, Athlon Sports 3rd Team All-ACC
WR Conner Vernon: Biletnikoff Award Watch List, CFPA WR Watch List, Athlon Sports 1st Team All-ACC, Lindy’s Sports 1st Team All-ACC, Sporting News 1st Team All-ACC, Sporting News ACC “Best Hands”
Got it now? There’s going to be a quiz at the end. Congratulations to the Blue Devils for their well-deserved recognition, but we know that it’s the post-season awards that they’re working to earn.
The Dondo Files
Speaking of Donovan Varner, don’t miss episode three of The Dondo Files. “Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.” – William Arthur Ward
2011 Opponent Previews
In case you missed them, be sure to check out our previews of Richmond and Stanford. They’re great reads and we are fortunate to have had the help of David Weissman and Hank Waddles to give us an inside look at Duke’s first two opponents. As you might expect, we’ll have a preview of Boston College, as well as Florida International, up this week, so be sure to check them out and spread the word that BDN has the best Duke Football coverage year-round.
2011 Bowl Games
Make no mistake, the goal for the Duke program is to play in Charlotte in December and the Orange Bowl in January. However, a lot will have to go right for that to happen, with maybe even some help from Harry Potter and friends. Coming off a 3-win 2010 in which the Duke defense struggled mightily and the offense was inconsistent, it might be more realistic to look at some other potential bowl destinations for the Blue Devils. If Duke is able to put together 6 wins or better in 2011, where might they end up playing in December or January?
The three best fits for Duke, at least geographically and a potential high-profile opponent, would be the Belk Bowl, the Music City Bowl, or the Military Bowl. The 2011 Belk Bowl will be held down I-85 in Charlotte on December 27th, and feature the #5 ACC team against a Big East opponent. The 2011 Music City Bowl will be held down I-40 in Nashville on December 7th, pitting the #6 ACC bowl team against an SEC opponent (with a sweet $3.675MM payout). If the Blue Devils were to be selected for the Military Bowl, they would likely face a familiar opponent in Navy on December 28th in Washington, DC.
The ACC also has a conditional agreement with the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, which will be played on New Year’s Eve in San Francisco, but let’s hope we won’t have to travel that far. Another option would be the Independence Bowl on December 26th against a MWC team in Shreveport, Louisiana. Of course, Duke fans would welcome the opportunity to travel to any of these games to support the Blue Devils, so you may want to start saving up those frequent flyer miles and hotel points for December!
Class of 2012 holds steady
Wow, we made it through an entire week without a Duke football commitment. It’s been awhile since we could say that. Duke has 13 solid verbal commitments in the class of 2012 and will hold their final few scholarships for potential impact players at RB, DL, LB, and WR. We’ve discussed the targets at length in previous weeks and on our Premium Message Board, but just to recap:
RB: Todd Gurley confirmed to BDN this week that he has dropped Duke from the schools he is considering. I gave my reaction to this news earlier this week on the message boards, but to summarize, Gurley is a tremendous talent, but may not have been the best fit at Duke University. Mallard Creek’s Jela Duncan, who posted a sub-4.3 40 time in Durham earlier this summer and boasts a 3.5 GPA, would certainly look good in Duke blue.
LB: We heard from Marcus Allen earlier this week, another great athlete out of the state of Florida. His recruitment will be competitive, but he’s exactly the type of student-athlete that could thrive in Durham. Keilin Rayner is a player who has been high on the Blue Devils throughout the process and with his interest in Sports Medicine, would be another great fit at Duke.
DL: The targets at this position have changed significantly in the past week, as the Virginia schools have locked up several verbal commitments. Woody Baron and Nigel Williams committed to Virginia Tech, giving the Hokies five defensive linemen in the class of 2012. Virginia added Courtnye Wynn, their third defensive line commitment in this class (they brought in seven DLs in the class of 2010). With a logjam on the defensive lines at UVA and VPI, could that help the Blue Devils with their recruitment of DT Korren Kirven? It certainly can’t hurt, but Duke will have to battle things out with over a dozen other top programs for the elite Lynchburg lineman. Outside of Kirven, Duke is still recruiting Torey Agee out of Alabama and in-state standout David Reader. Agee is on a visit to Vanderbilt this weekend, and Reader has recently decided to pursue both football and baseball at the collegiate level. At 6’3” and 300+ pounds with a 95 MPH fastball, Reader could certainly help the Blue Devils on the gridiron and the diamond.
WR: The Blue Devils are hoping to add a new element to their receiving corps with one more commitment in the class of 2012, and that could come in the form of elite Tennessee prospect Drae Bowles, or the lengthy Anthony Nash out of Pennsylvania.
ACC following in the SEC’s footsteps?
Except without the national championships. With the NCAA having investigated North Carolina and Georgia Tech for violations in their football programs, the ACC appears to be trending down a slippery slope. Fortunately, the majority of ACC programs continue to do things the right way, and Duke remains one of them. The Duke coaching staff, along with a top-notch compliance department, are sure to keep the program on track. With regards to Georgia Tech, though the NCAA noted a lack of cooperation with their investigation, the penalties ultimately should not have a great affect on the program. A fine, vacating wins, and probation hardly hurt the program where it counts going forward. In my opinion, the only NCAA penalties that have any noticeable effect involve the loss of scholarships or post-season participation. With many more violations having occurred in Chapel Hill, we’ll have to see if the NCAA chooses to enforce more significant penalties.
They say this internet is going to be a big deal. You can keep up with all things Duke Football through us here at BDN, of course, or you can follow Duke Football on Twitter. We’re also on Facebook, as is Duke Football. Of course, the best way to stay informed about all things Duke athletics is to join BDN Premium. And if you need an invite to this new Google+ thing, shoot me an email.
We’re gaining steam now
We’ve been saying that football season is fast approaching for awhile now, and some of that might just be wishful thinking. Come next week, however, and it can no longer be denied. The ACC will host its Football Kickoff in Pinehurst on July 24-25, and the Blue Devils will be represented by Head Coach David Cutcliffe, along with QB Sean Renfree and SAF Matt Daniels. Just two weeks after the ACC Football Kickoff, the Blue Devils will take the field for fall training camp. As always, you can rely on BDN to have the best coverage of all things Duke Football. After all, WE ARE DUKE.
With thirteen verbal commitments received in the class of 2012, Duke has only a few remaining scholarships available and are looking to fill a few outstanding needs. With California LB Deion Williams already committed, Duke still has a spot to add another athletic linebacker with one of their remaining scholarships. Though the staff has long been in aggressive pursuit of in-state star Keilin Rayner, another athlete out of the Jacksonville, FL area has caught their attention. Marcus Allen is a 6’2” 210 pound athlete from Hilliard HS in Hilliard, FL. A star in basketball and track, Marcus played just his first year of football last fall as a junior and his natural ability earned him plenty of playing time for the Flashes on both sides of the ball. Primarily a running back and linebacker, Allen has earned over 20 scholarship offers this spring and summer, and has recently been busy taking unofficial visits across the Southeast. Duke Assistant Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach Jim Collins has produced several All-ACC linebackers during his time in Durham, including recent stars Mike Tauiliili and Vincent Rey (now with the Cincinnati Bengals). As a standout both on the field and in the classroom (he boasts a 4.0 GPA), Allen could become another star student-athlete for Coach Collins and the Blue Devils, if he chooses to join fellow Jacksonville-area natives Dwayne Norman, Erich Schneider, and Thomas Sirk in the Blue Devils’ class of 2012. [private]
BDN: Can you start out by describing your strengths as a player?
Well, this is my first year playing high school football, so my strengths are just my natural ability to play the game of football and my quick ability to learn, catch onto things quickly, and just being able to use my athleticism.
BDN: You played all over the field in your first year at Hilliard; is there a position you prefer, or a position that college coaches are recruiting you for?
At running back and at linebacker.
BDN: What are some of the things you have been working on this offseason?
Just working on more agility and fundamentals.
BDN: What are your goals for your senior year?
My first goal is to have a winning season, I think we’ve made a lot of progress over the spring and the summer. That’s the main goal to have a winning season and make it to the playoffs.
BDN: What are the most important factors you’re looking for in a college?
I’m looking for the best combination of academics and athletics. Just a place that fits me, a program to help me become a better person for my future, teach me how to do finances and stuff like that.
BDN: You mentioned academics as important to you; is there a particular field you are interested in studying?
I’m still undecided.
BDN: What schools would you say have been recruiting you the hardest?
I’d say Tennessee, Duke, Vanderbilt…Kentucky…Arkansas, Boston College.
BDN: Sounds like a good mix of ACC and SEC programs; is there a school or conference that you’ve grown up following?
BDN: Which schools have you had a chance to visit so far?
Well I’ve been able to visit Florida, Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Clemson, and I think that’s it.
BDN: Did any of those schools seem to have the combination of academics and athletics that you’re looking for?
They’re all pretty similar, they all have a lot of great things to offer, I didn’t have any stand out just from my visits.
BDN: Do you have an idea for how or when you want to narrow things down and make your decision?
I’m trying to narrow things down some, but I still want to take my official visits, and make sure I have all the information I need to make my final decision.
BDN: Is there anything else that you think is important for college football fans to know about you?
I’m just a guy from a small town that’s trying to make a big impact. For the kids that come from small towns, just show that anybody can make it in college football if you work at it enough.
BDN: Thanks a lot, Marcus, and best of luck to you.