DURHAM- Blue Devil Nation was on hand for Duke Football’s Media Day on Wednesday in Durham. One of the key players for the 2011 Blue Devils will be sophomore linebacker Kelby Brown, who has hit the field running this week after knee surgery late in 2010. BDN caught up with Kelby for an update on his health and the 2011 Duke defense.
This is it, baby. The last Football Friday before training camp opens. Get excited, Blue Devil Nation! Football season is here. This week, BDN’s Bob Green looks at the 2011 Blue Devils’ bowl hopes, and we also previewed the October matchup with ACC favorite Florida State. As promised, we’ve got an in-depth look at the 2011 Blue Devil defense this week, so without further ado…
BDN Duke Football 2011 Team Preview: Defense
It’s no secret that the Duke defense struggled mightily in 2010. Simply put, the Blue Devils were unable to stop opposing offenses, placing nearly impossible pressure on the offense and first-year starting QB Sean Renfree to outscore opponents. The experiment with a 3-4 defense was short-lived and essentially doomed the Blue Devil defense. Without a clear defensive scheme or identity, Duke’s defenders often appeared out of position or overmatched. On the whole, the effort was there, but the execution was inconsistent. Jim Knowles takes over as Defensive Coordinator in 2011, and Rick Petri joins the staff as Defensive Line coach.
Newcomers: Jamal Bruce (R-Fr.),Will Bryant (F-Fr.), Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo (R-Fr.), Steven Ingram (R-Fr.), Dezmond Johnson (R-Fr.), Nick Sink (R-Fr.), Jamal Wallace (R-Fr.), Lucas Fisher (Fr.), Carson Ginn (Fr.), Sam Marshall (Fr.), Mario Sanders (Fr.)
2010 Review: Simply put, the Duke defensive line was unable to stop the run and failed to pressure opposing quarterbacks. After showing improvements between 2006 and 2008, the defensive line began a two-year slide in 2009. The line came up with just 19 sacks in 2009, allowing 153 yards per game rushing (4.0 average yards per carry). The numbers declined again in 2010, finishing with just 12 sacks and giving up 208 rushing yards per game (4.8 average yards per game). Those numbers finished last in the ACC and 113th in the country. Overall, the group battled through injuries and midseason schematic changes, but failed to find consistent success.
2011 Outlook: With seven redshirt-freshmen, along with four true freshmen, entering the depth chart this fall, this will be the deepest line Coach Cutcliffe has had at Duke, at least in numbers. With a preponderance of youth and inexperience, the hope is that Coach Petri, who is known as a great teacher, can accelerate the growth of this group. Overall, the unit should have improved size and speed relative to recent years, but significantly less experience. While projected starters Hatcher, Foxx, Sarmiento, and Anunike are expected to play the majority of snaps, they will be frequently rotated with several of the first-year players. Much like the Duke running game, the Blue Devil defensive linemen have to find ways to improve over their 2009 and 2010 numbers. Reports indicate that the talent is there to improve and compete, and now the players will have to go out and execute if Duke hopes to become bowl-eligible in 2011.
Losses: Adam Banks, Abraham Kromah, Damian Thornton
Key returners: Austin Gamble (Jr.), Kevin Rojas (R-So.), Kelby Brown (So.)
Newcomers: C.J. France (R-Fr.), Kyler Brown (Fr.), Britton Grier (Fr.), David Helton (Fr.), Jon Woodruff (Fr.)
2010 Review: The Blue Devils’ defense has seen their leading tackler come from the linebacking corps in seven straight seasons, and that tradition continued in 2010 with Abraham Kromah. Kromah was an unsung hero on the Duke defense, finishing with a team-best 123 tackles, which was good enough for 2nd in the ACC behind BC All-American Luke Kuechly. Even with five of the top six linebackers returning in 2010, freshman Kelby Brown proved to be too good to keep off the field. After burning his redshirt against Alabama, Brown was the biggest surprise of the year on defense, earning freshman All-American honors and leading the country in fumble recoveries per game. Injuries slowed the linebackers as a whole, and Brown saw his breakout season come to an early end with a knee injury against Georgia Tech. Departing seniors Kromah, Damian Thornton, and Adam Banks leave big openings on the depth chart heading into 2011.
2011 Outlook: Though the success of the Duke defense will begin (or end) with the defensive line, the linebackers also present question marks heading into the 2011 season. Kelby Brown is the only returning player with significant starting experience, and he is recovering from season-ending ACL surgery. The newcomers are likely to push Gamble and Rojas for playing time, and that competition should be interesting to watch starting on Monday. If Kyler Brown can replicate some of his brother’s freshman success, or if France, Grier, Helton, or Woodruff can contribute ahead of schedule, then this group again could be a pleasant surprise for the 2011 Blue Devils.
Key returners: Lee Butler (Sr.), Matt Daniels (Sr.), Jordon Byas (R-Jr.), Walt Canty (Jr.), August Campbell (R-So.), Anthony Young-Wiseman (R-So.)
Newcomers: Chris Tavarez (Fr.)
2010 Review: It’s hard to say that any position group had a good year among the 2010 Duke defense, but the safeties probably contributed the most to the small success that was had. Daniels, Canty, and Butler all finished in the top 7 in tackles for the 2010 defense. The safeties produced some of the defenses’ biggest plays in 2010, and that play-making ability ultimately led the staff to end the season with primarily a 4-2-5 scheme. In a tight fourth quarter at Navy, Matt Daniels forced a key fumble to secure the Duke victory. In a game where the offense struggled against Boston College, August Campbell’s school record 95-yard fumble return for a touchdown ignited the Duke team.
2011 Outlook: The deepest position on the Duke defense by far, the success of the 4-2-5 scheme will rely on safeties to become key playmakers. Duke will return all of their safety playmakers from 2010, though they will be without redshirt-freshman Issac Blakeney for academic reasons. Even without Blakeney, this will be the deepest and most experienced group among the Duke defenders. Senior Matt Daniels is poised for an All-ACC campaign, along with fellow senior Lee Butler. Byas, Canty, and Campbell are all capable of significant improvements over their 2010 efforts. If the Duke cornerbacks can provide good coverage, the safeties should find themselves in position to slow oppfisher rushers and make plays all over the field.
Losses: Chris Rwabukamba
Key Returners: Johnny Williams (Sr.), Tony Foster (R-Jr.), Zach Greene (R-Jr.), Ross Cockrell (R-So.), Garrett Patterson (R-So.)
Newcomers: Jared Boyd (Fr.), Tim Burton (Fr.)
2010 Review: Cornerback seemed to be a feast or famine position for the 2010 Blue Devils. Missed coverages, poorly-read throws, and converted third-and-longs plagued the Duke corners all year. That being said, senior Chris Rwabukamba was the top coverage guy, forcing opponents to look elsewhere. Cockrell and Williams, two of the team’s top athletes, but both playing their first year of college defense, struggled mightily. Overall, Duke finished last in the ACC in pass defense. Cockerel was just the second freshman to lead the Blue Devils in interceptions, giving fans a glimpse of his potential coverage ability.
2011 Outlook: This is another group that needs to show significant improvement in 2011 for the Blue Devils to win. The inconsistencies and missed coverages seen in 2010 cannot happen if Duke is going to be able to improve on their ACC-worst pass defense. If the corners are unable to shut down opposing receivers, the Duke safeties will be unable to be aggressive against the run. Cockrell, Williams, Greene and Foster are likely to start the year at the top of the depth chart, but any struggles will give an opportunity for highly-touted freshman Jared Boyd. Collectively, Duke has some of their best athletes at cornerback, and those athletes will have to play with more confidence and poise than 2010.
Practice kicks off on Monday! The Blue Devils will practice every day next week, putting on pads for the first time on Friday morning. BDN will be your best source for coverage inside Duke’s training camp, as the Blue Devils prepare for the 2011 season. WE ARE DUKE.
With fall training camp just one month away, the Duke coaching staff is hoping to close out their July by adding the final pieces to the class of 2012. The Blue Devils have already had a busy summer, securing 13 verbal commitments before Independence Day. Looking at the projected Duke roster, however, there are a few noticeable missing pieces. With four upperclassmen projected at the position, running back appears to be one of the Blue Devils’ biggest remaining needs. The Duke coaching staff has demonstrated a willingness to play true freshmen in the backfield, with in-state stars Desmond Scott and Josh Snead both receiving carries in their first year in Durham. In the class of 2012, it’s no secret that the Blue Devils have two more in-state running backs at the top of their wish list, hoping to continue the trend. [private]
Jela Duncan is a 5’10″ 190 pound running back from Mallard Creek HS in Charlotte, NC. In his first full season at running back, Duncan helped Mallard Creek to a 13-1 record, rushing for 1,375 yards on 101 carries with 17 touchdowns, despite missing three games. His junior year performance earned 1st Team I-Meck Conference and plenty of attention from college coaches. Now that he is approaching double digit scholarship offers, including Pittsburgh, Purdue, and Wake Forest, it’s safe to say his recruitment is in full swing. Duke hopes that Duncan will join a growing pipeline of young players from the Greater Charlotte area, including OL Casey Blaser, LB Kelby Brown, LB Kyler Brown, WR Jamison Crowder, DL Carson Ginn, LB Britton Grier and DL Carlos Wray. After an impressive performance at Duke’s camp in June, Duncan could be the next impact freshman running back in Durham.
BDN: What are some of your strengths as a running back?
I would have to say I’m a power back, but I have great speed, too.. I’m more cut and go, I can catch it out of the backfield, I have really good hands, and I just like to make plays for my team.
BDN: What have you been working on this summer?
Footwoork and speed, speed training. I’ve been in the weight room, so mostly all-around.
BDN: What are your goals for your senior year?
State championship, first of all. And I’m hoping to go over 2,000 yards this year.
BDN: As you approach your college decision, what are you looking for in a school?
I want it to feel like it’s home, like all the players are just one, the coaches are one, they’re real with me. They like hard work just like I like hard work, and it’s just a family football environment.
BDN: Which schools have been recruiting you the hardest this summer?
Duke, first of all. And then Purdue started to come into the picture, and Pittsburgh.
BDN: Which schools have you had a chance to visit so far?
I went up to Duke for their football camp about three weeks ago. And I’ve been to NC State two weeks ago, and I’ve been up to Virginia and Virginia Tech.
BDN: What were some of the things that stood out on your visits?
Well, the Virginia Tech visit, it was really exciting. The fans are just crazy. When we first pulled up, they were all out there tailgating for their spring game. It was almost full, it was amazing how loyal those fans are up there.
Duke, it was really good. The players were bonded together. They seemed like they were one family. There was one guy, he left his iPod on the charger, and it was just sitting there, nobody touched it, then he came back and it was still there. It was great to see.
The Virginia visit, it was pretty cool. It was a pretty cool visit. I went up there for a spring basketball game, so I didn’t get to chill with the players very much, but they seemed pretty cool though.
NC State – that went pretty good. I got to met the head coach. He seemed like a really cool guy, he seemed like he wanted to win some ball games.
BDN: What are your plans for the rest of the summer?
Well, we’ve got a national 7-on-7 to go to this Thursday, so we’ll be training for that the next two days. I probably won’t go on any more visits or camps, well I might go to the Wake Forest camp, that will probably be my last one.
BDN: Do you have an idea for when or how you would like to narrow things down?
It’s just going to have to come to me, because I’m not planning on making the decision anytime soon, really.
BDN: Is there anything else you want college football fans to know about you?
I’m a hard worker, I love hard work, I love it, that’s what drives me and my team.
Is it Friday already? Time flies when you’re knee deep in recruiting season. As we did last week, we’ll share Football Friday with everyone this week. If you like reading what we have to say, please consider joining BDN Premium. We’ve quickly become the best resource for all things Duke athletics around, and we’d love to have you join our community.
College football preview season
We mentioned last week that college football previews are in full swing as magazines hit newsstands and websites begin publishing their own predictions. While Duke is flying under the radar for most prognosticators in 2011, several Blue Devil players have garnered pre-season accolades. Will Snyderwine and Conner Vernon were named as preseason 1st Team All-ACC, while Matt Daniels, Cooper Helfet, Kyle Hill, Sean Renfree, and Donovan Varner were tabbed on the 3rd Team by Athlon Sports. I would caution those who are sleeping on Renfree and Varner in 2011; both have taken huge steps forward this offseason and are poised to lead the Blue Devils to a bowl this fall.
Chris Tavarez featured
Duke’s freshman safety has already made a name for himself in the acting world, and will star in a new NBC movie, “Field of Vision.” The Blue Devils are looking forward to Tavarez’s arrival on campus later this month.
It’s been rapid fire at BDN this week, kicking off with the Blue Devils’ 6th verbal commitment in the class of 2012. Carlos Wray joins Allen Jackson as future Duke defensive linemen under new Coach Rick Petri. Wray and Jackson are both athletic prospects who will be fun to watch in Wallace Wade Stadium in the years to come.
With camp season in full swing, BDN checked in with several new Blue Devil prospects to learn more about where they are in their recruiting process, and learned that Duke has made a significant impression on many of them. Some of the new interviews we featured this week included:
If you’ve followed Duke football recruiting in recent years, you know we are just getting started here in early June. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!
Most Duke fans are conditioned to expect recruiting success due to Coach K’s historic run in Durham. In football recruiting, you win some and you lose some. At BDN, we believe it’s more important to focus on the recruiting victories and keep things in perspective. Here’s a quick recap of some of Duke’s biggest recruiting coups in the last two classes alone.
Class of 2010
LB Kelby Brown
Duke fans didn’t know how good of a player they were getting when Brown committed to the Blue Devils in July 2009. The coaching staff was able to secure Kelby’s commitment over nine other scholarship offers from programs like Arkansas, Boston College, Louisville, Northwestern, UCLA, and Wisconsin. After knee surgery cut his freshman year short in 2010, Duke fans are expecting Brown to lead the Blue Devil defense in 2011 and beyond.
QB Brandon Connette
With Sean Renfree entrenched as the heir to Thad Lewis, it was easy to overlook the commitment from Connette, which the Blue Devils received early in the recruiting season, in May 2009. The Duke staff was able to beat out in-state power Stanford for Connette, who came in and led the Blue Devils with 8 rushing touchdowns as a freshman, a new school record.
RB Juwan Thompson
The Duke coaching staff went down to Georgia in the spring of 2009 and stole a pretty good running back prospect from the Peach State. Thompson committed to Duke in June 2009 over offers from Minnesota, Ole Miss, Stanford, UVA, and Wake Forest. After finishing in the ACC’s top 10 in kickoff returns as a freshman, the Blue Devils expect Thompson to see an increased workload in 2011.
RB Josh Snead
After landing 4-star prospect Desmond Scott in 2009, the Duke staff continued their impressive in-state recruiting, adding the speedy Snead to the class of 2010 in December 2009. Snead chose the Blue Devils over Georgia Tech, Louisville, NC State, and Vanderbilt. Along with Scott and Thompson, Snead is expected to be a key playmaker in the 2011 Blue Devil backfield.
Class of 2011
OL Cody Robinson
The Duke coaching staff landed four impressive prospects from the state of Tennessee in the class of 2011, led by the 300-pound Robinson. Cody chose the Blue Devils over 8 other scholarship offers and is expected to anchor the Duke offensive line for years to come.
OL Marcus Aprahamian
Coach Luke and the Blue Devils went into the Midwest and secured a commitment from the top offensive line prospect in the state of Wisconsin in May 2010. Aprahamian, who called Duke his “dream school,” is expected to join fellow 300-pounder Robinson and anchor the Blue Devil offensive line.
LB David Helton
Another good-looking Tennessee prospect, Helton chose Duke over 7 other scholarship offers, including ACC rival Georgia Tech. Helton is a player many think could contribute as a true freshman in 2011.
CB Jared Boyd, CB Tim Burton, S Chris Tavarez
Duke fans are going to love watching this trio of defensive backs develop in Wallace Wade Stadium. The three bring a distinct swagger to Durham, and they all know how to make plays. Boyd, who hails from Georgia powerhouse Stephenson High School, chose Duke over 14 other scholarship offers, including programs like Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Stanford, and Vanderbilt. Burton brings the reputation of a big-time speedster and trash-talker from the talent-rich state of Florida, where he chose Duke over 7 other offers, including Big Ten power Wisconsin. Tavarez may be best known for his career as an actor so far, but he plans to make a name for himself on the gridiron at Duke, which he chose over 6 other offers, which included Maryland and Vanderbilt.
DE/LB Kyler Brown, ATH Jamison Crowder
Do you remember where you were on February 9, 2011? What about March 13, 2011? Of course, you were watching the Blue Devils beat the Tar Heels on the hardwood. What a great feeling for a Duke fan! So why don’t you remember July 20, 2010? Or February 1, 2011? Duke beat the Tar Heels on those days as well, landing commitments from Jamison Crowder and Kyler Brown. With Crowder’s athleticism and Brown’s family lineage, Blue Devil fans should know to expect both to find a way to make an impact this fall.
You could certainly add more to this list – TE David Reeves, who signed with Duke after a late push by SEC power Auburn; WR Blair Holliday, who chose Duke over hometown UCLA; big DL Sam Marshall, who chose Duke over ACC rivals NC State and Virginia; Will Monday, the top ranked punter in the class; and several others. For a program whose last bowl game was over 15 years ago, the Blue Devil coaching staff is doing an impressive job on the recruiting trail. If recruiting success is any indicator, Duke fans should expect to see results on the field sooner rather than later.
Keep up with all things Duke athletics here at BDN. As always, thanks for reading. Until next week, WE ARE DUKE.
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.
Even in the middle of March Madness, Football Friday is back to satisfy your weekly craving for Duke football. So far, we’ve covered Duke’s incoming freshman class, football recruiting 101, and a look at the fall schedule. While we love us some good recruiting scoop here at BDN, we think it’s also just as important to talk about the players we already have. With that in mind, this week’s Football Friday takes a look at the early reviews from Duke’s 2011 spring practice. [private]
Duke travels to Chapel Hill
This weekend is all about Duke vs. North Carolina. The Tar Heels have dominated the Blue Devils on the gridiron of late, and that’s a trend that we’d all like to see come to an end this fall. More importantly, however, is to come away with a victory and the #1 seed on the hardwood Saturday, and I think the Blue Devils have a great chance to do it. The two teams match up with each other poorly, and that should make for another very interesting game. In the first game, UNC had no answer for Duke’s guards, while Duke struggled to contain UNC’s bigs. Kyle Singler and Harrison Barnes essentially neutralized each other. I expect to see much of the same on Saturday, and if either team can get a boost from their bench, that could end up being the difference. It’s Duke and Carolina, with the ACC regular season championship on the line, which means we’re in for another thriller.
The Blue Devils hosted 26 prospects on February 19th for the second of their junior days. The prospects took in Duke’s practice, toured the facilities, and met with the coaches.
Current Duke commit Erich Schneider made the trip from Florida and got to spend a lot of time with Coach Middleton and the tight ends. The long distance award goes to QB Bart Houston, who flew in from California for the weekend. Houston’s recruiting has recently picked up and offers are starting to come in for the talented signal-caller. A few other prospects were in town this past weekend to take in Duke’s spring practice, including offensive lineman Andrew Jelks. Jelks told BDN he really liked Duke and had high praise for Coach Cutcliffe and Coach Luke. The top Tennessee prospect intends to make visits to Knoxville, Tuscaloosa, and Oxford, Mississippi this spring.
Congratulations are due for Duke TE commit David Reeves, who helped Greensboro High School capture a Regional Championship on the hardwood. Best of luck to David and Greensboro as they continue their quest for an Alabama State Title.
With only 12 seniors scheduled to graduate this season, the Blue Devils will be particularly selective this year with their recruiting. No new offers were extended this week, and the top targets remain the same as we discussed in our earlier Football Friday. Invitations have been sent out to prospects for the spring game on March 26, and it will be important for the Blue Devils to have a good showing, both on the field and in the stands.
Duke wrapped up the first half of spring practice on Wednesday, and will take a much-needed two-week break for spring break. No coach or fan wants to hear that Duke is banged up this spring, but it’s the truth. Duke has been practicing with about 55 players this spring, which can make it difficult to assess individual performances. In particular, the Blue Devils are thin on the defensive side of the ball, where Kenny Anunike, Kelby Brown, Lee Butler, and Quan Stevenson are out for the entire spring, and other key players have missed time. At this point, everyone is expected to be healthy for the fall, which obviously is most important, but with a young team, you’d like to see players play as many snaps as possible this spring.
Right now, the strengths of this team should be no surprise to most fans, and it starts with the play at quarterback and receiver. Sean Renfree has had a very good start to spring practice, and Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone have also made strides since the fall. Renfree told BDN last week that he feels as comfortable as he ever has playing football, and it’s shown on the field. For the most part, he’s been on the same page with his receivers and his offensive line, which has made things difficult for the Duke defense. As we mentioned last week, the Duke offense must take a big step forward in taking care of the football if the Blue Devils are to have any success this fall. So far, Renfree and co. look poised to do just that.
For those who have followed Duke’s spring scrimmage statistics, you’ll note that the running backs have put up some impressive numbers. Josh Snead has been out with a MCL sprain, but Desmond Scott. Patrick Kurunuwe, and Juwan Thompson have played well and shown the ability to break out big runs. The real credit here goes to Duke’s offensive line, where they lose only one starter in center Bryan Morgan. Brian Moore shifts over from right guard to take the starting center spot, and Duke has been working in Conor Irwin, Joey Finison, and Dave Harding as well. Overall, the line looks much improved, and projects to start Moore at center, Kyle Hill at left tackle, Harding at left guard, John Coleman at right guard, and Perry Simmons at right tackle. Redshirt-freshmen Laken Tomlinson and Tacoby Cofield have both played well this spring and will likely back-up Coleman and Simmons this fall.
As you can expect with several starters out, defensively, Duke has had mixed results this spring. The theme on defense seems to be athleticism and inconsistency; Duke is clearly stronger and faster than they have been in past years, but they are extremely inexperienced with only 5 seniors on the entire defensive unit. The key for the Blue Devils will be the play up front, and newcomers Jamal Bruce and Jordan Dewalt-Ondijo have shown some play-making ability and will compete for playing time this fall. New DL Coach Rick Petri is working hard with his young linemen, which include 10 underclassmen. Over the course of the spring and fall, the expectation is that this group, led by returnees Charlie Hatcher, Sydney Sarmiento, and Justin Foxx, will develop under Coach Petri into a solid ACC defensive front, but there will continue to be growing pains along the way. Among the defensive backs, the Blue Devils’ athleticism has been evident, as players such as Austin Gamble, C.J. France, and Jordon Byas appear ready to contribute this fall. Duke has the athletes on defense to improve from last season’s ACC-worst unit, and consistency will be the key to the group’s success this fall.
In summary, at this point in the spring, the offense is clearly ahead of the defense, which is what you would expect to see with a more veteran group. I think Coach Cutcliffe said it best with his assessment of the first half of spring practice: “I’m not disappointed at all. What you see is that we don’t have a lot of people who are ready to play 50 or 60 snaps of ACC football, so there’s a learning process to that.” Overall, the effort and energy from the Blue Devils has been excellent. The team continues to work hard this spring and improves each day, which is exactly what you want to see from a young team.
We’ve got lots more football prospect interviews coming your way, so be sure to check back during your March Madness downtime. Until next week, GTHC.