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Duke-football

BDN Football Friday: Spring Game Preview

 

Coach Cutcliffe and the team will kickoff the festivities with the Blue Devil Walk at 11AM Saturday- BDN Photo

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.

 

Logistics

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.

TE Issac Blakeney has had a big spring for the Blue Devils

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.

Ross Cockrell has developed into a shutdown corner for the Blue Devils

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.

QB Sean Renfree is off to a good start this spring - BDN Photo

Football Friday interrupts March Madness

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]

Sir Nolan Smith leads Duke to Chapel Hill - Lance King Images

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.

Recruiting news

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.

Duke commit Erich Schneider enjoyed his visit to Durham

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.

Spring Practice

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.

QB Sean Renfree is off to a good start this spring - BDN Photo

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.

Next week

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.

WE ARE DUKE.

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