Tag Archives: UNC Football

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ESPNU150 Watch List LB Peter Kalambayi recaps recent visit to Duke

Butler HS LB Peter Kalambayi registered 80 tackles and 6 sacks as a junior

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.

BDN: Thanks a lot, Peter, and best of luck.

Thanks.

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Richmond HS OG Tyrone Crowder already holds 14 scholarship offers

Top in-state OL Tyrone Crowder likes Duke, UNC, and NC State early

Richmond HS OG Tyrone Crowder already holds 14 scholarship offers

Under Coach Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils have built one of the top offensive lines in the ACC, ranking near the top of the conference in sacks per pass attempt a year ago. The offensive line is expected to be a strength yet again this year, led by senior Brian Moore and Freshman All-American Laken Tomlinson. The Blue Devils’ coaching staff is looking to continue to build strength up front in the class of 2013, and have the top lineman in the state at the top of their wish list. Tyrone Crowder is a  6’2″ 310 pound offensive guard prospect from Richmond Senior HS in Rockingham, NC. An ESPNU150 Watch List member and with 14 scholarship offers already, Crowder will have his pick of schools from across the country, but three in-state ACC schools have made a solid early impression. After his recent visit to Durham for the Duke vs. North Carolina basketball game, BDN caught up with the talented lineman to get an update on his recruitment. [private]

BDN: How would you describe your strengths as a player?

I guess I’d say I’m explosive, have quick feet, and am just explosive at the line. That’s pretty much it.

BDN: What are you working on this offseason as you prepare for your senior year?

Lots of things. Right now, just working out some of the wrinkles, just the basic steps and improving my pass protection.

BDN: As you approach your college decision, what are the most important things you are looking for in a school?

A great program, great coaches, and the campus lifestyle, because I’ll be there for 3-5 years. I haven’t really set up my major, but it might be a factor.

BDN: Do you have any ideas for what you might want to study in college?

Not right now, I’m working on it, but I’m just getting started.

BDN: Where do you stand with offers and which schools are you hearing from the most?

I have 14 offers, but I’m hearing basically the most from the schools in North Carolina.

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

Duke, [North] Carolina, and [NC] State.

BDN: What did you like about those visits?

The coaches, all the coaches are great there. I got to visit the campuses a bit, they were nice, and see the facilities.

BDN: Are there any coaches you have started to develop a close relationship with?

From UNC, me and Coach Kap[ilovic], we talk basically once or twice a week. Also Coach Bridge from [NC] State, and Coach Collins from Duke.

BDN: Are there any other schools you plan to visit or would like to hear from?

Well, I know I’m planning on going to Florida this April 6th.

BDN: Do you have a timeline in mind for when you plan to narrow things down or make your final decision?

Right now, I don’t really have a timeline, but I’d like to narrow it down soon, I haven’t really decided it yet. For making my decision, whenever I feel like I know where I want to go, I‘ll just make my decision and make it, it doesn’t have to be on Signing Day…I’ll probably have a top five soon.

BDN: Thanks a lot, Tyrone, and best of luck.

Okay, thanks.

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CB Breon Borders led Statesville with 8 interceptions as a junior

Big in-state CB Breon Borders leaning towards Duke

CB Breon Borders led Statesville with 8 interceptions as a junior

When it comes to recruiting, being the first school to offer a prospect is rarely a bad thing. After National Signing Day, the Duke coaching staff turned their full attention to identifying the top student-athletes in the class of 2013 and inviting them to campus. Breon Borders, a 6’1″ 170 pound cornerback from Statesville, NC, picked up his first scholarship offer from the Blue Devils on a February 25th unofficial visit to Durham. A converted wide receiver, Borders has become a lockdown corner in the high school ranks and he features the combination of size and speed to become a playmaker at the college level.  BDN caught up with the big cornerback to discuss his interest in the Blue Devils and get an update on his recruitment. [private]

BDN: How would you describe your strengths as a player?

I’m a really tall corner, and I’m faster than people think I am. I can defend the tall receivers, I’m really good at man coverage. My advantage is I’m long.

BDN: What are you working on this offseason as you prepare for your senior year?

I’m really trying to get my weight up to 175 [pounds], and I’m trying to get my footwork better.

BDN: As you approach your college decision, what are the most important things you are looking for in a school?

I’m looking for a coaching staff that really cares about the players and a great football team, a team that really wants me.

BDN: Do you have any ideas for what you might want to study in college?

I’m still open at this point.

BDN: Where do you stand with offers and which schools are you hearing from the most?

I’ve got my only offer from Duke, but I’m hearing a lot from Wake [Forest], Clemson, and UNC sometimes, too.

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

I’ve been to Duke, I’ve been to Clemson, UNC, Wake [Forest], NC State, ECU…and I think that’s about it right there.

BDN: Are there any coaches you have started to develop a close relationship with?

I’ve really…I’ve got a good relationship with Coach Jones from Duke, he’s put a lot of effort in and I feel like he really has put time into getting to know me.

BDN: Are there any other schools you plan to visit or would like to hear from?

My coach has a couple plans that I don’t know about, but I would like to visit Clemson again, Wake [Forest], Duke, and ECU again.

BDN: Do you have a timeline in mind for when you plan to narrow things down or make your final decision?

My top schools are Duke, Clemson, and Wake Forest, but I’m leaning towards Duke right now. I’m probably going to make a decision, probably sometime before the season starts.

BDN: Thanks a lot, Breon, and best of luck.

Alright, thanks, you too.

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2014 Charlotte Christian TE Jeb Blazevich already holds scholarship offers from Duke and UNC

Duke among the first to offer 2014 TE Jeb Blazevich

2014 Charlotte Christian TE Jeb Blazevich already holds scholarship offers from Duke and UNC

With Duke’s prolific passing offense, solid tight end play, both in blocking and receiving, is crucial to success. After the graduation of senior TEs Cooper Helfet and Danny Parker, the Blue Devils are young on the tight end depth chart. That youth has the Duke staff working hard on the practice field this spring, but also on the recruiting trail. Among the impressive list of visitors this past weekend, Duke welcomed in one of the top sophomores in the state of North Carolina in TE Jeb Blazevich. Blazevich is a 6’5″  235 pound prospect out of Charlotte Christian school in Charlotte. The Blue Devils have recruited well in the western part of the state in recent years, securing commitments from players like Charlotte Christian alumni Kelby and Kyler Brown. Duke is hoping to continue that success with Blazevich, one of the first players in the class of 2014 to receive a verbal scholarship offer from the Blue Devils. [private]

BDN: How would you describe your strengths as a player?

Well, as you know, I’m about 235 [pounds] and 6’5” so I’m not super big like some of the huge tight end and I’m not super small and fast like the wide receivers. I think I have good versatility to be able to go out and be athletic as a wide receiver and also get inside in the box a bit and knock some heads. So that’s what I’m looking to do is a little of both, just the versatility and be able to be a hybrid that can do both. I want to be able to be whatever kind of receiver or blocker that the team needs me to be.

BDN: What are you working on this offseason as you prepare for your junior year?

Goodness, it’s a lot of stuff. Definitely just continuing better routes, better speed. Of course I want to get bigger, faster, and stronger. But, better routes, explosive off the line, better blocking, just continue to work on the fundamental stuff. I’m trying to be more of a lateral player, I think at times I get a bit too North-South and I think if I improve my vision I can get a lot more extra yards. Just mostly the small stuff that every player needs to be working on – the routes, the blocking, the running, the lifting – all the basics, just keep working at it.

BDN: As you approach your college decision, what are the most important things you are looking for in a school?

Well, as my dad says, we sort of have a three-legged stool. We want a winning football program, of course. We also want good character and integrity, to see how they’re going to raise me, basically, since they’ll be my second parents when my parents aren’t there. And also, academics, how they’re going to prepare me for the real world after football ends. That’s the main three, and there’s a lot more that goes into it, but if we see those three, then that’s a college that we’d love to look at.

BDN: Which schools have you been in contact with so far?

Right now, it would be Duke, UNC, Clemson, South Carolina, and Florida. Also Auburn before Malzahn left, but I haven’t heard anything from them since then, so I don’t think they really count anymore.

BDN: That’s a great list and obviously many of those schools are close to home. Is location something that is important to you?

Location isn’t really a big deal, but as you know, it’s who you know, so closer is a lot easier for a sophomore to get introduced to people. Location is not that big a deal, it’s just sort of a coincidence that we know more people in this area and they’ve been stopping by and it’s easier for us to get to know each other as opposed to a school farther away where we’re not so close that I can go up there and see them and they can come see me. So it’s really just who we know.

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

I’ve been to all the schools on the list, except for Florida. I’ve been down there to see the weight room and tour the facilities, something like that. I’ve been impressed by all of them.

BDN: Are there any schools that you have had a chance to visit this spring or have plans to visit soon?

Actually, yes. So far this spring, I’ve been downt o USC and this past week I went to UNC and Duke both, they had me up there for a little basketball game and that was really fun. I’m going to try to go to all their spring practices and spring games and go down to Clemson, just to see how actual football is going to be, not just the flashy show and stuff. See how they practice and see the coaches yell a little bit, get used to that.

BDN: Are there any other schools that you are definitely interested in hearing from or visiting?

I try to keep an open mind to all schools, but some of the few that we’ve sort of sat down and wanted to pursue are definitely Virginia, and something like Tennessee or Kentucky, and just more ACC schools, SEC schools, something fairly close by, not too far away, but we’re just open to anything. We just want to get as many options as you can, because options equal success, and it’s easier if you have options, so we’re just trying to get anywhere basically.

BDN: Is there anything else you want ACC football fans to know?

Just one more thing, February 18th I was offered by UNC and then actually last night I was offered by Duke.

BDN: Thanks a lot, Jeb, and best of luck.

Thank you sir, thanks for taking your time.

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In just over a month, Duke and Richmond will kickoff the 2011 season under the lights in Wallace Wade Stadium

Football Friday, the extended version – previewing the Duke Offense

In just over a month, Duke and Richmond will kickoff the 2011 season under the lights in Wallace Wade Stadium

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.

What happened?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

    Duke's Brandon Harper signed a free agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars this week

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.

Duke QB Sean Renfree is ready to lead the 2011 Blue Devils Offense

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.

Quarterback

Losses: none

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.

 

Coach Cutcliffe has senior Donovan Varner and the Blue Devils expecting to win in 2011-GoDuke, Duke Photography

Wide Receiver

Losses: Austin Kelly

Key returners: Conner Vernon (Jr.), Donovan Varner (Sr.), Brandon Braxton (So.), Tyree Watkins (R-So.), Corey Gattis (R-So.)

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.

 

Senior Cooper Helfet will lead the Blue Devils' Tight Ends in 2011 - Rick Crank, BDN Photo

Tight End

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.

 

Desmond Scott leads an improved Blue Devil running game

Running back

Losses: none

Key returners: Jay Hollingworth (Sr.), Patrick Kurunuwe (R-Jr.), Desmond Scott (Jr.), Josh Snead (So.), Juwan Thompson (So.)

Newcomers: none

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.

 

Brian Moore will slide to center and anchor the Duke offensive line in 2011-GoDuke Photo

Offensive Line

Losses: Bryan Morgan, Brandon Harper, Mitchell Lederman

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.

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Recruiting updates

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:

Mallard Creek RB Jela Duncan is Duke's top remaining priority in the class of 2012

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.

Braddock HS OL Robert Conyers recently visited Duke

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.

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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.

Best of luck to Abraham Kromah and the rest of Duke's NFL hopefuls this week. -Lance King Images

Football Friday evokes spring break memories

March Madness is in full swing as Duke takes the court tonight in the ACC quarterfinals against Maryland. Is it just us, or do you also find that the weeks in March go a lot faster than the rest of the year? It probably has something to do with conference tournaments streaming on television and online nearly 24 hours a day. While productivity in offices and schools across the country plummets, we’re as busy as ever at BDN. There’s no better time to join BDN premium than March, as Mark Watson follows the Blue Devils every step of the way in their quest for ACC and NCAA championships. Now that we’ve got you hyped for basketball, here’s this week’s Football Friday. [private]

Welcome back, loyal readers. And I do mean loyal. If you’re reading a Football Friday column in the middle of the ACC tournament, well, it doesn’t get much more loyal than that. Mille grazie. Yes, Cacchio is an Italian name.

The Blue Devils are on spring break!

Duke is on spring break

Ah, spring break. Fond memories, right? Where did the time go? Anyway, the Duke football team is off this week for spring break, and many of the players are taking advantage in warm, sunny locations, from South Beach to the Caribbean all the way to the California coast. Personally, I think they’ve earned it, from the early morning February practices to the late-night November film sessions. Student-athletes miss out on many aspects of the typical college experience due to their extracurricular commitments, but this week, the Duke football team gets to join in the revelry. Safe travels to all and we all look forward to getting back to work on Wednesday morning.

ACC spring football kicking off

Miami and Clemson hit the field for spring practice this week. Both programs

Al Golden is shaking things up at "The U" this spring

have question marks at the quarterback position, where Clemson will be breaking in first-year starter Tajh Boyd, while Miami appears to have a true QB controversy on their hands. New Head Coach Al Golden ruffled some feathers with his spring depth chart, placing many of last year’s starters near the bottom in an effort to challenge his team this spring. Most surprising may have been at the QB position, where he placed rising senior Spencer Whipple ahead of last year’s starters Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. Next week, spring practice will kick off at Boston College, NC State, Wake Forest, Virginia, and North Carolina.

Speaking of the Tar Heels…

While many in Chapel Hill may still be in denial, we’re all aware that there have been some issues with the Tar Heel football program. Unfortunately NCAA violations are more common than we would like to think in college sports today (see Auburn, Baylor, Ohio State, Tennessee, USC, etc.), but I think there may be an even bigger issue here, and that is the double standard that appears to exist for coaches and players. Ohio State players are suspended for five games, while Jim Tressel is suspended for two. UNC players are held out of several games, some for the entire season, while the coaching staff denies accountability.

DL Delvon Simmons has asked UNC for a release from his NLI

This double standard doesn’t only arise when NCAA violations are uncovered. Coaches are allowed to up and leave programs without penalty, while players must go through a tedious transfer process and are usually required to sit out an entire year. A perfect example is the revolving door that has been the UNC Defensive Line Coach for the past few months. John Blake, implicated in the Gary Wichard scandal, resigned in September. Charlie Coiner was appointed to replace Blake, but was then replaced by Brian Baker in January. Baker worked to make sure UNC was able to sign top defensive line prospects Devonte Brown, Delvon Simmons, Shawn Underwood,  and Sylvester Williams (who enrolled in January)  in their class of 2011. Just after National Signing Day, Baker left the Tar Heels for a position with the Dallas Cowboys. UNC has since brought in Joe Robinson from LSU, giving them a total of four DL coaches since the start of the 2010 season. Now, top recruit Delvon Simmons has asked for his release from his letter of intent, and there appears to be some controversy. While the coaches were able to leave without penalty, Simmons must wait to hear whether UNC will grant him a full release, a conditional release, or hold him to his letter of intent. The situation is puzzling, even for the wild world of football recruiting. For starters, Simmons never took an official visit to Chapel Hill and did not have an in-home visit with the Tar Heel coaches. Stay tuned. The bottom line is that these coaches should be held to the same commitments and standards as their players.

Duke prepares to host Pro Day

Duke will graduate another group of outstanding seniors this year, as the

Lance King Images

program continues to build on the field while maintaining the program’s tradition of academic excellence. NFL scouts will be on hand in Wallace Wade Stadium on March 22 to take in workouts of Blue Devil seniors. Duke graduates 19 letterman this year, including starters Patrick Egboh, Brandon Harper, Brett Huffman, Austin Kelly, Brandon King, Abraham Kromah, Wes Oglesby, Chris Rwabukamba, and Damian Thornton. Best of luck to all the Duke seniors as they pursue careers in football and other fields!

Recruiting slowly starting to pick up

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

Over the past week or so, recruiting has started to heat up around the country, as players and coaches assess each other’s interest. Duke hosted two junior days and entertained well over 100 recruits from the class of 2012; a few other prospects have visited Durham to take in spring practice. A handful of Duke prospects have already pledged their verbal commitments to rival ACC schools, including LB Sha’Keel Rashad to UNC, OL Mike Madaras to Maryland, QB Gray Crow to Miami, and OL Joel Suggs to Wake Forest. Hooker and Madaras both held verbal offers from Duke. The Blue Devil staff will keep an eye on these prospects, as decommitments are all too common in college football recruiting, but will focus their efforts on hundreds of other prospects, trying to find the best players for the Duke program.

The next big recruiting milestone for the Blue Devils will come on March 26, as the program hosts a number of prospects for their spring game, which is set for a 3 PM kickoff. We’ll have a full list of attendees as we get closer, but BDN has already learned that California LB Deion Williams will fly in for the weekend. Williams holds a Duke offer and is very high on the Blue Devils early in his recruitment. It’s important to note that all of these spring visits are unofficial visits, meaning that prospects must pay for their own expenses. It’s a sign of serious interest that players like Bart Houston and Deion Williams are making the trip across the country to learn more about the Duke program. I expect Duke’s recruiting to really take off in June, as Duke will host a series of camps for high school players, including Coach Cutcliffe’s QB College, which will allow the Duke coaches to evaluate prospects firsthand.

Let’s Go Duke

Thanks again for reading. Please feel free to join in on our football message board; we welcome Duke football fans of all opinions, shapes, and sizes. Until next week, you may now return to March Madness. Show your Duke pride and support the Blue Devils as they begin their championship quest tonight in Greensboro. We are Duke!

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