DURHAM, N.C. – Under the direction of head coach David Cutcliffe, the Duke football team will open spring practice on Wednesday at the Brooks Practice Facility. Under NCAA regulations, the Blue Devils will have 15 practice sessions including the program’s annual Spring Showcase scheduled for Saturday, April 14.
Duke returns 16 starters and 48 lettermen from last year’s squad that went 7-6 and capped the campaign with a 36-14 victory over Northern Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Cutcliffe has guided the Blue Devils to five bowl game appearances in the last six years while this past season, Duke earned its fourth winning campaign in the last five years to mark the program’s most successful stretch since four winning seasons in five years between 1960-64.
Rising redshirt junior quarterback Daniel Jones headlines a group of seven returning offensive starters. In 2017, his second season as a starter, the Charlotte, N.C., native completed 257-of-453 (.567) passes for 2,691 yards with 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while rushing 161 times for 518 yards and seven scores. Other returning starters include guard Zach Harmon, tight end Daniel Helm (22 receptions, 261 yards & 2 TDs), wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd (39 receptions, 367 yards & 1 TD), honorable mention All-ACC wide receiver T.J. Rahming (65 receptions, 795 yards & 2 TDs) guard Julian Santos and wide receiver Chris Taylor (25 receptions, 332 yards & 1 TD).
Defensively, eight starters return including All-America linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, who led Duke with 125 tackles and 16.0 tackles for loss in 2017. He is joined by tackle Edgar Cerenord (34 tackles & 3.0 TFL), ESPN Freshman All-America end Victor Dimukeje (40 tackles & 7.5 TFL), first team All-ACC cornerback Mark Gilbert (35 tackles, 6 INTs & 15 PBUs), safety Jordan Hayes (50 tackles & 3.0 TFL), end Tre Hornbuckle (50 tackles, 9.5 TFL), linebacker Ben Humphreys (70 tackles & 9.0 TFL) and third team All-ACC safety Jeremy McDuffie (58 tackles, 3 INTs & 9 PBUs).
Duke opens the 2018 season on September 1 at home against Army West Point. In addition to the Black Knights, Blue Devils will host N.C. Central, Virginia Tech, Virginia, North Carolina and Wake Forest this fall. Season tickets can be purchased by visiting GoDuke.com/Footballtix or by calling the Duke Athletics Ticket Office at 919-681-BLUE (2583).
It has been suggested that writing a spring update on Duke Football might help make the nightmares about mountain hawks go away, so here it is. In fact, there’s actually a lot to be excited about with regards to Duke Football. Yeah, yeah, we always say that and then we’re all disappointed come the fall. But you’ve got to see the forest instead of the trees, people!
Recruiting off to a hot start
Ok, show of hands. How many of you just went and checked the Duke 2013 commitment list when you read that sub-headline? Or, another way of asking the same question, how many of you have been following Duke Football recruiting during basketball season? Well, either way, you’ve probably figured out that Duke has yet to secure a verbal commitment in the class of 2013. (Saturday afternoon edit: Duke landed a commitment from QB Quay Chambers and OL Austin Davis this morning)
So, how can recruiting be off to a hot start? Generally speaking, you’ve got to get a prospect on campus if you have any hope of landing a commitment, and Coach Cutcliffe and his staff have hosted an impressive list of visitors already this spring. In fact, Duke has already had more than 10 members of the ESPNU150 Watch List (an unofficial list of the top 300 HS rising seniors in the country) on campus in Durham. Most recently, the Blue Devils had 9 top targets in the class of 2013 on campus for the North Carolina basketball game, including Watch List members WR Marquez North, LB Peter Kalambayi, OL Mike McGlinchey, and OL Tyrone Crowder. The coaching staff has been in contact early and often with a number of other Watch List members, including several on the West Coast, and hope to host several more visitors later this spring and summer. As you know, we’ll continue to bring you the best coverage of Duke Football and Duke Football Recruiting around.
Spring practice highly competitive
The Blue Devils returned to the field this past week to start the second half of their spring practice, and the competition level has been at its highest in the Cutcliffe era. We checked in with WR Conner Vernon earlier this week, and he confirmed that across the board, Duke is a deeper and more competitive team. The Blue Devils return 17 starters this fall, but each of those players will be pushed by younger players on the depth chart. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
The Duke defense loses two of its leaders to graduation in S Matt Daniels and NG Charlie Hatcher, but there is real competition to fill their starting job. At safety, Walt Canty, Jordon Byas, and August Campbell will be projected to start heading into the fall, but they are being pushed everyday in practice by newcomer Jeremy Cash, former WR Brandon Braxton, and youngsters such as Chris Tavarez and Britton Grier. Also, it can’t be ruled out that Issac Blakeney won’t see some time on defense, as he has established himself as one of the team’s best pass-rushers last spring from the safety position. To fill Hatcher’s void up front, the Blue Devils have Jamal Bruce, along with two 300-pound players in Will Bryant (recently returned from injury) and Steven Ingram. To put it in March Madness terms, I wouldn't "go Sharpie" on anyone's starting job quite yet.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Blue Devils have struggled in the red zone in recent years. The coaching staff has utilized an option style attack with Brandon Connette or Anthony Boone under center. Fans and media alike have questioned the success of this approach, as it seemed to lack creativity and often stalled drives. This year, however, it appears that won’t be the case. Coach Cutcliffe has used the “best 22 players” mantra as a focus for this offseason, and the quarterback position has been one of the most impacted. With three players with significant game experience under center in Sean Renfree, Connette, and Boone, Duke is looking at ways to put all of their weapons on the field, especially in red zone situations. Based on early returns from this spring, both Boone and Connette will not only be used under center, but also at tailback and tight end. As two of the better athletes on the roster, these alignments, if nothing else, should have fans excited for the fall.
Kenny Anunike granted 6th year of eligibility
This is big-time news. Duke defensive end Kenny Anunike has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Based on the ruling, he is eligible to participate in the 2012 and 2013 football seasons.
A 6-5, 250-pound native Galena, Ohio, Anunike appeared in four games last fall before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Tulane. Prior to the injury, he was leading the ACC in quarterback sacks (4.0) and was credited with 13 total tackles including five for loss on the year. Anunike has not participated in spring drills while recovering from knee surgery performed last fall.
Anunike also missed the 2008 season while recovering from knee surgery. He played in all 12 games in 2009 as a reserve tight end before shifting to the defensive line, where he registered 23 tackles in 12 games during the 2010 campaign.
Kelby Brown undergoes 2nd ACL repair
Duke rising junior Kelby Brown underwent his 2nd ACL repair on February 22, putting his health for the 2012 season into question. The revision surgery was performed on Wednesday by Dr. Claude T. Moorman III, Duke’s head team physician and the director of Duke Sports Medicine. Brown originally injured the knee on November 20, 2010 against Georgia Tech, and underwent surgery weeks later. He re-injured the knee earlier in February 2012.
A 6-2, 220-pound native of Matthews, N.C., Brown has played in 19 games with 17 starting assignments over the past two years. Last year, he led Duke in tackles for loss (7.0) while posting 65 total stops and received the program’s Mike Curtis Award as Duke’s most outstanding linebacker.
Brown’s career totals include 128 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, four fumble recoveries, one caused fumble, three pass breakups and seven quarterback pressures. In addition, he is a two-time selection to the Academic All-ACC squad.
Should Kelby not be available to play this fall, he does have a redshirt year available, and would therefore still have two years of eligibility remaining. It should also be noted that WR Conner Vernon pointed to Kelby's younger (but bigger) brother, Kyler, as one of the young Blue Devils who has been most impressive this spring.
Preferred walk-on program thriving
Ok, so I don’t leave you in Negative Town, let’s talk about another bright spot for the Duke Football program. Since Coach Cutcliffe’s arrival, he has built the walk-on program at Duke into an asset for Duke Football. First, allow me to give you some perspective.
A 5’10” 165 pound, slow-footed freshman from upstate New York enrolled at Duke a few (I mean several – ok, fine, it was over a decade) years ago, and within his welcome packet to the university, he received a letter inviting him to walk on to the football team. While I did not elect to subject my body to the punishment of collegiate football, I imagine several other equally qualified freshmen received similar letters back then, and some probably did. Flash forward to 2012, and Duke Football secures a commitment from one of the top 10 long snappers in the nation…as a preferred walk-on.
Slightly different use of the walk-on program, eh? Last week’s commitment from Thomas Hennessy was just the latest among several preferred walk-ons for the program. When Coach Cutcliffe arrived in Durham, he had one quarterback to get through spring practice. This year, he has seven, including two preferred walk-ons. That’s seven QBs to practice snaps under center, seven QBs to practice handoffs to RBs, seven QBs to practice routes with WRs, and seven QBs for defenders to pass rush. Across the board, the walk-ons that Coach Cutcliffe have brought in have improved the program by allowing for more reps and more productive practices. While many of these preferred walk-ons may not make a significant individual contribution to the box score, they make their teammates better everyday in practice.
Sweet, I knew I could make it through an article without mentioning Peyton Manning (he's been working out at Duke, in case you've been living under a rock). So, I haven’t forgotten about Football Friday, but my schedule simply doesn’t allow me to commit the time needed to it. But I’ll make a deal with you, since we’re all feeling down today. This won’t be the last football update you read this spring. We’ll keep it coming, as time allows. And also, we’ll have lots of prospect interviews and several updates from current players and coaches as we head towards the spring game – March 31, Wallace Wade Stadium, 1:00 PM ET. Be there. I’ll be looking for you.
This week’s Football Friday looks back at last weekend’s spring game and looks ahead to the spring recruiting season. Join Blue Devil Nation Premium to stay in the loop with Duke Football all year long. [private]
Welcome to Football Friday, under the lights! This is what happens when the Football Friday author has a busy week at his day job studying gynecology. FUN! In all seriousness, sorry to be tardy to the party, but it unfortunately will happen from time to time that we'll have a nightcap. It’s been a busy week in Duke Football, so let’s get right to it.
Positives from the spring game
A quick highlight of the spring game with some comments from Coach Cutcliffe was posted today on our Facebook page. There was a lot to like from the spring game and good reason to be positive and optimistic about this fall. Of course, questions still exist about this year’s Blue Devils, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, but many of those questions won’t be answered until they line up against Richmond and Stanford in weeks 1 and 2. The spring game was a good opportunity to evaluate some potential strengths and weaknesses as the team heads into the 2011 season. Just a few quick thoughts:
The defense as a whole, including the defensive line, performed better than expected. I thought Duke competed well along the line of scrimmage and were even able to pressure the quarterback. It still seems likely that incumbents Charlie Hatcher, Sydney Sarmiento, and Justin Foxx will see the majority of snaps at their respective positions, but the influx of redshirt-freshmen has really improved the depth along the front four. In particular, players like Jamal Wallace, who led the team in tackles in the spring game, and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, who was credited with a sack, appear ready to contribute this fall. I am excited to see what Coach Petri is able to do with this young group of linemen.
Ross Cockrell took home the most improved defensive player award, and the staff has always remained excited about his potential, despite some early struggles as a first-year starter last season. In the spring game, Blue Devil fans got a look at another exciting young member of the Duke secondary in Issac Blakeney. Blakeney was impressive last Saturday, totaling 5 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, and 1 pass breakup. The Blue Devils will add 3 talented freshmen to the secondary this fall in Jared Boyd, Tim Burton, and Chris Tavarez, which should mean that the Duke defensive backs will be improved from a year ago. Duke will of course need big years out of veterans Matt Daniels and Lee Butler in the secondary, but the future looks bright.
Offensively, there was even more reason for optimism. Duke is in the enviable position of having three talented quarterbacks in Sean Renfree, Brandon Connette, and Anthony Boone. After Saturday’s performance, it is reasonable to assume that all three will see playing time this fall, and Coach Cutcliffe alluded to some possible creative offensive packages in his post-game comments. All three quarterbacks showed the ability to lead successful drives in the spring game, both on the ground and through the air. Though senior Jay Hollingsworth was held out, the four remaining backs were impressive in limited action. Sophomore Juwan Thompson was awarded most improved offensive player, and he is likely to see an expanded role this fall. At receiver, Duke has All-ACC caliber upperclassmen in Donovan Varner, Conner Vernon, and Cooper Helfet, coupled with rising stars in Tyree Watkins, Brandon Braxton, and Braxton Deaver. The offensive line returns all but one starter and adds talented redshirt freshmen to the depth chart. In summary, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about Duke’s potential on the offense.
Duke picks up 2nd commitment for 2012
Allen Jackson met with Coach Cutcliffe after the spring game on Saturday and gave his verbal pledge to the Duke Football program. BDN spoke with the newest Blue Devil last Sunday, who mentioned Duke’s academics, as well as his respect for new defensive line coach Rick Petri. As a player, Jackson has tremendous athleticism for his size and the potential to be a dynamic pass rushing defensive end at the college level. His biggest weakness is size, but he plans to work on adding strength over the next year to prepare himself for the college game. The Duke staff is very excited about Allen’s commitment, and the Blue Devil Nation welcomes its newest member.
Spring recruiting picking up
In case you haven’t noticed, things are really picking up with recruiting around the Blue Devils and around the country. With spring practices at most schools now in full swing, prospects are taking in practices and spring games, and commitments have begun to roll in. Duke hosted a number of prospects at the spring game, most notably TE Dan Beilinson, LB Deion Williams, DE Romeo Okwara, and OL Eric Olson. All four players have received offers from Duke and enjoyed their visit to Duke. Dan Beilinson described his visit as “a really great experience.” With spring practice now completed, the Duke staff will focus their efforts on the recruiting trail.
With a few dozen offers already extended, the first step for the Duke staff is to fully assess each prospect’s interest in the Duke program. Several prospects with offers, especially those from the west coast (i.e., QB Oshay Dunmore, TE Evan Baylis, WR Jonavaughn Williams) have yet to make a trip to Durham. For many families, the travel costs required by long distance unofficial visits are prohibitive, and the only way Duke will be able to see these prospects on campus will be to wait until official visits, a potentially risky proposition. This can be a difficult point in the recruiting process, as the Blue Devil staff must decide where to best focus their efforts and resources.
While I do expect Duke to eventually begin to cast a wider net with scholarship offers, most likely during June camps, there is a group of prospects that Duke has made a very strong impression on this spring. These are players already with impressive offer lists, and I suspect Duke will remain heavily involved with their recruitment. In fact, I expect Duke to secure another verbal commitment fairly soon, based on the feedback I have heard from the prospects directly. It is undoubtedly extremely early in the recruiting process, and written scholarship offers are still months away, but the early indications from the class of 2012 appear very promising for the Blue Devils.
A shameless plea until next week
Well, that’s all the time I’m allowed to spend thinking/writing about football for now, so it’s back to studying gynecology. I know you think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Until next week, I know there are a few of you out there who read this column weekly and are interested in Duke Football. With basketball season now sadly behind us, please join in the discussion on our football message board. There’s lots to talk about, and I assure you there are no experts or holier-than-thou’s among us. We’ve got lots more football recruiting coverage still to come and we always welcome input and suggestions. We all make up the Blue Devil Nation – WE ARE DUKE!
The Duke Blue Devils held their annual spring football game on Saturday in sunny Wallace Wade Stadium. The game featured the first-team offense (white) against the first-team defense (blue). The blue team emerged victorious with a convincing 24-3 victory, which showcased the team’s improved running game. Speed and youth were apparent on both teams, though neither offense managed to get into a rhythm through the air. The blue team was able to control the game on the ground and won the field position battle.
The blue team was led by freshman QB Brandon Connette, who finished the day 8/19 for 67 yards through the air and 91 yards on 13 carries on the ground. Sophomore RB Desmond Scott paced the blue offense on the ground, finishing with 97 yards on 13 carries. Redshirt freshman WR Tyree Watkins scored the game’s first touchdown on the blue team’s second possession in the first quarter when Connette found him open in the corner of the endzone. Redshirt sophomore RB Patrick Kurunwune and Connette each added a touchdown on the ground, and Paul Asack connected on a 24 yard field goal for the blue team.
The white team, led by redshirt freshman QB Sean Schroeder, struggled on the offensive side of the ball. The white team jumped out to a 3-0 lead on a first quarter field goal by senior K Nick Maggio, but were unable to put together a scoring drive again. Schroeder finished 4/20 for 23 yards. Freshman RB Josh Snead paced the white team rushing attack with 99 yards on 9 carries.
On defense, redshirt sophomore DE Kenny Anunike led the way with 9 tackles, including two for a loss. Sophomore LB Austin Gamble tallied 8 tackles, followed by 5 for junior S Matt Daniels and 4 for redshirt freshman LB Kevin Rojas. Despite a few shaky snaps and overthrown passes, the defense was unable to force any turnovers during the scrimmage.
At halftime, the spring practice awards were announced. The most improved players on offense were freshman QB Brandon Connette and redshirt freshman OT Perry Simmons. The most improved defensive player was redshirt freshman LB Kevin Rojas. The heart award went to junior S Jeff Faris.
Duke hosted over 160 prospects and their families on campus this weekend, who all took in the spring game and joined the team on the field for the post-game discussions.
Durham, N.C. - If you follow Duke Football, yo know by now that Johnny Williams will move to the Duke secondary after playing wideout his first two seasons. He's learning on the fly and we got his thoughts coming off the field after Saturday's scrimmage.
How is the spring going so far?
Pretty good, pretty good. I'm catching on real fast and will go up and meet with coach, so it's going well.
How did you respond to switch positions from wideout to defensive back?
I responded by putting 100% into it and make sure that when I go on the field, I know what I'm doing.
When did you and Cut first talk about changing positions?
Before the Christmas break, me and Coach Cut talked. I wasn't sure if I really, really wanted to but thought it might be a good move, so I made a decision to go over there, If it's good for the team, it's good for me.
Do you like it on defense?
Yeah [smiling] It's really intense.
You get to hit people ...
Yeah, it's fun to hit people.
What is the biggest adjustment?
Reading keys from one to two and conditioning.
Now that you are on the other side, who is the toughest receiver to cover?
Everyone of them is tough [smiling]I just try my best to listen to coach and keep what he said in my head.
Do you guys trash talk a bit?
Yeah, a lot, a lot. I trash talk a lot.
Anyone in particular today?
Probably Austin. He brought a little bit today, so I shot it back at him
Your goal the rest of the spring is?
To be the best I can and put everything I have got into this and help my team. Football is my love, you know.
Are the workouts different for you now?
No difference. I still catch balls and everything to keep my hands right. I probably get a little extra running in because on defense you have pursuit angles and stuff like that which need conditioning.