2011 Duke Preview – Defense
Duke NG Charlie Hatcher
Duke NG Charlie Hatcher
Posted Jun 25, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Duke Blue Devil Defense

Duke Blue Devils

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: Three years. Three defensive coordinators. Duke is handing the reins to Jim Knowles, who was actually hired from within to replace Marion Hobby. You name it, he needs to work on it, so the staff is sticking with the fundamentals, especially since so many underclassmen are being counted on to deliver. The Blue Devils pulled up the ACC rear a year ago in sacks, run defense, and pass defense, and had all kinds of problems creating turnovers. Hope comes in the form of David Cutcliffe's last few recruiting classes, which have included LB Kelby Brown, DT Sydney Sarmiento, CB Ross Cockrell, and others, but an overnight turnaround is doubtful. This remains one of the nation's weakest defensive ensembles.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Matt Daniels, 93
Sacks: Kelby Brown, 1.5
Interceptions: Ross Cockrell, 3

Star of the defense: Senior S Matt Daniels
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Johnny Williams
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Kelby Brown
Best pro prospect: Daniels
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Daniels, 2) Brown, 3) Senior NG Charlie Hatcher
Strength of the defense: Returning lettermen, potential at linebackers, safeties
Weakness of the defense: Sacks, pass defense, red zone stops, stopping the run, takeaways

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: Duke's problems on defense begin at the line. An inability to get penetration or control the line of scrimmage was a crucial reason why the team was last in the ACC in sacks and run defense. While five returning linemen earned letters in 2010, none had more than one sack, an indication of the length this group must travel just to become respectable.

The leader of the front four is 6-3, 300-pound senior Charlie Hatcher , an anchor at the nose. Back for his third season as a starter, he produced a career-high 46 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. More steady than spectacular, he's a play-to-the-whistle interior lineman, with just enough toughness and quickness to beat his man and get penetration. Duke would love to have a few more players like Hatcher on this side of the ball.

At defensive tackle, 6-4, 285-pound sophomore Sydney Sarmiento is set to become a fixture after starting 11 games as a rookie. An end at the prior level, he had 26 tackles as a first-year player and showed a sudden burst. If there's a challenge on the inside, it'll come from 6-2, 280-pound junior Curtis Hazelton . He's yet to start a game, making 15 tackles as a reserve, but can be a valuable part of the rotation and an active run-stopper.

Someone must step up and produce off the edge, especially now that Patrick Egboh and Wesley Oglesby are gone. At 6-5 and 250 pounds, junior Kenny Anunike looks the part, but has to do a better job of producing results. A former tight end and terrific athlete, he had 23 tackles but no sacks. Sophomore Justin Foxx is another explosive athlete, who'll be counted on to get after the passer. Essentially an outside linebacker at 6-3 and 235 pounds, he had 22 tackles and two stops for loss in his debut.

Watch Out For .... the development of the redshirt freshmen. The Blue Devils redshirted a whopping seven linemen a year ago, allowing the group to get bigger, stronger, and better acclimated to their surroundings. Don't be shocked if a couple of these newcomers crack the rotation before the opener.
Strength: Quickness. The tackles move like strongside ends and the ends move like outside linebackers, which should cause more headaches for opposing linemen. The linemen are quality athletes, as opposed to just a bunch of large bodies. Now all they have to do is transform all of that upside into on-field production.
Weakness: Sacks. Particularly off the edge, the Blue Devils have all kinds of problems getting penetration and getting to the quarterback. After notching a mere dozen sacks in 2010, there's no one on this roster who can be counted on to consistently collapse the pocket.
Outlook: This is a blue-collar line, which is code for not very talented. Duke lacks the size to handle bigger defensive fronts and the proven talent to support the back seven. Unless a few of the first-year players wind up being instant impact performers, the Blue Devils will again struggle to stop the run and pressure the passer.
Rating: 5.5


State of the Unit: With a new staff comes a new alignment, namely the shedding of one linebacker in order to get another safety on the field. It'll also make overcoming the graduation of leading tackler Abraham Kromah a little easier. The Blue Devils went with a youth movement at the position in 2010, which will yield bigger benefits in 2011 and beyond.

In the middle, the Blue Devils believe they have a budding star in 6-2, 220-pound sophomore Kelby Brown . Though his debut was marred by injuries, including a torn ACL that kept him out of spring ball, he started seven games and was fourth on the team with 63 tackles, adding 5.5 stops for loss and four fumble recoveries. He has a great nose for the ball and the quickness to make plays from sideline-to-sideline. Once he gets healthy and adds a little more muscle, he flashes the early signs of being one of the young cornerstones of the D.

Bucking for the other opening at weakside is 6-1, 240-pound junior Austin Gamble . He moved into the lineup when Brown went down, starting three games and making 27 stops. One of the biggest members of the group, he has the potential to also be its best run-stopper. The top linebacker off the bench is 6-3, 225-pound sophomore Kevin Rojas . He had a terrific offseason a year ago and was slated to start, but was never quite healthy and finished with just seven tackles in nine games. A former high school wide receiver, he has the speed and athleticism to flourish on defense. Tyree Glover was dismissed from the team in April, creating a void on the depth chart.

Watch Out For .... Brown to explode into an all-star in his second year. Assuming the knee heals completely, he showed enough in his first year to become the next 100-tackle Blue Devil out of the middle linebacker position.
Strength: Athletes. In Brown, Rojas, and Gamble, Duke boasts young legs and a caliber of athlete that's capable of making plays all over the field. When Brown and Rojas are on the field, they'll be able to string out plays and be dangerous on the blitz.
Weakness: Experience. The ceiling may be high for this group, but it has just 11 starts among the members. You can bank on some mistakes and missed reads along the way, especially in coverage.
Outlook: Duke has quietly done a nice job of developing linebackers in recent years, and this season will be no different. If the main quartet, particularly Brown, keeps maturing, the potential exists for this to become a feisty and disruptive group as the season moves along.
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: A perennial problem in these parts, Duke continues to be easy pickings for opposing quarterbacks. Last year's team surrendered 25 touchdown passes and ranked last in the ACC against the pass. While an incredible 12 letterwinning Blue Devils are returning for more action in 2011, that's hardly a guarantee that the dismal results won't continue.

The leader of the secondary will once again be 6-1, 205-pound senior Matt Danielswho'll be entering his third season as a starter. A fringe All-ACC performer at safety, he was second on the team with 93 tackles to go along with six tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, and three forced fumbles. With a nice mix of size, speed, and physicality, he's the enforcer and tone-setter of this group. A natural leader as well, he makes an impact on the program even when he's not on the field.

The staff has no shortage of options at the other safety spots, with a total of seven lettering in 2010. Senior Lee Butler is a two-year starter, making 58 tackles and breaking up eight passes a year ago. Even at 5-11 and 180 pounds, he's a physical defender. Junior Walt Canty is back after starting six games and making 63 tackles. A bigger option at 6-1 and 215 pounds, he's best suited to stopping the run. Junior Jordon Byas started the first two games of 2010 before sliding back to the second team, finishing with 28 stops. Like Canty, he has the 6-1, 210-pound frame to make receivers think twice about crossing the middle of the field. Sophomore August Campbell is an interesting contender for a starting spot because of his measurables. Built like a linebacker at 6-3 and 225 pounds, he started two games and made 10 tackles, showing surprising agility for his size.

The young cover boy of the corners is 6-0, 175-pound sophomore Ross Cockrell , one of last season's pleasant surprises. He quickly rose up the depth chart in his first year, starting all 12 games and making 60 tackles, three picks, and seven pass breakups. Still raw and needing to tighten up his coverage skills, he has the speed to keep evolving into a defensive playmaker. It's a toss-up who'll join him at the other spot. Senior Johnny Williams is an option. The 5-10, 190-pound former wide receiver has the necessary athletic ability, but needs to adapt to a completely different role. His stiffest test could come from 6-0, 190-pound sophomore Garrett Patterson , who had 13 tackles, mostly on special teams, and is itching for a promotion.

Watch Out For .... Williams. The Blue Devils need a complement to Cockrell at right corner. Williams looked as if he might be that guy in 2010, but he never fully panned out. In his second year on defense, Duke is hoping he can fill a void and clamp down on receivers.
Strength: Hitters. When you're on the last line of defense in Durham, you either learn proper tackling technique or lose your job. The safeties, in particular, do a nice job of filling running lanes and making stops in space.
Weakness: Coverage skills. When the ball is in the air, Duke is usually in trouble. The Devils are painfully soft in coverage, allowing 25 touchdown passes and picking off just eight passes in a league not known for its great passers.
Outlook: A lot of the faces are the same ... the results might be as well. The secondary is a year older, and Daniels and Cockrell are nice players, but Duke will continue to struggle against the pass. There aren't any lockdown or next-level corners on the roster, and it'll show once again.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

State of the Unit: The Blue Devils have the luxury of bringing back both of last year's specialists, senior PK Will Snyderwine and senior P Alex King . A former soccer and rugby player, and one-time walk-on, Snyderwine has been named All-ACC second team following each of the last two seasons. He has it all, from accuracy to a strong leg, nailing all of his career PATs and 38-of-44 field goal tries. At 41.1 yards a boot, King ranked seventh in the league in punting a year ago.

Watch Out For .... King's development. While his punting average was acceptable, his hang time was not. Duke was 106th nationally in net punting, something King owns along with the coverage teams.
Strength: Snyderwine. A revelation in Durham and one of the offense's most consistent weapons, he has the pin-point accuracy and leg strength to vie for the Lou Groza Award in his final year.
Weakness: Covering punts. The Devils ranked 117th nationally in 2011 in punt return yardage D, doing no favors for a defense that was already under siege.
Outlook: Although Snyderwine is pretty much a sure-thing, everyone else is a flashing question. The punt team is average and more is needed from a return game that produced no plays of more than 36 yards last season.
Rating: 6
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- 2011 Duke Defense | 2011 Duke Depth Chart
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