2013 Duke Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Duke Blue Devil Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Saying that the Duke D will struggle is like suggesting that Duke basketball will contend for a spot in next March's NCAA Tournament. It's sort of elementary. The Blue Devils return five full-timers from a unit that was predictably feeble in 2012; they ranked 105th nationally in total defense, giving up at least 40 points to six of their final seven opponents. Hope in 2013 is scarce. Yeah, the Kenny Anunike D-line is littered with veterans, and CB Ross Cockrell is a returning All-ACC first-teamer. But Duke will again have problems at the point of attack, a reality that immediately impacts both the run and pass defense. A year ago, the Devils gave up five yards a carry, while ranking last nationally in yards per completion. The availability of S Jeremy Cash and the returns from injury of LB Kelby Brown and NG Jamal Bruce will help, though not so much that Duke avoids being a second-tier ACC defense.
Star of the defense: Senior CB Ross Cockrell
Tackles: Ross Cockrell, 71
Sacks: Kenny Anunike, 5
Interceptions: Ross Cockrell, 5
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Garett Patterson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Dwayne Norman
Best pro prospect: Cockrell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Cockrell, 2) Senior DE Kenny Anunike, 3) Junior LB Kelby Brown
Strength of the defense: Depth, veteran D-line, takeaways
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, pass defense, yielding big plays
The Blue Devils' D caught a break when it was learned that DE Kenny Anunike had been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. He's by far the program's most talented pass rusher, collecting 11 tackles for loss and nine sacks over his last 16 games. Five of those sacks came a year ago, which led to All-ACC honorable mention recognition. The 6-5, 260-pound one-time tight end has overcome a spate of knee injuries since 2008 to get to this point in his career. When healthy, Anunike has the motor and the upper body strength to bully his way into opposing backfields.
Over on the other side, 6-3, 245-pound senior Justin Foxx is working to maintain his starting job. He missed four games last year to recover from hand surgery, and had his knee worked on prior to spring. He did start seven games in 2012, making 46 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Foxx gets to the ball quickly, providing a sudden burst of speed off the edge.
Duke's steady anchor in the middle of the line is 6-4, 300-pound senior DT Sydney Sarmiento. The most experienced Blue Devil on the roster has started 36 career games, all but one since arriving from Florence, S.C. After making 28 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and 1.5 sacks in 2012, he, like so many of his teammates, needs to have more of an impact on running downs.
The program is excited about the return to health of 6-1, 285-pound NG Jamal Bruce. The junior missed the first six games of 2012, and only managed to make six tackles over the second half of the year. His quickness and strength ought to help on the inside for a run defense that'll take all of the support that it can get.
With a whopping 13 letterwinners back to the D-line, depth does not appear to be a worry for the Blue Devils. On the outside, 6-4, 240-pound Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and 6-4, 260-pound junior Dezmond Johnson both have starting experience. DeWalt-Ondijo has started nine games over the last two seasons, reaching career-highs with 19 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and 2.5 sacks in 2012. Johnson is a veteran of six career starts, peaking with 23 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss and three sacks last fall. At the nose, the staff has been impressed by the play of 6-2, 290-pound sophomore Carlos Wray, a letterwinner in his first year out of high school.
Watch Out For .... the staff to simplify the schemes. Duke coaches want to make things a little more elementary for the linemen in 2013, encouraging them to think less and react more. There were times last year that things became a little too complex, something that's been addressed since the start of the year.
Strength: Bodies. It's rare that Duke is as deep and as experienced up front as it is this year. This is going to be a veteran-led unit that will easily go two-deep with players accustomed to meaningful reps. The Blue Devils have the kind of rotation that will keep everyone fresh and motivated.
Weakness: Containing running backs. The Devils have to do a much better job of preventing running plays from reaching the second and third levels of the defense. Duke was thoroughly ransacked throughout the second half of 2012, winding up 101st nationally against the run, while yielding five yards a carry.
Outlook: Assuming everyone can remain healthy, a legitimate worry in Durham, Duke should be pretty feisty in the pass rush. However, the Blue Devils will again have problems in run defense, likely giving up more than 200 yards on the ground to the more advanced offenses on the schedule. This unit will be better in 2013, yet still a liability.
In Duke's defensive alignment, only two linebackers will typically be on the field. There's cautious optimism that one of the openings, weakside, will be filled by 6-2, 220-pound junior Kelby Brown, who's back after missing all of 2012 to a knee injury. Before going down, he was the Blue Devils' best linebacker, starting 10 games and making 65 tackles and seven stops for loss in 2011. Brown is an instinctive run defender, with good closing skills, who believes he's more fundamentally sound after working on the little things with the scout team last fall.
Nudging ahead in the race at middle linebacker is junior David Helton. At 6-4 and 235 pounds, he's one of the program's largest linebackers, an asset when trying to shed blockers and drag down backs. A smart and hard-working player, he started four games in 2012, registering 55 tackles and 2.5 stops behind the line.
If Brown has another medical setback, 6-0, 230-pound junior C.J. France will again be summoned from the sidelines. One of the pleasant surprises on defense a year ago, he started 10 times, finishing tied for fourth on the team with 60 stops.
Just behind Helton in the middle is Brown's younger brother, 6-4, 230-pound sophomore Kyler Brown. He got his feet wet with a pair of starts in 2012, making 51 tackles and breaking up three passes. Improving as the season progressed, he peaked with 14 tackles in a game against Georgia Tech. The younger Brown has a lot of good football ahead of him in Durham.
Watch Out For .... the health and flexibility of Kelby Brown's knee. The Blue Devils need their best run defender and inspirational leader to be whole in order to feel good about their situation at linebacker. He's the unit's top performer, a sparkplug who makes those around him a little better. One knee surgery is not uncommon. A second one on the same knee will raise durability concerns.
Strength: Options. Each member of the two-deep has started games over the last two seasons, affording the Blue Devils quality depth on the second level. If Kelby Brown's knees hold up for an entire season, Duke will boast four linebackers that it believes is capable of making plays and logging extensive minutes.
Weakness: Yards after contact. Although the return of Brown from injury should help matters, Duke is vulnerable against the run. Too often last year, opposing running backs bounced off the Blue Devils for additional yards. This D has to improve against the run, which is going to require each of the first two levels to become better tacklers.
Outlook: While unspectacular, the linebackers ought to be steadier than in 2012, when one Brown was out and the other one was just a rookie. The mere fact that everyone is a year older is promising news for a unit that looked its age last fall. The key, naturally, will be for Kelby Brown's knees to withstand the rigors of a full season so that he can be the full-time leader from the second level.
The Duke pass defense may have been horrendous a season ago, but don't finger CB Ross Cockrell, the exception to the rule in Durham. The senior enjoyed a breakout season in 2012, earning a spot on the All-ACC First Team. The starter in all 36 of his games as a Blue Devil, he set career highs with 71 tackles, four stops for loss, five interceptions, 13 pass breakups and a pair of touchdowns. The 6-0, 180-pound Cockrell can still get burned from time to time, but has the footwork, closing speed and leaping ability to make opposing passers pay for targeting his side of the field.
The corner likely to get targeted when Cockrell is being avoided is 6-1, 190-pound Garett Patterson. Though a senior with three letters, he's yet to start one of his 37 career games. The journeyman and special teams performer had 10 tackles last season, missing out on the defensive reps needed to make this transition.
The Blue Devils will again employ three safeties, none coming off a better season than BANDIT Dwayne Norman. The 6-1, 195-pound sophomore started five games in his debut out of high school, making 60 tackles and a couple of fumble recoveries. Just a two-star prospect upon arrival, he could become a fixture in the secondary before long.
Closing in on the starting job at STRIKE is sophomore Jeremy Cash, a newcomer who began his career as a Jim Tressel recruit at Ohio State. The three-star recruit spent last season on the scout team, getting accustomed to a new program and a new staff. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, he has the great size and physicality needed to support the run and intimidate receivers from safety.
Rounding out the starting safeties is Duke's ROVER, redshirt freshman Corbin McCarthy. The 5-10, 200-pounder from California played in the first two games of his career, but was shut down due to injury. He's looking to bring a little more attitude and toughness to the Devils' last line of defense.
The top safety off the bench will be 6-0, 220-pound senior Anthony Young-Wiseman. The three-time letterwinner has appeared in 28 games, with no starts, making 14 stops before hurting his knee last fall. Patterson's stiffest competition is going to come from 5-9, 185-pound redshirt freshman DeVon Edwards. He's giving away size and experience in the battle, but makes up with quickness and improving cover skills.
Watch Out For .... Patterson to get pushed very hard by the young kids. Edwards and the incoming rookies may be raw, but they also have more upside than the veteran starter coming out of spring. Patterson has been on campus for four years without earning the job, which says a lot since the Blue Devils have been pining for competent pass defenders.
Strength: Cockrell. The senior cornerback is head and shoulders better than the rest of the defensive backs surrounding him. Cockrell is so dangerous when the ball is in the air that he discourages opposing quarterbacks from throwing to his side of the field. Because of No. 6, the other Duke DBs have less ground to cover.
Weakness: Allowing the long ball. The Blue Devils got burned repeatedly over the top last year, and often at the least opportune time in a game. For the second straight year, the program allowed more than 15 yards a completion, the highest figure of any FBS school. And no team in the ACC yielded more touchdown passes.
Outlook: Duke might be home to the worst pass defense among the major conferences … again. And that's with Cockrell, an all-star cornerback, on hand. The Blue Devils could roll out six defensive backs this fall and the results would be the same when quarterbacks drop back to throw. They just don't house enough quality pass defenders to withstand opposing passers, especially in a league flush with talented passers.
One of the unsung heroes of last year's bowl run was sophomore PK Ross Martin, who set a Duke single-season record with 106 points. The Freshman All-American ably filled the void left by Will Snyderwine, connecting on 20-of-23 field goal attempts, including both from beyond 50 yards.
The Blue Devils feel great about the future at punter as well. Will Monday, too, was a Freshman All-American in 2012, leading the ACC with an average of 44.6 yards per boot. At 6-4 and 210 pounds, he gets excellent leg drive, and will become even more effective upon improving his directional kicks.
The graduation of Lee Butler means the Blue Devils will be looking for new return men. Playmaking junior Jamison Crowder is expected to handle punts after turning five into 66 yards a year ago. Seniors Juwan Thompson and Garett Patterson are being considered for kickoffs.
Watch Out For .... Martin to begin generating more attention outside of Durham. He caught a lot of people off guard in 2012, only earning honorable mention All-ACC after missing just three field goals. A secret no longer, he should start generating some national buzz with the likes of the Lou Groza Award folks.
Strength: Young legs. Duke isn't just set with its specialists in 2013. It looks as if it'll be in great shape through 2015. It says a lot about the ability and the maturity of Martin and Monday, neither of whom performed like newcomers last fall.
Weakness: Punt coverage. What a disaster. The Blue Devils ranked among the country's worst teams in punt coverage last fall, allowing two touchdowns and nearly 13 yards an attempt. The special teamers need to plug the gaps here or else many of Monday's projectiles are going to be squandered.
Outlook: The Duke special teams is not done growing, but it sure has come a long way in a very short period of time. A major liability at this time last year, the Blue Devils now feel set with Martin as the kicker and Monday as the punter. Next up is finding a spark in the return game, and tightening up in punt and kick coverage.
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