Duke Preview 2006 - Defense

Posted Jul 31, 2006

Duke Blue Devils Preview 2006 - Duke Blue Devil Defense

What you need to know ... If star prospects Vince Oghobaase and Ayanga Okpokowuruk shine right away on the line and the holes can be patched up at linebacker and strong safety, this might not be the ACC's worst defense again. Depth is an issue all the way around and there won't be any speed records set by anyone, but there's a nice mix of good young prospects and solid veterans to put together a nice season if the offense finally provides a little support. The strength should be at corner thanks to the return of All-ACC star John Talley, while linebacker Michael Tauiliili should garner a few honors in the middle.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Patrick Bailey, 52
Sacks: Eli Nichols, 3
Interceptions: John Talley, 5

Star of the defense: Senior CB John Talley
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior LB Codey Lowe
Unsung star on the rise: Senior LB Jeramy Edwards
Best pro prospect: Redshirt freshman DT Vince Oghobaase
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Talley, 2) Oghobaase, 3) LB Michael Tauiliili
Strength of the defense: Cornerback, tackle
Weakness of the defense:
Outside linebacker, speed

Defensive Line
There's reason to get excited about a Blue Devil line with a great mix of reliable seniors and budding superstar redshirt freshmen. End Eli Nichols and tackle Casey Camero have seen it all in ACC play and will be nice leaders, but the real studs, and the real hope for a much better season, comes from the superstar recruits of 2005, tackle
Vince Oghobaase, who's back from a knee injury, and end Ayanga Okpokowuruk. Helping out the line is linebacker Patrick Bailey, who was one of last year's top tacklers before getting hurt.
The key to the unit: Vince Oghobaase and Ayanga Okpokowuruk
have to be every bit as good as advertised. If they are, this will be one of the ACC's most improved lines.
Defensive Line Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- DE Eli Nichols, Sr. - 48 tackles, 3 sacks, 8 TFL, 5 quarterback hurries
Nichols has been a solid performer over the last few seasons on and off the field earning Second Team Academic All-America honors and turning into of the team's best players at getting into the backfield. He's a good-sized 6-4, 260-pound end with a non-stop motor. He can play on the inside if needed.

- DT Casey Camero, Sr. - 39 tackles, 1 sack, 4.5 TFL
A strong veteran up front for the last two years with 25 straight starts, the 280-pound senior is one of the leaders of the defense. He's a quick interior pass rusher and a decent run stopper, but not a dominant one. With his experience, he should be more of a disruptive force.

- NG Vince Oghobaase, RFr.
The star recruit of last season should quickly become one of the defense's best players now that he's back from the knee injury that cost him all of last year when he was supposed to start from day one. At 6-6 and 310 pounds, he's the team's biggest lineman as well as, arguably, the most heralding incoming lineman in the school's history.

- DE Patrick Bailey, Jr. - 52 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 interceptions
A defensive end, then a linebacker, and then a defensive end again, Bailey was one of the teams top tacklers at linebacker last season before getting knocked out for the year with a few games to go. Even so, he finished fourth on the team in tackles and should be a good pass rusher right off the bat with a high-octane work ethic. 

Top Backups
- NG Clifford Respress, Soph. - 18 tackles, 1 sack, 2.5 TFL
Respress stepped in when Vince Oghobaase went down for the year in preseason practice and wasn't all that bad for a true freshman. He's not all that big for an ACC nose guard at 6-4 and 275 pounds, but he turned into a reliable defender as last year went on.
- DE
Ayanga Okpokowuruk, RFr.
While not nearly the top recruit Vince Oghobaase was last season, Okpokowuruk was still a big prospect for the Blue Devil coaching staff considering he could've gone anywhere. He's a pure pass rusher who'll quickly find his way on the field behind Eli Nichols, and could take over a job early on somewhere.

Patrick Bailey's move to the defensive line shouldn't hurt too much with the emergence of Jeramy Edwards, but losing Brandon Dewan will be tough. Codey Lowe will be a nice replacement, but he won't be Dewan. Michael Tauiliili is one of the ACC's rising stars after leading the team in tackles. If he can progress just a little bit, he has the potential to be a 100-tackle, five-sack playmaker. The concern is with the really small backups with bulked up safeties pushing for time.
The key to the unit: The starting three must stay healthy with Codey Lowe and Jeremy Edwards needing to turn into reliable all-around playmakers on the outside.
Linebacker Rating: 5.5

Projected Starters
- Codey Lowe, Sr. - 19 tackles, 1 TFL
Able to play in the middle or on the outside, Lowe is back after only playing in four games last year due to injury. He's back and healthy on the strongside where he should be solid and tough against the run, but not spectacular.

- Michael Tauiliili, Soph. - 92 tackles, 1 sack, 10 TFL, 3 forced fumbles
Formerly names Michael Brown, Tauiliii led the team in tackles after taking over in the middle. He has good range and excellent athleticism and hitting ability, but now he has to do a better job of being in the right position. He got by last year by his instincts, and now he should be fantastic as an experienced sophomore.

- Jeramy Edwards, Sr. - 47 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL
Edwards stepped in when Patrick Bailey, who's now on the defensive line, got hurt and turned into a nice find on the weakside. He's a bulked up defensive back with good range and good open-field tackling ability. He should thrive in the starting role; this is the best position for him.

Top Backups
- Zach Smith, Jr. - 11 tackles
Smith is an undersized, tough defender who has spent most of his time on special teams. He hit the weights to become a stronger 215 pounds, but he's still too small to be an every-down man in the middle if Michael Tauiliili goes down.
- Brandon Tapps, Jr. - 6 tackles
The former safety has the speed an athleticism to be a solid weakside linebacker, and now he has to hit like a linebacker. He's 215 pounds with a little bit of experience with most of his work coming on special teams.

Defensive Backs
The secondary didn't give up a ton of yards since so many teams got up early and were able to run the ball, but when offenses had to throw, they picked the Blue Devils apart. Led by John Talley, the corners should be good with veteran Deonto McCormick and lightning fast Jabari Marshall ready to come up with big seasons. Safety could be another story with Chris Davis a solid, but unspectacular free safety, while the strong safety spot still up for grabs.
The key to the unit: More depth has to develop and everyone, including John Talley, has to be better on third downs.
Secondary Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- CB John Talley, Sr. - 50 tackles, 5 interceptions, 8 broken up passes
Probably the best cornerback you haven't seen, Talley is an extraordinary ball-hawker with 11 career interceptions and 22 broken up passes over the last two seasons. He's a tough tackler who's always around the ball, and he has to make sure he can hold up after having problems with his shoulder last year requiring off-season surgery. He's way too valuable to be gone for any stretch of time.

- FS Chris Davis, Jr. - 46 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 TFL, 2 interceptions, 3 broken up passes
Mostly known for being a top kick returner over the past two seasons, Davis is also a versatile defensive back able to play either safety position. He was a good tacklers and a decent cover man last season even though he was still learning on the fly after coming to Duke as a running back. He should be a top playmaker now that he knows what he's doing.

SS Glenn Williams, Soph. - 21 tackles, 2.5 TFL
While not all that big, Williams is a quick, experienced defender moving over from cornerback to challenge Andreas Platt for the strong safety job. He has the potential to be good against the pass, but the question at the new position will be his consistency against the run.

- CB Deonto McCormick, Sr. - 41 tackles, 4 broken up passes, 2 recovered fumbles
The former wide receiver grew into the cornerback role last season, and now he has to be more of a playmaker with teams staying away from John Talley on the other side. He has the hands to pick off passes and he's a great open-field tackler; he'll get plenty of chances to do both.

Top Backups

SS Andreas Platt, Soph. - 15 tackles
It would've been up to Platt to match the tackling production of Brian Greene, who made 62 stops last year, but he was kicked off the team due to disciplinary reasons.
- CB Jabari Marshall, Soph.
Back after missing all of last year, the 200-pound sophomore is the team's biggest corner and fastest player. He got time this spring to get quality reps in with John Talley sitting out, and now he should be a quality backup and top nickel back.

Special Teams
Joe Surgan is one of the ACC's rising star placekickers and should be a weapon with great range, but it'll be a big loss if punter Alex Feinberg can't adequately replace Chris Sprague. Chris Davis is one of the nation's premier kickoff retuerns, and now he has to up his punt return production after averaging a mere 7.6 yards per return.

The key to the unit: Punting consistency will be vital for a team that desperately needs good field position.
Special Teams Rating: 5.5

Projected Starters
- PK Joe Surgan, Soph. - 6-8 FGs, 15-16 extra points
Surgan was one of the bright spots in the Blue Devil season showing consistency and some pop as a true freshman hissing four of five kicked from beyond 40 yards. If given more chances, he has the potential to grow into an All-ACC performer.

- P Alex Feinberg, Jr.
Feinberg takes over for the solid Chris Sprague, who bombed away for a 41.4-yard average with 20 kicks put inside the 20. Feinberg has a nice leg, but is unproven.