Preview 2008 - Defense
2008 CFN Duke
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2006 CFN Duke
What you need to know:
there’s little empirical data from last year to back it up, the
Blue Devils could be feisty on defense. Ten starters return,
giving coordinators Mike MacIntyre and Marion Hobby the building
blocks needed to construct a foundation. The strength will be a
front seven that features linemen Vince Oghobaase and Ayanga
Okpokowuruk, and LBs Vincent Rey and Michael Tauiliili, last
year’s top two tacklers, respectively. Oghobaase, in particular,
might be a household name if he wasn’t playing in Durham. While
the run defense should be statistically better, the pass defense
needs to make strides after yielding 21 touchdown passes and
finishing last in the ACC in pass efficiency defense.
Vincent Rey, 111
Vince Oghobaase, 4.5
Interceptions: Leon Wright, 3
Star of the
Junior DT Vince Oghobaase
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Ayanga
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Wesley Oglesby
Best pro prospect: Oghobaase
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Senior LB Michael Tauiliili, 2)
Oghobaase, 3) Junior LB Vincent Rey
Strength of the defense: The front seven
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, getting to the quarterback
Projected Starters: Duke is bringing back four players
that started games a year ago, none more important than junior DT
Vince Oghobaase. Not your typical Blue Devil, he’s a 6-6, 310-pound
future NFL player who’s going to get even tougher to block in the second
half of his college career. A blend of power and quickness who often
commands double teams, he led all linemen as a sophomore with 49
tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks.
Next to Oghobaase at the nose will be senior Clifford Respress, a
seasoned veteran with three letters and a ton of experience as a regular
in the rotation. A 6-4, 275-pounder, he had 21 tackles, 5.5 tackles for
loss, and a pair of sacks, showing good quickness off the snap to
compensate for average size.
The ends figure to be sophomore Wesley Oglesby and junior
Ayanga Okpokowuruk, but the rotation will see as many as four
players get significant playing time. Oglesby enjoyed a breakthrough
first season, starting 10 games and racking up 37 tackles, 6.5 tackles
for loss, and a sack. An explosive 6-6, 250-pounder, he plays with a
great motor and the explosion to start turning more of his pressures
into sacks. Oglesby is the future for the Blue Devils on the outside.
A key signing from a couple of years ago, Okpokowuruk has yet to parlay
all of his potential and physical attributes into major production. One
of the line’s premier athletes at 6-4 and 255 pounds and a candidate to
also play on the inside, he managed just 23 tackles, one tackle for
loss, and no sacks in a dozen starts. The time has come for Okpokowuruk
to start performing like the player that fielded offers from SEC
Projected Top Reserves: Senior DE Greg Akinbiyi
brings a wealth of experience to the B team, courtesy of last year’s six
starts and 33 tackles. An inability to get to the quarterback will keep
the 6-2, 250-pounder from returning to the starting lineup, but his
veteran leadership and knowledge have value, even if he’s standing on
Like Akinbiyi, 6-2, 300-pound junior Kinney Rucker is a veteran
that’ll help bolster the depth on the second unit. An inside player
who’s proven he can step outside and make plays, he delivered 28
tackles, six tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks, while starting three games
at defensive end when the need arose. Rucker’s versatility and quickness
for a big man give the coaching staff a lot of flexibility on the
Watch Out For ... the development of the ends. With an
obvious need for more pressure from the edge, Oglesby and Okpokowuruk
will be asked to elevate their games this fall. Oglesby, in particular,
appears ready to blossom after laying a solid foundation in his freshman
Strength: Oghobaase. After just two seasons, Oghobaase is
already on his way to becoming one of the best defensive linemen to ever
play in Durham. An inside lineman who puts up defensive end numbers,
he’d be an All-American contender playing for a different school.
Weakness: Outside penetration. Now that Patrick Bailey is
out of eligibility, Duke needs the ends to start creating more pressure,
something that happened infrequently a year ago. Bailey aside, the
outside rushers produced just six sacks in 12 games last season.
Outlook: This group of defensive linemen is as deep and
talented as the Blue Devils have had in a long time. If they can put it
all together, meaning Oghobaase gets more help, both the run defense and
pass defense will begin showing long overdue signs of improvement.
Projected Starters: Last year’s top two tacklers, senior
Michael Tauiliili and junior Vincent Rey are back to
patrol the middle of the Blue Devil defense. Tauiliili is a 5-11,
235-pound tackling machine with the keen instincts and quickness to
constantly be near the ball. He’s had nearly 300 stops in his Duke
career, including a career-high 108 last year to go along with 13
tackles for loss, four sacks, and three interceptions. A vastly
underrated player at middle linebacker, Tauiliili may finally be ready
to receive some of the recognition that’s escaped him the last two
At weakside, Rey produced a team-best 111 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss,
and 2.5 sacks in his debut as a starter. A squat 6-0, 255-pounder, he’s
a natural in the middle but has been playing on the outside in order to
get the team’s three best linebackers on the field. Not the fastest
player on the roster, Rey has terrific football speed, taking good
angles and playing with the right pad level.
Rounding out the linebackers at strongside is senior Marcus Jones,
no stranger to the huddle. A former part-time starter at quarterback and
wide receiver, he’s adapting nicely on defense. At 6-3 and 220 pounds,
he’s got great field awareness and range, making 32 tackles and 2.5
tackles for loss in his debut at the position.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Charles Robinson will
be providing at weakside behind Rey. An undersized 6-2, 215-pounder, he
started four games before getting hurt last fall, chipping in 20
tackles, four tackles for loss, and a pick. When Robinson isn’t giving a
starter a breather, he’ll be trying to make tackles on special teams.
The future at strongside belongs to sophomore Adam Banks, a rangy
6-4, 230-pounder with a full season of experience already on the resume.
An explosive all-around athlete who debuted with 13 tackles and a couple
of starts, he’ll continue pushing Jones for the starting assignment,
while being no worse than one of the first linebackers off the bench.
Watch Out For ...Tauiliili and Rey to top the 100-tackle
milestone for a second consecutive year. There are plenty of tackles to
go around on this defense, and these two linebackers know how to shed
blockers and get to the man with the ball.
Strength: Experience. Between the three regulars, the Blue
Devils feature two seniors and a junior, all of whom have extensive
starting experience. Even the two primary backups, Robinson and Banks,
got a taste of the starting lineup last season.
Weakness: Size. The stocky builds of Tauiliili and Rey are
pluses on running downs, but at barely 6-0, both become vulnerable when
matched up in pass defense with taller receivers and tight ends.
Outlook: With the development of Rey and Jones on the
outside to go along with the ultra-consistent Tauiliili in the middle,
Duke has the makings of a solid linebacker corps capable of cleaning up
whatever gets past the first line of defense.
Projected Starters: While the front seven features
potential all-league candidates, the secondary is short on talent, which
could explain why Duke pulled up the rear in pass efficiency defense a
year ago. Trying to reverse that trend at cornerback will be junior
Leon Wright and senior Jabari Marshall, a couple of returning
starters. Wright is an active defender who plays much bigger than his
5-9, 165-pound frame would indicate. While he’ll struggle at times in
pass defense, he led the team with 54 solo tackles, adding three picks,
and eight pass breakups.
Marshall started a couple of games as a junior, making 25 tackles and
breaking up five passes, three in the loss to Notre Dame. A terrific
size-speed guy at 5-11 and 200 pounds, he needs to put it all together
on the field and begin shutting down opposing receivers. Marshall has
solid ball skills and can be dangerous in the open field with the ball
in his hands.
Versatile senior Glenn Williams is back for his final season in
Durham, looking to finish on a positive note. One of the defensive
backfield’s most versatile players at 5-10 and 185 pounds, he had a
career-high 66 tackles in his first season as a full-timer. While not
all that big, Williams flashes good quickness and a knack for stepping
up in run defense.
Coming out of spring, junior Catron Gainey was the surprise
starter at the other safety spot. A valuable reserve a year ago that
produced 49 tackles, he used a terrific offseason to solidify his spot
atop the depth chart. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, he gets tremendous
elevation and is on the brink of becoming the enforcer of the Blue Devil
Projected Top Reserves: Although he’s currently running
behind Gainey, senior Adrian Aye-Darko is like having another
starter on the second team. A regular who has produced at least 50
tackles the last two seasons, he’s a 6-2, 210-pounder that hits like a
linebacker. He also covers like a linebacker, which makes him a
liability on obvious passing downs.
Sophomore Chris Rwabukamba is a big part of the future for the
program at cornerback. At 6-0 and 175 pounds, he has good size and
outstanding, earning a letter as a freshman for his work on special
teams. Along with true freshman Randez James, Rwabukamba
will provide depth in the secondary this year before moving closer to
the starting lineup in 2009.
Watch Out For ... Gainey. After scratching the surface
of his potential as a sophomore, he has the right combination of size,
speed, and leaping ability to quickly become the new face of the Blue
Devil secondary. The unit is pining for a playmaker, and he just might
Strength: Safety. In Gainey, Williams, and Aye-Darko, Duke
has three starters for two positions, a luxury for a program that’s
usually not flush with talent and experience on the second team.
Weakness: Pass defense. The numbers from last season paint
a sobering picture. Opposing quarterbacks completed more than 64% of
their passes and averaged over 12 yards a completion, the kinds of
numbers that result in long drives and plenty of conversions on third
Outlook: The Blue Devils were last in the ACC in pass
defense the last two years, a trend that’ll be difficult to stop with
the current configuration of talent. Without any true stoppers in the
secondary, this year’s opponents will continue to move the ball at will
through the air.
Projected Starters: No unit is in worse shape than the
special teams, a comedy of errors and a perennial model of instability.
The biggest concern is the kicking game, which saw three players combine
to go 3-of-11 on field goal attempts a year ago. Senior Joe Surgan
is the leader coming out of spring, but a career marked by
inconsistency means his edge could evaporate quickly. He has hit fewer
than half of his attempts, going 1-of-5 last fall before being replaced
by sophomore Nick Maggio, who managed to connect on just 2-of-5
kicks. While Surgan has greater leg strength, hitting a 55-yarder in the
spring, he needs to lengthen his kickoffs after averaging just over 54
yards in 2007.
Sophomore Kevin Jones is back at punter, with Maggio looking over
his shoulder. Despite getting plenty of practice, Jones averaged only 38
yards a punt, which ranked him next to last in the ACC. He did show
progress with his directional kicks, and at 6-3 and 185 pounds, has the
long, lean frame to improve on his distance.
Senior Jabari Marshall was third among ACC kickoff returners,
averaging over 24 yards and taking one back in the opener versus
Connecticut. Junior Leon Wright, on the other hand, was near the
bottom of the league on punt returns, producing a mere 85 yards on 15
Watch Out For ... any developments at kicker. The Blue Devils
have to locate some degree of consistency if they’re to have any chance
in tight games. Surgan showed a pulse in March and April, but needs to
carry it over into the season.
Strength: Marshall. He’s averaged at least 24 yards in
each of the last two seasons, giving Duke a threat on kickoffs and a
dangerous return man capable of positively impacting field position.
Weakness: The kicking game. Technically, everything else
is abysmal, but the kicking game is the one area most likely to cost the
Blue Devils a tight game that could go either way. The kickers have been
so unreliable; it impacts how the staff coaches and calls plays deep in
Outlook: Sure, all eyes will be on David Cutcliffe as he
tries to establish a winning attitude at Duke, but the toughest job may
belong to new special teams coordinator Ron Middleton. All he has to do
is revamp a unit that’s hamstrung at kicker and punter, and needs plenty
of work when covering or returning punts.