2008 Duke Preview - Defense
Duke LB Michael Tauiliili
Duke LB Michael Tauiliili
Posted Apr 23, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Duke Blue Devil Defense

Duke Blue Devils

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Duke Preview | 2008 Duke Offense
- 2008 Duke Defense | 2008 Duke Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Duke Preview | 2006 CFN Duke Preview 

What you need to know: While 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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Vincent Rey, 111
Sacks: Vince Oghobaase, 4.5
Interceptions: Leon Wright, 3

Star of the defense: Junior DT Vince Oghobaase
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Ayanga Okpokowuruk
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

Defensive Line

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 programs.        

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 the sidelines.

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 defensive line.

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 season.
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.
Rating: 6.5


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 seasons.

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. 
Rating: 6.5


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 secondary.         

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 be it.
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 down.
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.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

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 chances.     

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 enemy territory.
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.
Rating: 4