Preview 2009 - Defense
2009 CFN Duke
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2009 Duke Defense |
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What you need to know:
Yes, progress was made a year ago, but Duke remains one of the
most vulnerable of the ACC defenses. While the Blue Devils have
quality players, and even next-level players, they still lack a
level of depth and talent to handle better offenses. Plus, this
year’s defense is moving forward without All-America LB Michael
Tauiliili, who’s still getting credit for tackles after
graduation. With DT Vince Oghobaase anchoring the line and
Vincent Rey taking over as the next big thing at linebacker,
Duke should be fine on the front seven. The secondary, however,
must stop yielding so many easy conversions through the air if
the D is going to stiffen as a whole in 2009.
Vincent Rey, 109
Vince Oghobaase, 6
Interceptions: Multiple Players, 1
Star of the defense:
Senior DT Vince Oghobaase
Player who has to step up and
become a star: Junior DE
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore S Matt Daniels
Best pro prospect:
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Oghobaase, 2)
Senior LB Vincent Rey, 3) Senior S Catron Gainey
Strength of the
Weakness of the defense:
Pass defense, allowing the big play, run defense
When DT Vince Oghobaase
decided to return for his senior
year, it ensured that the Blue Devils would have an anchor up front and
a solid overall defensive line. A likely high draft choice next April,
he attracts all kinds of attention from opposing linemen, freeing up his
teammates to make plays. He blends power and quickness into a 6-6,
300-pound frame, fighting through double teams to make stops for
negative yards. As a junior, he had 51 tackles, nine tackles for loss,
and six sacks, all-star numbers for an interior lineman.
Clifford Respress out of eligibility, 6-2, 290-pound senior
is expected to
hold down the job at nose guard. An inside player with the quickness and
agility to rush the passer, he’s actually played some defensive end in
his career. Mostly a reserve over the last two seasons, he had 21
tackles in 2008 and four sacks two years ago.
At defensive end,
regular pressure should come from junior
and senior Ayanga Okpokowuruk. Oglesby’s breakthrough sophomore
season never materialized, in part because of a leg injury that cut his
season in half. In six games, he had 17 tackles, two tackles for loss,
and a sack, numbers that don’t do justice to his upside. Healthy again,
the 6-6, 245-pounder has the burst and the motor to rebound in a big way
hasn’t fulfilled all of his high school expectations, he is coming off
his best year as a Blue Devil. As a five-game starter, he set
career-high with 29 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. One of the line’s premier athletes at 6-4 and 255 pounds, he has the right
mix of physical ability to continue blossoming and even attract some
interest from pro scouts.
Projected Top Reserves: Providing depth on the interior will be 6-3, 275-pound sophomore
Charlie Hatcher. A letterman
in his first year of action, he appeared in nine games with a start,
making 13 tackles and a pair behind the line. The staff loves his drive
and intensity, two reasons why he’ll be in the starting lineup no later
The most experienced reserve end is 6-4, 240-pound
junior Patrick Egboh. He played in 12 games last year, starting a pair, but
needs to do more than just 25 tackles and no sacks when he gets chances
to play. Fast off the edge, he needs to do a better job of sniffing out
plays and disengaging from blocks.
Watch Out For ...
the emergence of the ends. Oglesby, Okpokowuruk, and Egboh have got to
get more pressure off the edge in order to take some heat off Oghobaase
on the inside. Plus, someone needs to make up for the loss of Greg
Akinbiyi, who tied for a team-high with six sacks.
Athleticism. The tackles move like strongside ends and the ends
move like outside linebackers, which spells problems for lumbering
offensive lines. The linemen are a collection of really talented
athletes, as opposed to just a bunch of big bodies.
Run defense. Considering how talented Duke was at linebacker last year,
it’s an indictment of the first line of defense that it finished 11th
in the ACC against the run. The Blue Devils must get more penetration up
front, especially since that corps of linebackers will be missing
All-American Michael Tauiliili.
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.
By far, the biggest loss on the defense is
Michael Tauiliili, Duke’s four-year tackling machine at middle linebacker.
The silver lining for the unit is that Vincent Rey
still has a
year of eligibility remaining. Largely overlooked the last two years,
he’s a physical 6-1, 240-pounder, with tremendous range and a knack for
making big plays. As a junior, he quietly racked up
10.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, a pick, and two fumble recoveries for
touchdowns. He prepares about as hard as any Blue Devil player, and is
poised for much more recognition in 2009.
If Rey does shift
inside, it’ll open up a spot at outside linebacker that’ll be filled by
Adam Banks, one of the
rising stars at the position. The best combination of size and speed
among the linebackers, he’s an explosive 6-4, 230-pound, who hasn’t even
approached his full potential. After lettering as a reserve the last two
seasons, making eight tackles in 2008, he’s on the tarmac and preparing
The battle to fill the final opening will be
hotly-contested and could last through August. The early edge goes to
6-1, 215-pound junior
Kromah. No stranger to the field, he’s played in 20 games over the
last two years, making 13 stops in 2008 and earning the Outstanding
Special Teams Performer Award. Built more like a safety, he relies on
his speed and agility to make plays.
Projected Top Reserves:
Duking it out with Kromah will be 6-2, 225-pound junior
Andrew Holoman. Although he can’t match Kromah’s burst or
experience, he’s a little bit bigger and thicker, which will help
counter pulling guards on run plays.
If Rey happens to stay put,
6-1, 235-pound junior Damian Thornton will be the successor to Tauiliili in the middle.
He’s played in 21 games over the last two years, making six stops in
2008, but has mostly been a special teams contributor. With a strong
base and good instincts, he’s capable of being an asset in run defense.
Watch Out For
...where Rey winds up
playing. He’ll be a 100-tackle success no matter where he lines up, but
his destination dictates who else is in the lineup. If he’s in the
middle, Banks is on the field. If he’s on the outside, Thornton gets
promoted into a very difficult assignment.
Rey. On a unit that has a lot of fresh faces, he clearly stands
out as the leading man and a role model. A rock in run defense, he also
sets the example on how to prepare for a season and an upcoming
Experience. After Rey, Duke is keeping its fingers crossed. He’s
the only Blue Devil who’s started a game in the past year, meaning he’ll
have to double as a mentor until the kids get completely up to speed.
You don’t get better by losing Tauiliili.
That said, the Blue Devils are going to survive because of the presence
of Rey and the untapped potential of young players, like Banks, Kromah,
and Thornton. Banks, in particular, is in the right spot to enjoy a
There’s not a lot of scary talent roaming around the secondary, a
familiar concern around Durham. A couple of regulars do return to form a
base, headed by senior S
Gainey. He played well in his first season as a full-timer,
especially down the stretch, finishing third on the team with 66
tackles. Well-sized at 6-2 and 205 pounds, he provides good pop in run
defense and gets good elevation when the ball is in the air.
favorite to lock down the other safety spot is 6-1, 195-pound sophomore
Matt Daniels, who immediately
got on the field as a true freshman. In 10 games, he had 22 and an
interception, even logging his first career start. A tremendous athlete
with blazing speed, he’s going to be one of the cornerstones of the
secondary for the future.
The program’s most reliable cornerback
will be senior Leon Wright, a starter in each of the last two seasons. Before being
lost for the year midway through the season, he had nine tackles and
broke up four passes. He’s only 5-9 and 170 pounds, which is a concern
against bigger receivers, but is a feisty defender who won’t shy away
If quarterbacks shy away from Wright’s side, 6-1,
175-pound junior Chris Rwabukamba
better be prepared for the extra
attention. A bigger and more physical player than Wright, he stepped up
and played well as a spot starter, making 26 tackles, 3.5 tackles for
loss, and five pass breakups. Although the physical tools are there, he
needs to get much sharper in pass coverage.
cornerback, 5-10, 180-pound sophomore
175-pound redshirt freshman Randez James will spend the summer trying to be more than just
nickel backs. Butler went through a baptism by fire in his first year on
campus, playing in 11 games, starting one, and getting in on a dozen
stops. When he chose Duke on signing day, he broke the hearts of Georgia
Tech, which thought he had a great future.
James comes from the
same class, and is just as highly regarded, landing offers from Big Ten
and Pac-10 schools. A superb all-around athlete, he has dynamite speed,
good hops, and fluid hips. Once the know-how catches up to the physical
gifts, he’ll have lockdown potential in the secondary.
Out For ... the kids. Naturally, there’s trepidation
about this group, but the underclassmen provide excitement for the
future. At safety, Daniels looked ready a year and is only going to get
better. At corner, Butler and James are the type of athletes who can
transform this defensive backfield in the next few years.
Safety. In Gainey and Daniels, the Blue Devils boast a
couple of returning starters capable of being borderline All-ACC players
in 2009. Gainey is the vet, who plays with an enforcer’s mentality.
Daniels is the future, with the quickness of a cornerback. Depth will
somewhat depend on how well Asack adapts to the new digs.
Preventing the big play. The numbers in recent years
simply don’t lie—Duke plays way too soft in pass coverage. Last season,
the Devils allowed 13.7 yards a completion and 7.8 yards an attempt,
easily the worst numbers among ACC teams.
The Blue Devils have had the league’s most generous pass defense, three
years running. Old habits are hard to break. Until the young cornerbacks
blossom into stoppers, Duke will remain vulnerable through the air
versus quality passers. It’s a good thing for the program that the ACC
is painfully short on quality passers.
Like so many units at Duke last year, special teams polished up its act
and played much better than the previous year. Junior PK
Nick Maggio and junior P
Kevin Jones were unexpectedly solid contributors throughout the
season. Maggie made 11-of-14 field goal attempts, with a long of 46
yards, while nailing all 28 of his extra points. He has decent leg
strength and has become more consistent since going just 2-of-5 on field
goals as a sophomore.
Jones is embarking on his third season as
the starting punter, making considerable improvement in 2008. After
averaging just 38 yards a punt as a sophomore, he finished third in the
ACC at just under 41 yards, while improving his hang time and
Watch Out For ... more competition in the return
game. Regular kick returned Jabber Marshall is gone, and none of last
year’s punt returnees did anything to lock down the job. After finishing
in the bottom half of the ACC in both categories, the Blue Devils have
an APB out for special teams playmakers.
Punt coverage. As bad as Duke was in punt returns, it was equally
good in punt coverage. The Blue Devils suffocated the opposition,
allowing less than six yards a return, which was good for No. 4 in the
The return game. Now that the kicking game is on more solid
footing, special teams coordinator Ron Middleton can concentrate on
lighting a fire under the skill guys. While the Blue Devils were average
on kickoffs, they were downright awful on punt returns, finishing 104th
Middleton quietly had a great season with the Blue Devils, solidifying
one of the weakest units of the program. Maggie and Jones won’t kill the
team, but there will need to be additional progress made in the return
game and in kickoff coverage.