2009 Duke Preview - Defense
Duke LB Vincent Rey
Duke LB Vincent Rey
Posted Jul 15, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Duke Blue Devil Defense

Duke Blue Devils

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Duke Preview | 2009 Duke Offense
- 2009 Duke Defense | 2009 Duke Depth Chart
- 2008 Duke Preview | 2007 Duke Preview | 2006 Duke Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Vincent Rey, 109
Sacks: 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 Wesley Oglesby
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Matt Daniels
Best pro prospect: Oghobaase
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Oghobaase, 2) Senior LB Vincent Rey, 3) Senior S Catron Gainey
Strength of the defense: The front four
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, allowing the big play, run defense

Defensive Linemen

Projected Starters: 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.    

With Clifford Respress out of eligibility, 6-2, 290-pound senior Kinney Rucker 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
Wesley Oglesby 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 this fall.

Although Okpokowuruk
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 than 2010.

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. 
Strength: 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.   
Weakness: 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.

Rating: 7


Projected Starters: 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 109 tackles, 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 junior 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 for lift-off.

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 Abraham 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.  
Strength: 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 opponent.
Weakness: 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.     
Outlook: 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 breakout season.    
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: 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 Catron 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.

The 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 from contact.

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.

Projected Top Reserves: At cornerback, 5-10, 180-pound sophomore Lee Butler and 5-11, 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.    

Watch 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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
Outlook: 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.
: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: 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 directional kicks. 

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.
Strength: 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 ACC.
Weakness: 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 nationally.
Outlook: 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.
: 7


Related Stories
2009 Duke Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 15, 2009
2009 Duke Preview – Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 15, 2009
One on One With Jay Hollingsworth
 -by TheDevilsDen.com  Jul 8, 2009

Add Topics to My HotList
Get free email alerts with news about your favorite topics. Click link to add to My HotList.
Football > Duke
[View My HotList]