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2010 Duke Preview – Defense
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Posted Aug 3, 2010 2010 Preview - Duke Blue Devil Defense

Duke Blue Devils

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: Now that Mike MacIntyre is the San Jose State head coach, Marion Hobby has taken over as the new defensive coordinator. Expect changes. Hobby’s main priority in the offseason will be to generate a better pass rush, which means more blitzing and lighting a fire beneath underachieving senior ends Patrick Egboh and Wesley Oglesby. If he can’t dial up more pressure, it’ll once again expose a secondary that’s perennially among the most generous in the ACC. While there’s no star power or returning all-stars, there is a veteran presence, especially at linebacker, and S Matt Daniels could be on the verge of losing his anonymity. A couple of imports from the offense, CB Johnny Williams and DE Kenny Anunike, were relocated to make an instant impact.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Matt Daniels, 83
Sacks: Wesley Oglesby, 1.5
Interceptions: Lee Butler, 1

Star of the defense: Junior S Matt Daniels
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Johnny Williams
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman LB Kevin Rojas
Best pro prospect: Daniels
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Daniels, 2) Senior LB Damian Thornton, 3) Junior NG Charlie Hatcher
Strength of the defense: Experience, linebackers, safeties
Weakness of the defense: The interior of the line, pass defense, third down stops

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The graduations of next-level DT Vince Oghobaase and DE Ayanga Okpokowuruk, the team’s leading sacker, have the defensive line in rebuilding mode. The new veteran of the interior will be 6-3, 285-pound sophomore Charlie Hatcher , a letterwinner in each of his first two seasons and an 11-game starter last fall. A high-motor, intense battler at the nose, he’s shown a knack for getting penetration and defending the run, making 39 tackles, seven stops for loss, and a sack. He’ll need to pick up the slack, especially in the early going, for the other tackle.

Although Okpokowuruk will be missed, Duke is hoping to compensate with a pair of seniors, with starting experience, 6-5, 245-pound Patrick Egboh and 6-6, 255-pound Wesley Oglesby . Egboh has started 11 games over the last two seasons, including nine in 2009, but he’s yet to show an ability to consistently collapse the pocket, a trend that must change. In fact, despite being on the field for close to 1,000 career snaps, he only has 2.5 sacks.

Oglesby has suffered from a similar fate as Egboh; he looks the part and has the requisite athletic ability, but the production remains disappointing. A part-time starter in each of his three seasons, he’s never been able to register more than the 1.5 sacks he had a year ago. He’s shown flashes of potential, particularly in his rookie year of 2007, but has to bring it all season if the Blue Devils are going to mount a decent pass rush.

Projected Top Reserves: An anonymous spare part in the rotation a year ago, 6-2, 275-pound sophomore Curtis Hazelton is about to become a very important person on this defense. The lone backup on the inside coming out of spring, he’s a nice athlete who was actually considered a linebacker or defensive end coming out of high school.

In an effort to bring more speed and explosiveness to defensive end, the Blue Devils have shifted 6-5, 240-pound sophomore Kenny Anunike from tight end to the defensive side of the ball. The coaches really like his long frame and athleticism, and realized he would have been underutilized on offense this year.

Attempting to provide depth on the inside will be 6-4, 285-pound redshirt freshman Sydney Sarmiento, who has no safety net in the rear view mirror now that backup Kinney Rucker is also gone. An end in high school, he added weight last year and shows potential to be a quality run-stuffer.

Watch Out For .... the five incoming freshmen to get every opportunity to avoid a redshirt year. Remember the names of Jamal Bruce , Will Bryant , Steven Ingram , Dezmond Johnson , and Jamal Wallace who all might be used at times this fall. It’s a nice collection of linemen, but they’ll be needed out of necessity more than anything else in 2010.
Strength: Athleticism. The tackles move like strongside ends and the ends move like outside linebackers, which could create concerns for lumbering offensive lines. The linemen are a collection of really talented athletes, as opposed to just a bunch of big bodies. Now all they have to do is turn all of that upside into production on the field.
Weakness: The interior. The Blue Devils were gashed between the tackles when Oghobaase was still Durham. What happens now that both he and backup Rucker have graduated? While Hatcher is a nice player and Sarmiento has a future, Duke is painfully thin between the ends, which could land them in the ACC basement in run defense.
Outlook: This is a bona fide sore spot that has to be addressed if the Blue Devils want to avoid being in shootouts all year. The run defense will be a season-long issue unless the linebackers and safeties offer a heap of support. Of course, then the pass defense could be left naked. If there’s hope, it’ll come from a group of ends that’s long overdue for a breakout season.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: Duke loses just one starting linebacker, but it was a key one, leading man Vincent Rey, who piled up more than 200 tackles over the last two seasons. In need of a new rock at strongside, the Blue Devils are banking on 6-2, 250-pound senior Damian Thornton. He played well as a first-time starter on the outside a year ago, making 60 stops and six tackles for loss. While he won’t wow you with his speed, he has a strong base and the instincts to make a bunch of plays in run defense.

While Thornton is the steady rock of the corps, senior Adam Banks brings a little more flash and a higher ceiling to the “Devil” position because of his blend of size and speed. For a 6-3, 235-pounder, he moves very well from sideline to sideline and can make plays behind the line. However, after topping off at 33 tackles and three starts a year ago, he really needs to finish with a flurry in his final year.

At middle linebacker, 6-3, 215-pound redshirt freshman Kevin Rojas has parlayed a fantastic offseason into a shot at the starting lineup in his first year of eligibility. A former wide receiver in high school and one of the fastest members of this group, he was named the program’s most improved defensive player of the spring. Now all he needs to do is add some weight and get a better grasp on the playbook.

Rounding out the veteran linebackers will be 6-1, 225-pound senior Abraham Kromah , who’s making the move from strongside to weakside this season. He’s played plenty of football in Durham, lettering in all three seasons and doing an outstanding job on special teams. He was enjoying a real nice season in 2009, making 40 tackles in seven games, but missed nearly half of the year with a leg injury.

Projected Top Reserves: A couple of precocious sophomores are prepared to push for more playing time and expended roles throughout the offseason. Austin Gamble represents the future at middle linebacker a year after playing in a dozen games and making 11 tackles. The 6-1, 240-pounder fills lanes with authority and shows nice range in both run and pass support.

Keeping Banks from becoming content at “Devil” will be 6-2 and 245-pound Tyree Glover . Like Gamble, he’s a product of Florida, who earned a letter and appeared in all 12 games as a true freshman. Physically, he’s already able to contribute, and has shown the burst and athleticism to be an effective blitzer.

Watch Out For .... Thornton to have a big season in his final year. From Michael Tauiliili to Rey, Duke has had recent success with the guy it plugs in at middle linebacker. Thornton could be next in line to be an effective run-stuffer, with 100-tackle potential, especially with the issues facing the front line of the defense.
Strength: Experience on the first unit. Even after losing its best player to graduation, Duke can start three seniors at linebacker, provided one of the kids doesn’t steal a job. Thornton, Banks, and Kromah have eight letters between them, a luxury on an otherwise youthful defense.
Weakness: Playmakers. Yeah, Glover and Gamble show the potential to be disruptive, but both are still just second-year sophomores, with limited experience. At least up until this point, the starters are steady but not spectacular, a concern for a defense that’s going to need more big plays from its linebackers.
Outlook: In consecutive years, the Blue Devils have lost all-stars, first Tauiliili and then Rey. Still, the cupboard isn’t bare. In Banks, Kromah, and Thornton, the defense can lean on solid seniors, all looking to have breakout seasons, while the sophomores, Glover and Gamble, inject some youthful energy and drive into the mix.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: Long a problem in Durham, Duke will once again be looking to bolster a secondary that gives up way too many big plays through the air. The veteran of the cornerbacks will be 5-10, 175-pound senior Chris Rwabukamba , coming off his first season as a full-timer. After playing in the shadow of Leon Wright a year ago, he’s looking to blossom into one of the vocal and physical leaders of the secondary. Picked on often last fall, he responded with 46 tackles and seven pass breakups.

At the other cornerback spot, 6-0, 175-pound redshirt freshman Ross Cockrell has surprisingly risen to the top of the depth chart entering the summer. First and foremost, he has outstanding speed, sharing time with the Blue Devil track team. However, he’s also shown a propensity to blanket receivers throughout the offseason, which has sorely been missing for too long from this group.

At one safety spot, the Blue Devils have an All-ACC candidate in 6-1, 200-pound junior Matt Daniels, who’s lettered in both seasons and started all 12 games in 2009. A nice blend of size, speed, and pop, he’s quickly become the enforcer of this secondary. Laying the groundwork for the second half of his career, he finished third with 83 tackles, adding three stops for loss, and six pass breakups.

Solidly in the mix at the other safety spot will be 5-10, 190-pound junior Lee Butler , who’s played in 22 games and started eight last season. An aggressive and physical defender, he needs to caution against jumping the route and getting burned over the top. He registered 39 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and four pass breakups in 2009, all career-highs.

Projected Top Reserves: Two starters are gone, which was one of the reasons former wide receiver Johnny Williams has been moved to cornerback. After catching 30 balls in each of his first two seasons, the 5-10, 190-pound junior has found a permanent home. Just a terrific all-around athlete, he has keen instincts and a knack for feeling the route, skills that’ll serve him well in his first year on defense.

One of a number of underclassmen in the mix at safety will be 6-2, 215-pound sophomore Jordon Byas. He’s got the jets of a cornerback and can hit like a linebacker, a combination of skills that has the staff excited about his future. After making 19 tackles and contributing on special teams, he’s bucking for a much bigger role in year two.

Walt Canty and Zach Greene are a pair of sophomores, who got a valuable taste of action as rookies last fall. Canty appeared in all 12 games as a special teamer, making three tackles and generally getting accustomed to the speed of the game. A 6-1, 205-pound safety, with improving cover skills, he chose Duke over a host of other ACC schools.

At 5-10 and 170 pounds, Greene is a much smaller defensive back than his classmate, but has the hips and the back pedal to eventually emerge into a terrific cover corner. While also used primarily on special teams, he did get a fair amount of snaps on defense as a freshman, producing a dozen tackles and high hopes for the next three years.

Watch Out For .... Williams’ evolution at a new position. Absolutely no one in Durham doubts the junior can make the transition to defense. He’s just too smart and too good of an athlete, but how long before he’s completely up to speed? The answer could dictate how well the pass defense performs this year.
Strength: The safeties. In Daniels and Byas, Duke boasts a couple of big and exciting athletes, who can really deliver the payload. Daniels is a budding star at one spot, and if Byas can hold off the competition, the Blue Devils will have two safeties capable of covering a lot of ground and creating turnovers.
Weakness: Coverage skills. There’s a good reason why Duke was 105th nationally in third down defense and 95th in interceptions—it just doesn’t defend the pass particularly well. And losing a couple of starters, marginal though they may be, won’t make reversing this trend any easier for the program.
Outlook: Maybe the relocation of Williams helps, but how much? This is, at best, an average secondary no matter how well the junior performs in his debut on defense. Duke’s best hope in 2010 is for the pass rush to take some heat off the secondary and for the underclassmen to perform like veterans. The Blue Devils will once again remain susceptible through the air, especially versus the ACC’s better passers. .
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Did former walk-on PK Will Snyderwine earn his scholarship last season or what? An afterthought at this time last year, he won the job and promptly set out to become an All-ACC second-teamer in his debut. A former soccer and rugby player, he has excellent leg strength and the mental toughness to come through in clutch situations. He connected on a school-record 17 field goals on 20 attempts, including a season-best 51-yarder.

In senior Nick Maggio , the Blue Devils have a luxury, an experienced kicker in the event something happens with Snyderwine. While not nearly as accurate, he has appeared in 26 career games, making 15-of-23 field goal attempts and all 50 of his extra point tries.

Senior Kevin Jones is back for his fourth season as the Duke punter, poised to rise up the school’s all-time charts. He’s no boomer, averaging just 39.4 yards on 200 career punts, and has to improve his hang time and directional kicks if the Devils are going to exit the ACC basement in net punting. He also doubles as the holder on field goals and extra points.

Watch Out For .... some intriguing battles in the return game. The Blue Devils have been below average in punt and kick returns over the last two seasons, which has created an opportunity for whoever can step up in the offseason. Junior Johnny Williams was the busiest of the specialists, but modest results mean sophomores Conner Vernon and Desmond Scott could get touches as well.
Strength: The placekickers. Not only is Snyderwine a Groza Award candidate, with pin-point accuracy, but Maggio gives the team multiple experienced kickers in the event of an emergency. After just one year of work, Snyderwine is liable to be even better now that he has that full season in the vault.
Weakness: Punting. Jones is pedestrian and the Blue Devils are weak at covering and returning punts. Basically, if either Duke or its opponent is punting the ball, there’s a pretty good chance something could go wrong for the Devils.
Outlook: It’s a really good thing Snyderwine came out of left field last season because the rest of the Duke special teams unit is rather sketchy. Plus, he could be used liberally on an offense breaking in a new quarterback. Jones is serviceable, but he’s no more than a 40-yard punter, and the return men won’t strike fear into the opposition.
Rating: 5

- 2010 Duke Preview | 2010 Duke Offense
- 2010 Duke Defense | 2010 Duke Depth Chart
- Duke Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006