Starting for Duke at 'Simmons' — RT Lucas Patrick
Lucas Patrick’s time in Duke’s starting lineup was due to arrive next season and at another position.
Instead, he’ll fill figuratively the biggest shoes on the team in two weeks when Duke plays Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31 (8 p.m., ESPN).
Perry Simmons started 50 consecutive games at right tackle for the Blue Devils over the last four years. His streak will end because of the torn knee ligaments he suffered on Dec. 7 when the Blue Devils (10-3) lost the ACC championship game to No.1 Florida State, 45-7.
So Patrick, a redshirt sophomore groomed to start at a guard position next season, will see his career timetable accelerated.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” Patrick said. “It’s a good opportunity to showcase my skills and come out and play well and take over a position that’s been pretty locked up with Perry Simmons. I’ll just try to play to the best of my ability.”
Duke coach David Cutcliffe even decided to pay homage to Simmons, saying Patrick isn’t playing right tackle.
“I told him I’ve already named the position he’s going to be starting at,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s not going to the right tackle. It’s Simmons. He’s starting at Simmons. After 50 straight starts at right tackle, that’s appropriate.”
Simmons is one of two seniors this season on Duke’s offensive line, a unit that has seen no turnover until now. In Duke’s first 13 games, the starters were redshirt junior Takoby Cofield (left tackle), redshirt senior Dave Harding (left guard), redshirt sophomore Matt Skura (center), redshirt junior Laken Tomlinson (right guard) and Simmons.
Patrick has been listed as Harding’s backup at left guard on the depth chart.
Looking ahead to next season, left guard is likely where Patrick will be slotted as Harding’s replacement.
“I think he may be better suited as a guard long term,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m anxious to see what spring practice brings.”
But he’s learned all five positions in practice this season. So stepping in for Simmons won’t be foreign.
“I’ve kind of been a sixth man all year,” Patrick said. “I’m confident in my abilities to play tackle.”
One of the players who will benefit from strong offensive line play, Duke quarterback Anthony Boone, said the team is confident that Patrick will do well.
“It’s going to be weird (not seeing Simmons) but we have a lot of faith in Lucas Patrick,” Boone said. “He’s done a great job. He’s very versatile. He’s very physical. He’s very mean, actually. He can play guard. He can play tackle. I have nothing but tremendous faith that he’ll go out there and get the job done. I’m not going to be worried about checking that side.”
As Duke began practicing in preparation for the Texas A&M game this week, Cutcliffe said he told Patrick what it meant to take Simmons’ old starting job.
“I said, `Lucas this is a big honor. We are very confident in you but it’s also a huge responsibility. I expect everything you do in practice to be better than it’s been done by you before,’” Cutcliffe said. “He took that challenge. I think this is a great opportunity for him.”
A year ahead with his starting assignment, the 6-4, 310-pound Patrick is actually a year behind the original timetable in his development. After redshirting in 2011, Patrick broke his left ankle and had surgery to repair the damage on March 24, 2012.
The injury caused him to miss Duke’s first eight games last season. He saw action as a reserve in Duke’s final five games, including the Belk Bowl loss to Cincinnati.
Last spring, he missed the final three weeks of spring practice due to a fractured hand.
“Lucas is really a talented guy,” Cutcliffe said. “Really disheartened and unfortunate that he broke his ankle. It was a tough for a big guy. It really put him a year behind in his physical development. He’s got better and better as the year has gone on.”
Duke reserve quarterback Brandon Connette, the team leader in rushing touchdowns (13) and touchdown passes (13) remains in California where his mother, Nancy Connette, is recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor.
Cutcliffe said no timetable has been established for Connette’s return because the team wants him with his family at this time.
“All I can say is we ask the Duke football family to keep the Connette family in their prayers,” Cutcliffe said.
Cutcliffe said he spoke to Brandon Connette’s dad Monday night to make sure Brandon knew he didn’t need to worry about when he will return.
Because Connette is so familiar with the offense, Cutcliffe said he could return two days before a game and still play effectively.
CROWDER, EDWARDS HONORED
Sports Illustrated magazine named Duke’s Jamison Crowder a second-team all-American at punt returner while Duke’s DeVon Edwards is honorable mention all-American at kick returner.
Also an All-ACC first team selection at both wide receiver and punt returner, Crowder averages 16.0 yards per punt return with his two return touchdowns covering 82 and 76 yards.
Edwards took over as Duke’s primary kickoff returner in week five and has since averaged an ACC-leading 31.1 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns covering 100 and 99 yards.