LB France out for Duke opener

Aug. 30, 2013 @ 12:22 AM

With the season-opener two days away, Duke coach David Cutcliffe declared Thursday that his team as healthy as it’s been in a while.

That doesn’t mean, though, that the Blue Devils will have all their starters healthy and on the field.

Cutcliffe said starting linebacker C.J. France will miss the Bull City Gridiron Classic game with N.C. Central on Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN3) with an ankle injury.

“It’s probably the best numbers we’ve had,” Cutcliffe said, “but it’s certainly not where it could have been.”

France played in all 13 games for Duke last season when the Blue Devils went 6-7 and played in the Belk Bowl. He started nine games, recording 15 tackles at Georgia Tech last Nov. 17.

But the redshirt junior suffered an ankle injury during Duke’s training camp this month. Cutcliffe said Thursday it just hasn’t progressed enough for him to play this Saturday against the Eagles.

“He’s been at a sticking spot for a while,” Cutcliffe said. “We thought he would be back and available but he’s just not there.”

Cutcliffe said junior David Helton would start in France’s place and that the Blue Devils will still plan to play four linebackers against NCCU. Helton, a two-time Academic All-ACC selection, has played in 22 career games with six starts.

Kelby Brown, who missed last season with the second torn ACL of his career, is healthy and ready to start opposite Helton.

“You always have concerns on a guy who has torn the ACL twice,” Cutcliffe said. “But he looks really good.”

Redshirt sophomore Kyler Brown, Kelby’s younger brother, and sophomore Deion Williams will play in reserve roles behind Helton and Kelby Brown.

“Going in, Kelby is going to play,” Cutcliffe said. “You could also see Kyler and Deion (Williams) in addition to David Helton. We’ll play two-deep at linebacker and try to give Kelby appropriate rest.”

Duke’s other injury announcements weren’t as surprising as the France news on Thursday.

Reserve offensive linemen Tanner Stone (ankle) and Casey Blaser (hand) have been out since suffering injuries in the second week of training camp. Stone is out for the season, while Cutcliffe is hopeful Blaser can return at some point this season.

Defensive lineman Jordan Dewalt-Ondijo, projected as a second-team player, remains out with an ankle injury that required surgery last May.

Reserve quarterback Thomas Sirk, who suffered a ruptured Achilles’ tendon last February, remains out. But Cutcliffe said Thursday he is more and more hopeful that Sirk will be available to play at some point this season.

Reserve wide receiver Jack Wise is out with an upper body injury, while reserve linebacker Britton Grier (upper body) and cornerback Jared Boyd (leg) also remain unavailable.

All that said, after seeing his team’s depth eroded by injuries last season, Cutcliffe isn’t complaining much about the few injuries the Blue Devils carry into this season.