Duke seeks new right tackle
Come Aug. 30, someone other than Perry Simmons will start a Duke regular-season football game at right tackle for the first time since November 2009.
The process of finding a long-term replacement for the reliable, productive (and now, graduated) Simmons is one of the more intriguing things to watch this month.
While the other four spots along the offensive line are set barring injury, Duke coach David Cutcliffe declared an open competition at right tackle. Redshirt sophomore Tanner Stone (6-6, 300 pounds) and redshirt sophomore Casey Blaser (6-5, 285) are the leading contenders in the battle, with redshirt freshmen Sterling Korona (6-7, 290) and Gabe Brandner (6-6, 275) also in the mix.
Simmons started 50 consecutive games at right tackle, from 2010 through last season, before his career came to a premature end when he suffered a knee injury in the ACC Championship Game. Lucas Patrick started at right tackle in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but he is slated to start at left guard for Duke this season.
That leaves an important role in need of an anchor.
“You can’t really replace Perry because he was one of those special players,” Blaser said. “He just knew what to do without having to say anything or without telling him what to do.”
Cutcliffe is using Blaser as a backup to starter Takoby Cofield at left tackle in addition to giving him practice repetitions with the first team at right tackle. Stone is working primarily at right tackle.
“Casey has the ability to play both spots, and you want one guy to be a rotator,” Cutcliffe said.
Blaser, who played in two games last season, was Cofield’s understudy at left tackle all last season and also worked on the left side last spring. So playing right tackle is a bit of an adjustment for him.
After taking a healthy redshirt year in 2012, Stone missed last season with a broken right ankle suffered in August. He said the surgically repaired ankle still bothered him some during spring practice last February and March. But his health is no longer a concern.
“I feel great,” Stone said. “I think I’m 100 percent. Moving around better than I was in the spring. I just feel good.”
Whoever ends up playing right tackle when Duke opens the season against Elon (Aug. 30, 6 p.m.), the drop-off from Simmons in terms of experience will be vast. Blaser’s two games played as a redshirt freshman last season represent all of the collegiate game experience among him, Stone, Korona and Brandner.
While Simmons is gone, both Blaser and Stone absorbed lessons from him that they plan on putting into action this season.
“He was just a great effort (guy),” Stone said. “He gave it his all every play. He was just a great technician. He wasn’t the biggest guy all the time. But his footwork was just spot on. That’s what I tried to take away from him.”