Dinged-up Devils use bye week for triage, R&R
Duke football practiced Tuesday with eight starters not available to work.
Coming off perhaps the program’s biggest win in nearly two decades, that may not sound like a good thing.
But the Blue Devils are fortunate enough to have a bye week on the schedule, which means their next game isn’t until N.C. State comes to Wallace Wade Stadium on Nov. 9 (4 p.m., ESPNU).
“We are very thankful that we have an open date,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said.
Winning 13-10 at then-No. 16 Virginia Tech last Saturday, Duke’s first win over a ranked team since 1994, came at a physical cost.
All-ACC cornerback Ross Cockrell played sparingly in the second half due to an ankle injury. Wide receiver Brandon Braxton injured his shoulder.
They were two of the players not available for Tuesday’s hour-long practice session.
Among the others were experienced players from the offensive and defensive lines like left guard David Harding, defensive end Kenny Anunike and defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento, who routinely miss practice as a way of keeping them fresh.
So Cutcliffe isn’t sounding an alarm regarding the rest of the season.
“I would expect that we will get most of those back, if not all of them,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s a good thing. But we’ll take that day-to-day.”
When Cockrell was out against Virginia Tech, Duke’s younger defensive backs stepped in and played with aplomb. Freshmen Breon Borders and Bryon Fields played cornerbacks along with classmate Deondre Singleton. Redshirt freshman DeVon Edwards was also at safety with the old man of the group, redshirt sophomore Jeremy Cash, completing the secondary that helped protect Duke’s slim lead until time ran out.
Braxton’s injury could lead to more young players gaining playing time.
Freshmen Johnell Barnes and Anthony Nash may help replace him if Braxton is unable to play against N.C. State. Duke could also play redshirt junior Issac Blakeney in Braxton’s slot in the three-receiver set.
Duke quarterback Anthony Boone said the young receivers have the ability to succeed as the young defensive secondary did.
“As it shakes out, our passing game will take care of itself,” Boone said. “Our freshmen aren’t going to stop our show. We are going to try to execute our game plan as it is and figure out what works and what doesn’t with our personnel.”
Cockrell is wearing a protective boot on his right foot, but is doing so as a precaution to help keep as much stress off his foot as possible. He said he hopes to be ready to go for the N.C. State game.
As most of the team returned to the practice field on Tuesday following two days off, Cutcliffe is happy with the attitude the team carried.
“I think this team had some success a year ago,” Cutcliffe said. “They understand to keep it going there has to be a commitment. All we can do is play the best we can play. We can’t play any harder. We can’t play any mentally tougher. But we can execute better. The premium has to be on precision execution. If we do that, we’ll continue to handle success.”