A healthy C.J. France to bolster Duke LB corps against Tech
It’s overdue, but Duke football is about to add a veteran linebacker for its toughest game of the season so far.
C.J. France, a projected starter who has missed the season’s first two games with an ankle injury, has improved enough that he’s expected to play against Georgia Tech on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ESPNU).
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said France has practiced this week and is listed as probable on the injury report for Saturday’s game.
A veteran who has started 10 games, played in 24 and been on the field for 1,043 snaps in his career, France gives Duke another solid player as it preps for Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense.
“He was a starter when he went out,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s a guy that can rotate. This game, you are going to need linebacker play.”
France’s return means Duke has his experience and starters Kelby Brown and David Helton, plus Kyler Brown (Kelby’s brother) and Deion Williams in the rotation.
“We started fall camp working all of them,” Cutcliffe said. “Kelby, David, Kyler, Deon and C.J. So we are just going back to that rotation. That allows us to work five at the two positions.”
While adding depth at linebacker, Duke will be without key reserves elsewhere on defense.
Reserves A.J. Wolf (defensive tackle) and Deondre Singleton (safety) both suffered leg injuries in practice this week. Wolf has already been ruled out, while Singleton is considered doubtful.
Wolf, a redshirt freshman, gave Duke depth behind redshirt senior Sydney Sarmiento in the middle of the defensive line. Jamal Wallace and Keilin Rayner, who have played a combined 11 snaps so far this season, are now in line for more playing time against the Yellow Jackets.
In the secondary, Cutcliffe said he can slide all-ACC cornerback Ross Cockrell over to safety on some plays to make up for Singleton, a freshman, not being available. Duke’s starting safeties are Jeremy Cash, Corbin McCarthy and Dwayne Norman.
Having Cockrell see a few snaps at safety will also allow Duke to get freshmen Breon Borders and Bryon Fields playing time that Cutcliffe said they deserve.
“They have continued to practice at a level you like to see,” Cutcliffe said. “One of the things you want to do is play people that are practicing well. It sends a bad signal if you are practicing really well and you don’t play on Saturday.”
Another player who could help Duke’s defense, defensive end Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, was able to practice on a limited basis this week. But Cutcliffe said he remains doubtful to make his 2013 debut against Georgia Tech.
“We worked him some,” Cutcliffe said, “but it doesn’t look great.”
This week, for the first time, Duke’s injury report includes its starting quarterback. Anthony Boone suffered a broken clavicle against Memphis last week and is out indefinitely.
Boone has been fitted with a tight brace around his upper body. He is sleeping sitting up in a chair since rolling over could exacerbate the collarbone injury, which is on his throwing side.
In addition to Boone and Wolf, also listed as out for Duke are running back Eric Adams (upper body), offensive tackle Casey Blaser (hand), cornerback Jared Boyd (leg), defensive end Britton Grier (upper body), quarterback Thomas Sirk (leg) and wide receiver Jack Wise (upper body).
Offensive tackle Tanner Stone is out for the season with a broken ankle.