Relatively healthy Blue Devils await Wolfpack visit Sat.
The injury situation for Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell and wide receiver Brandon Braxton is better than it was, but their availabilities against visiting N.C. State on Saturday (4 p.m., ESPNU) will be game-time decisions, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Thursday.
Cockrell, a senior who was named all-ACC last year, has two interceptions and five pass breakups to date, but has been dealing with an ankle injury.
Braxton, a senior who is Duke’s second most productive receiver, hurt one of his shoulders.
“He’s practiced,” Cutcliffe said about Braxton. “He’s much better than we anticipated. I anticipated him being out. He’s a tough guy.”
Braxton has 25 catches for 241 yards and two touchdowns this season
Junior Jamison Crowder leads Duke’s receivers with 60 catches for 769 yards and three scores.
In past years, the injury bug bedeviled Duke, but the Blue Devils’ commitment to getting their bodies right is making the difference in a run that has them eligible for a bowl for the second straight season.
“We need all good hands on deck,” Cutcliffe said. “For November, this is the healthiest we’ve been since we’ve been at Duke, which has been a great benefit. We hadn’t had one of those kind of years — yet.”
Eight starters were absent from practice last week after Duke’s 13-10 road win at Virginia Tech, mainly because Duke’s coaches were mindful about staying healthy.
Cutcliffe, in his sixth season at Duke, said he pushes his assistants to take care of their bodies, too.
“I don’t think you can be as effective in this business working with young people without being a healthy, physical specimen, to some degree,” Cutcliffe said.
Cutcliffe’s approach is worth noting after health issues impacted two NFL coaches last weekend.
Denver coach John Fox had a dizzy spell on a golf course, culminating in heart surgery on Monday.
Houston coach Gary Kubiak had a minor stroke at halftime of the Texans’ game against Indianapolis on Sunday.
“It’s not surprising that it starts happening this time of year,” Cutcliffe said. “People have been in the seven-day-a-week, 16-hour-a-day grind without days off.”
Duke had a bye last weekend after upsetting Virginia Tech 13-10 on Oct. 26. That was before the health scares with Fox and Kubiak, but Cutcliffe, mindful about the pressures of coaching, made his assistants stay away from the office on both the Sunday and Monday after the win over the Hokies.
“I didn’t lock the building, but I came close to that,” Cutcliffe said. “Everybody is more human than we want to admit.”
The Blue Devils (6-2, 2-2 ACC) certainly appear to have healthy minds as far remaining humble in their approach to the game in spite of success, Cutcliffe said.
In other words, the injury report didn’t turn up any big heads or swollen egos.
There’s a certain line that separates good swagger from cockiness. Cutcliffe said he likes the way his players have been going about their business in practice, but the game against N.C. State (3-5, 0-5 ACC) will reveal where the Blue Devils’ minds really are.
“We don’t know that answer completely until you go play,” Cutcliffe said.
The way a team handles adversity says a lot about a squad, but so does the way the group deals with success, Cutcliffe said.
“Complacency is your worst enemy,” Cutcliffe said.
To guard against that, Cutcliffe said he has been explaining to his players what they’ve been doing to have opportunities to make winning plays and underscoring the importance of staying on script.
“They also watch tape,” Cutcliffe said. “I think they’re very aware of how physically gifted every team we play is. If we ever start taking anything or anyone for granted here, we’ve got serious problems.
“The prescription is not 22-7 down and come back every week. That’s not something we want to count on.”
Duke overcame a 22-point, first-half deficit and scored 35 unanswered points in an Oct. 19 win at Virginia.
NOTES — Also questionable for the N.C. State game due to injuries are Duke defensive end Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo (lower-body) and safety Dwayne Norman (leg). ... Cornerback Jared Boyd (leg) and quarterback Thomas Sirk (leg) are out ... Offensive tackle Tanner Stone (leg) and defensive tackle Jamal Wallace (leg) are done for the season. … N.C. State’s injury report lists defensive tackle A.J. Ferguson and defensive end Forrest West as questionable for Saturday’s game. Season-ending injuries had already sidelined State wide receivers Johnathan Alston and Bryan Underwood, safety Jarvis Byrd, offensive tackle Rob Crisp, defensive tackle Kenton Gibbs and fullback Logan Winkles.