Duke shuffles personnel to address injury to star LB

Aug. 14, 2014 @ 08:20 PM

As Kelby Brown recovers from knee surgery at Duke University Hospital, the impact of his season-ending ACL tear reverberates across Duke’s defense.

After losing their all-ACC, redshirt senior linebacker in Monday’s scrimmage, the Blue Devils enter today’s second preseason scrimmage having moved players to shore up the unit.

First, David Helton is shifting from weak-side linebacker to the middle linebacker position previously manned by Brown.

Last season, Helton led the ACC in tackles with 133 while Brown had 114. Brown’s role also included serving as the quarterback of the defense, making sure people were lined up correctly.

Duke defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said Helton, a senior, must add those duties with his move to middle linebacker.

“We’re going to be OK,” Knowles said. “David will step up and he will assume that mantle.”

As for Helton’s old weak-side slot, redshirt senior C.J. France, redshirt freshman Chris Holmes and true freshman Zavier Carmichael are candidates for playing time, Knowles said.

Holmes has been slowed by a tight hamstring but he impressed the coaching staff in his move from safety last spring.

“He’s got all the tools,” Knowles said. “Everything that you would look for in a (weak-side) linebacker. The size to be able to play up there.”

Carmichael has shown to be a heavy-hitter during the less than two weeks Duke has practiced this month.

In addition to the movement on the linebacker depth chart, Knowles said some formations will call for safeties Jeremy Cash or Dwayne Norman to line up as linebackers.

Duke’s depth and athleticism at the position, Knowles said, allows for the coaching staff to be creative as they seek to make up for Brown’s loss.

Cash, in particular, will help in the leadership department, an area where Brown excelled. A year ago, in his first season playing for Duke after sitting out a season following his transfer from Ohio State, Cash established himself as a big-time playmaker. He was named first-team, all-ACC and a second-team all-American after recording 121 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, two caused fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two quarterback pressures.

Knowles said Cash is expanding his mental approach to include the defense as a whole.

“Now he has an even greater concern for the whole unit,” Knowles said.

While these moves leave Knowles and the Blue Devils staff confident the defense will still be effective, that doesn’t mean that Brown’s injury has been easy to overcome.

“It’s a very emotional time for all of us,” Knowles said. “He’s alive and well but in terms of our team and our defense, there certainly were shockwaves. You have to acknowledge that.”

Brown also missed the 2012 season while recovering from one of his two right-knee surgeries for ACL tears. So he is accustomed to serving as a de facto coach. Helton said Brown will be helpful in the film study that’s crucial for linebackers.

ON OFFENSE

One of head coach David Cutcliffe’s criticisms from Monday’s scrimmage was the number of unforced errors committed by an offense that’s expected to be among the ACC’s best.

Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said those issues are being addressed in practice this week and hopefully will be taken care of by this morning’s closed scrimmage.

“We have to make sure we clean that up,” Montgomery said. “We’ve done a good job the rest of the week of making the plays we are supposed to make.”

While Anthony Boone is the clear starter at quarterback for Duke this season, the two players behind him have yet to take a snap in a college football game.

Redshirt sophomore Thomas Sirk and redshirt freshman Parker Boehme will serve as Boone’s primary backups. Sirk worked with the second-team offense in Monday’s scrimmage.

Montgomery said Sirk is a complete player with the ability to do positive things in the running and passing games. At the same time, he called Boehme perhaps Duke’s most accurate passer.