New-look D-line to play key role in Duke's season
One of the uncertain areas of Duke’s defense entering this football season lies with the Blue Devil front four.
When Duke went 10-4 last season to set a school record for wins in a season, seniors Kenny Anunike, Sydney Sarmiento and Justin Foxx were heavy producers along that front line. Together, they combined for 10 of Duke’s 23 sacks and 21 of the team’s 69 tackles for loss.
Their play was a big reason why the Blue Devils allowed fewer passing yards when sending four pass rushers than they did while blitzing. According to ESPN statistics and information, Duke’s opponents gained 2.4 more yards when the Blue Devils blitzed than when they were conventional with four pass rushers.
Senior nose guard Jamal Bruce, who had two tackles for losses and one sack last season, is the only returning starter.
With that in mind, Dezmond Johnson, Carlos Wray and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo are expected to help make up for Duke’s personnel losses up front.
“We took a big hit on the D-line because those are three great guys who made big plays last year,” Johnson said. “For us to come in and maintain what they left, it’s going to be even bigger for us to focus on things and try to maintain that ability to move the D-line and the defense forward.”
A redshirt senior defensive end, Johnson had 2.5 sacks, six tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries last season. The plan is for those numbers to increase with more playing time this season.
Wray, a junior defensive tackle, had four quarterback hurries, one fumble recovery and shared in a tackle for loss in 2013.
DeWalt-Ondijo, a redshirt senior defensive end, had two sacks. 2.5 tackles for losses and two quarterback hurries last season.
Jonathan Jones, known as Jonathan Woodruff in his first three seasons at Duke, is also in line for more playing time. He had three sacks and four tackles for losses in a part-time role last season.
But Johnson said some younger players have shown positives steps forward in offseason work.
Incoming freshmen Taariq Shabazz and Edgar Cerenord, along with redshirt freshman Mike Ramsay, are players who have stood out.
Teaching those younger players what’s expected — lessons he and other upperclassmen learned from teammates whose careers have ended — has been important this summer, Wray said “We keep grinding hard as a team,” Wray said. “We let the freshmen know that isn’t something that’s handed to us. We had to work for this. It’s a lot to take in for freshmen when they first get here. We as older guys have to show them that this is the work that it takes to put together an ACC team, a bowl team and a potential winning season. It’s not going to be easy.”