Blue Devils demonstrate experience on defense
To improve on last season’s performance, when Duke routinely gave up big plays and allowed an ACC-worst 36 points per game, the Blue Devils are being thorough in looking for answers.
Friday’s scrimmage at Wallace Wade Stadium provided a few more options.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe saw his team run approximately 60 plays with the top players on offense and defense facing each other.
The defense, in particular, saw some up-and-coming players make an impact as they took the field alongside the veterans.
Duke’s first-team defense had redshirt junior Dezmond Johnson and junior Jonathan Woodruff at defensive ends, with redshirt junior Jamal Bruce at nose guard and redshirt senior Sydney Sarmiento at tackle.
Joining that group among Duke’s front six were the Brown brothers at linebacker — redshirt sophomore Kyler and redshirt junior Kelby.
Duke’s second team defensive front utilized redshirt freshman Michael Mann and sixth-year senior Kenny Anunike at the ends. In the middle were sophomore Carlos Wray at nose guard with redshirt freshman A.J. Wolf at defensive tackle.
“We’ve got a lot of veteran guys that have been in the program and been in the system that are mentoring these guys,” Anunike said. “Guys like Michael Ramsey, Mike Mann, A.J. Wolf — they are making plays. We are leading them, taking care of them and getting them on the right track. They are buying in.”
Two other veteran defensive linemen, redshirt junior Jordan Dewalt-Ondijo and redshirt senior Justin Foxx, remained sidelined for the scrimmage as they recover from off-season injuries.
But in Cutcliffe’s mind, that didn’t diminish what the defensive front accomplished going against players on the first-and second-team offense.
“It looks like our pass rush may have been the best it’s been in a scrimmage so far,” Cutcliffe said. “That was good to see.”
The only turnover forced in the game came when sophomore linebacker Deion Williams forced a fumble and freshman defensive back Bryon Fields recovered.
In the secondary, redshirt senior Anthony Young-Wiseman worked with the first team defense at safety along with sophomore Dwayne Norman and redshirt sophomore Jeremy Cash.
Redshirt seniors Ross Cockrell and Garrett Patterson were at the cornerback slots. Freshman Breon Borders also received some playing time at cornerback with the top unit.
“He continues to impress,” Cutcliffe said of Borders. “He’s still got a lot to learn. He is young. I want to see him with some consistency.”
Cockrell, an all-ACC pick a year ago who is a preseason all-ACC selection this year, likes what the younger guys are bringing to the team.
“They are providing us with an edge,” Cockrell said. “They are competing. They know that we are young in the secondary and every spot is open. The best players are going to play whether you are a freshman or a redshirt senior. So they are bringing that competition, that edge, the fire that we all need to win games.”
That said, the defense wasn’t perfect on Friday. Starting quarterback Anthony Boone completed a 37-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jamison Crowder, and junior running back Josh Snead got loose for a 36-yard touchdown run.
Still, Boone said the defensive line is playing with an edge that should help it be successful this season.
“They were getting after it,” Boone said. “Those guys are very mature. They have been here for a long time and they get after our line. Sydney Sarmiento, Jamal Bruce, Carlos Wray, A.J Wolf are doing a good job of getting pressure on the interior.
“Our outside guys have gotten dramatically better. Dezmond Johnson, Justin Foxx, Kenny Anunike, Jamal Wallace — those guys are doing a great job of pass rushing.”
Plugging holes along the line
The injuries that have hit Duke’s offensive line have caused the coaching staff to scramble to fill out the depth chart.
Redshirt freshman tackle Tanner Stone is lost for the season after having surgery on this broken right ankle on Wednesday. On Thursday, redshirt freshman tackle Casey Blaser had surgery on his broken right hand and is out indefinitely.
In Friday’s scrimmage, redshirt sophomore Sam Marshall and freshman Gabe Brandner worked at the tackle slots with the second-team offense. Marshall moved from defense to offense after Blaser and Stone were injured earlier this week.
“We don’t have many 6-8, 290-pounders who move as well as he does,” Cutcliffe said. “I told him we’re not trying to build Rome in a day, but let’s see where it goes.”
Like all offensive lineman, Brandner was pegged for a redshirt season this year. That still could happen, but the injuries caused the coaches to give him an extended look.
“We don’t have a choice,” Cutcliffe said.
Meet the Blue Devils
Duke holds its annual Meet the Blue Devils event today at 2 p.m. at the Pascal Field House indoor practice facility.
Admission and parking are free, and fans will have the chance to interact with players and coaches for autographs and photographs.
Season tickets will be on sale, and buyers will be able to select their exact seat in Wallace Wade Stadium.