Duke's Boone, Kelby Brown both game-time decisions for Navy
Anthony Boone’s return from injury to Duke’s lineup is closer than ever.
The broken right collarbone he suffered on Sept. 7 at Memphis has healed and he’s been throwing and practicing on a limited basis for more than two weeks.
He’s close enough to good health that Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Thursday that Boone is considered questionable to play for the Blue Devils against Navy on Saturday (12:30 p.m., WRAL).
Cutcliffe said will go through strength testing Friday (Oct. 11), as well as a game-like practice, and a determination on whether the redshirt junior quarterback can play will be made prior to game time Saturday.
“We’ll really see what he looks like,” Cutcliffe said. “It will be as much of a game atmosphere as you can. We’ll know a little more. Then you have to decide does he feel good about it.”
Duke’s starting quarterback entering the season, Boone has increased his workload in practice over the last two weeks without any physical setbacks.
“This is his best week,” Cutcliffe said. “I saw him (Thursday) morning after the work that we put him through (on Wednesday). He was in good spirits, up early and in there getting in that clinical work. He’s still in therapy and will be in some form of therapy for a while.
“It’s safety and effectiveness that I’m looking at. Safety first.”
Boone hasn’t played since being injured in the first half at Memphis. Brandon Connette took over and threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes as the Blue Devils won 28-14.
While the diagnosis left Boone out indefinitely, the broken bone on his throwing side wasn’t bad enough to require surgery. Now, five weeks later, he’s on the cusp of a return far earlier than anyone would have guessed when the injury occurred.
Scans of his collarbone, which is on his throwing side, show it has healed properly. But Boone still must pass what Cutcliffe called clinical exams, which involve testing his strength to ensure the chances of re-injury are as minimal as possible.
Connette has started in Boone’s place at quarterback and is set to start regardless of what decision is made about Boone’s status.
Over his play against Memphis and his three starts in place of Boone, Connette has completed 70 of 109 passes (64 percent) for 967 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions.
Cutcliffe said Connette has played well enough that he’ll be included in the offensive game plan one way or another even after Boone returns.
Also Thursday, Cutcliffe said starting linebacker Kelby Brown is questionable to play against Navy and, like Boone, will be a game-time decision.
Brown suffered a lower leg injury on Sept. 21 against Pittsburgh and missed Duke’s 38-31 win over Troy on Sept. 28. He made steady progress toward a return while the Blue Devils had an open week.
But with Navy running an option offense that calls for its linemen to cut block, Cutcliffe is concerned with exposing Brown to a hit that could exacerbate the injury.
“Against this style of offense, if he can’t protect himself, he can’t play,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s about his mobility — if he can play and protect himself. If he feels pretty good but he’s not mobile, then he becomes a target.”
Kyler Brown, Kelby’s brother who also plays linebacker, will not play against Navy because of a leg injury.
That means C.J. France, David Helton and Deion Williams will get the snaps at linebacker.
Safety Dwayne Norman is set to return to the starting lineup after missing the Troy game with a leg injury. Freshman wide receiver Johnell Barnes, who has a fractured hand, will not play against Navy, Cutcliffe said.
That means redshirt freshman DeVon Edwards will handle Duke’s main kick return duties.
Duke will get reserve defensive end Michael Mann back for the first time in over a month on Saturday. Sidelined with an upper body injury, Mann hasn’t played since the season-opening win over N.C. Central on Aug. 31.
He’s listed as probable Saturday.