Issac Blakeney looking to break out of inconsistent past
From a defensive standpoint, Duke’s final two games last season aren’t something to cherish.
Watching Florida State and Texas A&M combine to score 97 points while beating the Blue Devils, though, could make a big difference for Duke’s offense this year.
Kelvin Benjamin and Mike Evans — big, fast receivers now in NFL training camps — helped blister the Blue Devils in those games.
Issac Blakeney, a big, fast receiver entering his senior season for the Blue Devils, has studied their games. He, his teammates and Duke’s coaches are confident he can make plays like Benjamin did for Florida State and Evans did for Texas A&M.
Most importantly, Blakeney believes it, too.
“I’ve watching a lot of big receivers, watching how they play the game,” Blakeney said. “I think I had my mentality wrong with how I was trying to do it. I think I was a big guy trying to play small, trying to work on my footwork and things like that. This year you’ll see me use my size a lot more. Bodying guys. Attacking more.”
When practice began for the new season on Monday, Duke had the 6-6 Blakeney in a different position that the coaches believe will allow him to best use his considerable athletic talents to help the team.
Rather than have him inside in a slot position, where he played the last two years with mixed results as a tight end or wide receiver, Blakeney is outside.
“He’s trimmed himself to probably 225 (pounds). He’s 6-6,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “He creates a mismatch problem more so outside than inside. We’ve got some tight ends who create mismatches inside.”
Blakeney’s former high school teammate and longtime friend, preseason all-ACC receiver Jamison Crowder, will be outside on the other side for Duke. If defenses double-team Crowder as expected, Blakeney could get 1-on-1 matchups downfield running go or post patterns.
Blue Devils quarterback Anthony Boone sees big things from the alignment.
“Issac Blakeney has made a tremendous jump for us this summer,” Boone said. “He’s going to be a force on the opposite side as Jamison Crowder. He’s going to have a tremendous year for us.”
A big-time athlete who ran the 400 relay for Duke’s track team last spring, Blakeney has shown flashes of greatness on the football field over his first three seasons with the Blue Devils. On special teams, he has used his speed and size to run down return men and make open-field tackles.
On offense, he caught 32 passes as a reserve tight end in 2012 and 19 as a wide receiver last season.
Even he admits inconsistent play has dogged his career and he’s ready to change that narrative in his final collegiate season “ I had the same issue in high school,” Blakeney said. “I never had the great numbers or anything like that. I always had the great athleticism. I have one shot. I have aspirations of going to the NFL one day. I have one shot.
“I know scouts will be out here watching. I have to perform each and every day. No days off. I want to give it all I’ve got. At the end, if I don’t make it, I don’t make it. But I don’t want to regret it one day and think I could have done more. No more inconsistent stuff. I’m a very focused individual right now.”
Blakeney worked out with Crowder regularly in the offseason. They would get together with Boone for pass-catching sessions. Crowder saw changes in his friend.
“You could definitely see Issac developing and wanting to have that breakout season,” Crowder said. “It’s about time. Hopefully he can come out and have that breakout year. He’s a big target. He can definitely help us out on offense.”
Monday’s practice saw Blakeney catch what he said were the most passes he ever had in a Duke practice. It’s very early and the team isn’t in full pads yet, but Cutcliffe said he liked what he saw from Blakeney at that outside position.
Blakeney speaks and plays with a determination to make the position shift pay off big time.
“I haven’t quite reached the potential I want to reach yet,” Blakeney said. “I haven’t had the kind of season I thought I would have when I first came here. I had high expectations. This is my last shot so I’m going to give it all I‘ve got.”