New faces up front no strangers to Duke defense
From David Helton’s unique point of view at linebacker, Duke’s revamped defensive line had a solid day in the team’s first preseason scrimmage last Monday.
“With defensive lineman,” Helton said, immediately after the 80-play scrimmage, “when you are playing, the only time you really notice it is if they are doing really bad. They didn’t do really bad.”
Given that the unit is replacing three senior starters, that sounds like a strong endorsement a week into practice.
The lone returning starter among the group is defensive tackle Jamal Bruce. In Monday’s scrimmage, he was joined on the first team defense by ends Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson and tackle Carlos Wray.
While three of them are new starters, they aren’t new to playing in games for Duke.
“We lost three starters but the guys that are stepping in, they’ve played a lot here,” Bruce said. “We have guys that stepped in when they were young and they got valuable reps. I don’t feel anything less without those three starters. We have guys with opportunities to make plays.”
Wray, a junior, played in 10 games as a true freshman in 2012 and 14 games last season, when he took part in 543 snaps. He also won a Sonny Falcone Iron Duke Award, given to one player each from the offense, defense and special teams for their year-round commitment to strength training and conditioning.
Johnson, a redshirt senior, also played in 14 games last season as a reserve. He started four games while appearing 12 in 2012.
DeWalt-Ondijo, another redshirt senior, has played in 31 games with nine starts in his Duke career. Ankle surgery kept him sidelined for the first month last season, but once healthy he played in nine games.
His quarterback pressure late in the game at North Carolina led to a DeVon Edwards interception that sealed Duke’s 27-25 win.
DeWalt-Ondijo was credited with 1.5 sacks in the scrimmage and Duke coach David Cutcliffe said he continues to show up with big plays.
“We pray for him that he stays healthy,” Cutcliffe said.
Bruce started all 14 games for Duke last season. He was limited in the offseason after breaking his ankle in the first half of the 52-48 Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Texas A&M.
Duke’s second team defensive front on Monday included Jonathan Jones (formerly known as Jonathan Woodruff) and Kyler Brown at defensive ends with Jamal Wallace and Mike Ramsay at defensive tackles.
Of those four, only the redshirt freshman Ramsay has yet to see game action for Duke.
“We do have veterans,” Cutcliffe said. “Hopefully they do have a little confidence which we haven’t had here on the defensive line in a while.”
At the same time, Cutcliffe said the freshness that comes with three starting jobs being available this season adds a positive dimension.
“There is a mentality and spirit, a new mentality,” Cutcliffe said. “I like the energy they have. We’ll see how productive it ends up being.”