Duke's Brown feeling good again on the field
It took practicing at full speed for Kelby Brown to feel he can be the player Duke needs him to be this season.
A redshirt junior linebacker, Brown missed all of last season after needing surgery on the knee he injured during offseason workouts in February 2012.
In his absence, Duke’s defense allowed 36 points per game even as the Blue Devils reached a bowl game for the first time in 18 years.
On Saturday, Duke held its first full-pad practice in preparation for its Aug. 31 season-opening game with N.C. Central.
Even though he’d taken part in spring practice last March and April, Brown had a feeling Saturday that he hasn’t had since the 2011 season.
“That was the first time I felt comfortable,” Brown said. “In spring, I don’t think I was quite comfortable at the bottom of piles and stuff I wasn’t thinking about it. But now I feel like I’m finally strong enough to hit and drive through. Hit hard and make plays.”
That is great news for Duke coach David Cutcliffe and his defensive coaching staff. They are counting on their experienced front four, plus Brown and C.J. France at linebacker, to improve that unit’s play this season.
Both Brown and France have surpassed 1,000 snaps in their Duke careers. Brown, even though he hadn’t played since the North Carolina game in November 2011, showed Cutcliffe what he wanted to see on Saturday.
“He wasn’t timid,” Cutcliffe said. “Kelby made a lot of tackles in the live work, which is what Kelby does. One of the most encouraging things for me was watching him continually show up. Kelby’s presence makes us better. I was glad to see him pass that test.”
While Saturday’s full-pad practice was the most important of Duke’s training camp practices so far, tonight will surpass it in importance. The Blue Devils will hold their first inter-squad scrimmage tonight at Wallace Wade Stadium, which will be closed to the public.
Brown will get a chance to make more plays and he continues to get more comfortable playing again. But he won’t see the most playing time.
Cutcliffe said he likes to use the first scrimmage to evaluate all of his personnel and help form the two-deep depth chart.
He knows what Brown can do, so there’s no need to wear him out.
“I know what Kelby can do so I’m not going to over hit him,” Cutcliffe said. “I’d rather see some things that need to be found. Kelby will get enough to keep him honed and we’re not going to overdo it.”
During its first week of practice, Duke has held split practices with the top two units working together and the younger, lower-rated players working together. Tonight, Cutcliffe plans to mix the younger players in with the first- and second-team players so he can get a solid evaluation.
“This is what I call a personnel scrimmage rather than a schematic scrimmage. I’m really more interested in being fairly basic where I can line up and see good football players play without thinking and see who is going to be the playmakers.”
This will be a chance for newcomers, both the redshirt and true freshmen, to prove they are ready to help.
“We’re going to look at a number of young people just to see how they perform,” Cutcliffe said.