Coaching 'em up: Duke

Our series taking a look at one assistant coach whose position group will be in the spotlight this fall continues today with Duke.

Coach: Rick Petri

Position: Defensive line

Experience: Petri has 36 years of college coaching on his résumé, including six years with Duke coach David Cutcliffe at Ole Miss (1998-2004). At Ole Miss, Petri coached the defensive tackles and helped the Rebels to a 44-29 record and four bowl wins. Petri was hired at Duke after one season at Miami. From 2005-09, Petri coached at Kentucky, where he helped the Wildcats to four consecutive bowl game appearances that included wins over Clemson (2006 Music City Bowl), Florida State (2007 Music City Bowl) and East Carolina (2009 Liberty Bowl). He began his career at Pittsburg State, and spent a decade at Arkansas State before heading to Ole Miss. After one season at Louisiana Tech (1992), Petri coached three seasons at Miami (1993-95) as the Hurricanes went 27-7, won two Big East championships, finished all three seasons ranked in the Associated Press national poll and played in both the Fiesta and Orange Bowls. From 1996-98, Petri coached the defensive ends at South Carolina.

Of note: Petri helped make significant improvements to Miami’s defense last year. He estimated the sacks created by Miami’s offensive linemen last year increased from 18 to 29.5. The Canes ranked among the league’s leaders in pass defense (1st), pass defense efficiency (1st), opponent third down percentage (2nd), opponent first downs (2nd) total defense (3rd), sacks (3rd), and scoring defense (5th). He said in January that similar numbers should be a realistic goal for Duke:

“No, I think it’s realistic. You’ve got to recruit athletes, like you’re saying. There’s so much about the game that’s pre-snap. You look at pre-snap tendencies, are you studying the opponent? A guy can be a really good football player just by what he works on during the week — studying film, studying the scouting report, studying the opponent, understanding splits, understanding stances, understanding backfield tendencies, all those things. If you have a pre-snap clue, a key that helps you understand which way they’re turning in protection, what type of protection you see, all those things are going to help you become more productive, and none of that depends on what you are physically. That’s what you’re willing to do away from the practice field and willing to do in the classroom, in the meeting room, or in the weight room. Those are things anyone can handle with the desire to do that. … Those are things you can do to help players.”

His challenge: Improve one of the worst defenses in the country. It all starts up front, and one of Duke’s biggest weaknesses has been getting after quarterbacks and creating pressure. Duke ranked 113th in the country last year in sacks and last in the ACC with one per game. They finished No. 109 in tackles for loss. Charlie Hatcher (24 career starts) is the only member of the entire line entering his final season of eligibility. He’ll have to be the anchor from a playmaking and leadership standpoint. Redshirt freshman Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo has good speed off the edge, but the entire group will need to take another step forward in the first season under Petri.