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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
It's the little things that add up in a big way for Duke football.
Take for example, watching practice film. It doesn't help much if the players are studying the old way of doing things.
Last year, when coach David Cutcliffe and his staff first arrived, the Blue Devils didn't have any practice film of themselves in the new staff's defensive coverages to critique. For the first time in their careers, this year's senior class will have had the same defensive coordinators for two straight seasons -- Marion Hobby and Mike MacIntyre.
"Just to be playing under the same defense two years in a row, I would say that most if not all of our defensive players it's the first time that's happened," senior linebacker Vincent Rey said. "Just for that alone, I feel that we should be a lot better off."
This past winter, the linebackers would get together weekly to watch film. They also did individual film studies. It should help tremendously in a season the Blue Devils have to replace ACC leading tackler Michael Tauiliili, who averaged 11.7 tackles per game. Rey, who has played weakside linebacker the majority of his career, said he is also learning the middle linebacker spot this spring. He is the only returning starting linebacker and the most likely candidate to fill the shoes of Tauiliili.
"It's definitely a big hit," Rey said. "You can never replace a guy like that with one person, but that's why we have the whole defensive unit to step it up. 140 tackles is a lot of tackles, but we've got a lot of guys, especially at the linebacker position, I feel that can step in in Mike's shoes. We have several guys that can all pitch in. Adam Banks, Abraham Kromah and Damian Thornton to be specific."
Rey said he learned a lot this winter just by studying himself on film from last year. He's pretty hard on himself, even though he made a few game-changing plays and 109 tackles. Rey had two fumble recoveries for touchdowns last year -- a 37-yard return against Navy and a 36-yard return against rival North Carolina.
"I'm so grateful to be in the same system," Rey said. "Just watching myself on film, it was almost never completely a good play for me. There were very plays I could watch and say that's great, I did a great job, no problems. I'd say 98 percent of the plays there was something, at least one thing, I could say my footwork should have been better, my hand placement should have been better. It's definitely good when you can visualize yourself on the film and then walking around, just thinking about how to make the best play."
Rey, of Far Rockaway, N.Y., said he didn't have any scholarship offers until Duke offered at the last minute with the caveat that he attend a prep school, which he gladly did. His 9.1 tackles per game last season and over 100 tackles each of the past two seasons have more than validated his ability to play in a BCS conference, but he no longer plays with a chip on his shoulder.
"I used to," he said. "What I realized, it only takes you so far to play with a chip on your shoulder - 'Oh, no one believed in me.' I just like to go out there and have fun and play within the defense. My favorite part is to see other guys make plays, to see guys who I saw weren't as far along and then once they get it they're out there making a bunch of plays and wreaking havoc."
It should be easier for all of them to do now that they're more familiar with the system.