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Monday, March 11, 2013
Duke's defense a priority this spring

By Heather Dinich

In 2008, Duke’s scoring defense finished No. 50 in the country, and over the past six seasons, that was actually the highlight:

2012: No. 108 (36 points per game)

2011: No. 90 (31.17)

2010: No. 109 (35.42)

2009: No. 83 (28.33)

2008: No. 50 (23.42)

2007: No. 98 (33.17)

Only twice in the past six years has Duke been able to hold its opponents to under 30 points per game, and statistically, Duke’s 2012 scoring defense was the worst it has been during that span. Because of Duke’s success in the passing game, though, coach David Cutcliffe has still been able to guide the program through its most successful stretch in recent history, leading the Blue Devils to their first bowl appearance since 1994. If Duke is ever going to take the next step, though, it obviously has to improve drastically on defense -- and Cutcliffe has built his reputation as an offensive guy.

This spring, those within the program are taking a long, hard look at what they can do to become a better defensive team.

“Well, that’s the million-dollar question,” said Cutcliffe. “We worked very hard in this offseason. We’ve spent a lot of time together, myself and the defensive staff, looking at everything that we’re doing. We have had to try to make up for this or make up for that from an ability standpoint. We’ve had to deal with more injuries than I’ve ever dealt with before. Yet at the same time we’ve got to look at other parts of why certain things are happening to us.

“We’re better than we’ve been, but if we give up these huge plays we did … why is this happening to smart kids? Why are we not in position? All of those things are things we’re trying to address. We’re looking at every facet of it, trying to improve ourselves visibly through recruiting, and development. We are evaluating everything we’re doing schematically. We’ve got a great group of people, great coaches, and then I’m looking as a head coach -- I’ve been an offensive guy my whole career -- does the practice schedule favor the offensive guys too much? You have to look at everything.”

Look at the last four games of the regular season, all losses in which Duke allowed each team 42 points or more. Both Miami and Clemson scored over 50 on the Blue Devils. Only five starters return on defense this year (DE Kenny Anunike, CB Ross Cockrell, DE Justin Foxx, LB C.J. France, NG Sydney Sarmiento), and that might be a good thing, considering how much the team could use a fresh start on defense. Unfortunately for Duke, though, three of their best players were in the secondary, and all three of those starters must be replaced.

Duke’s secondary isn’t the only thing that will look different this fall. Cutcliffe said the entire defense will have some changes.

“We’re adjusting some things,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re going to be a little different defensively. We’re going to have some new approaches to what we’re doing in preparation. We’re taking this to heart. I’m a believer that you can’t hope something gets better. You have to make a decision. You have to have a philosophy. Once you make a decision, it’s up to you to make it right. We have a lot of adjustments to be real honest with you, that we’re going into spring practice with. Hopefully we believe our personnel fits what we’re doing and our personnel is better. I am really anxious to see our defense this spring, and even more anxious to see what occurs in August and then as we start playing in September. I am highly encouraged, I will say that, about what we can do.”