ACC: Joseph Ajeigbe

Duke spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
Three things we learned in the spring about the Duke Blue Devils:

Offensive line answers. Duke is losing its two most veteran starters on the line in guard Dave Harding and tackle Perry Simmons, who combined to start 91 games. But the Blue Devils seem to be in good shape based on spring results. Lucas Patrick is penciled in to replace Harding and Tanner Stone is in to replace Simmons. Though Patrick hurt his ankle in the spring game, he does not need surgery and will be available for fall practice.

Depth across the board. Coach David Cutcliffe said repeatedly throughout the spring that his team has more depth now than it ever has under his watch. Even during the spring game, Cutcliffe said there was a not a huge drop-off between his first-team and second-team units. That is a sign of a coach who has worked long and hard at recruiting to lay the foundation for his program.

Cornerback answers. Duke lost both starting cornerbacks -- All-ACC selection Ross Cockrell and Garett Patterson. But the Blue Devils are in good shape with sophomores Breon Borders and Bryon Fields. They both played in all 14 games in 2013, taking the second- and third-most snaps among all Duke cornerbacks. Borders broke the school freshman record for interceptions (four).

Three questions for the fall:

[+] EnlargeAnthony Boone
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDuke's Anthony Boone threw for 2,260 yards in 2013.
Replacing Connette. Losing quarterback Brandon Connette is a blow to the offense, especially when you consider how valuable he was in short-yardage situations. Thomas Sirk enters fall camp as the backup to Anthony Boone, with quarterback Parker Boehme right behind. Though Sirk and Boehme lack game experience, offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said Sirk might be one of the better athletes on the team.

Defensive line. No other position group takes a hit as big as this one. Three starters are gone. Kenny Anunike, Justin Foxx and Sydney Sarmiento combined to start 109 games. Dezmond Johnson has the most experience, while Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo has the biggest playmaking ability. Kyler Brown made a transition from linebacker to defensive end to help with the pass rush.

Depth at running back. Last season, Duke returned four running backs to the rotation. But that number is down to two -- Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell. Redshirt freshman Joseph Ajeigbe had a good spring and is third in line. Incoming freshman Shaun Wilson could be relied upon as well if he proves himself during fall camp.

One way-too-early prediction

Duke will be the preseason favorite in the Coastal. The days when the Blue Devils were penciled in to finish last are gone. The defending division champions return 17 starters, including Boone and All-ACC receiver Jamison Crowder. Their schedule is also very manageable, with crossover divisional games against Wake Forest and Syracuse.
It wasn’t that long ago that Duke’s running game was four backs by committee.

Now it’s down to two.

Juwan Thomas has graduated, and Jela Duncan, who rushed for 1,115 yards and seven touchdowns in the past two seasons, was suspended from school in December. He’ll be eligible to return in January 2015 with two seasons of eligibility remaining, but for now, starter Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell are the Blue Devils’ only experienced backs.

“It’s me and Shaq,” said Snead, who started 11 games last year and led Duke with 651 rushing yards. “I’m the old guy in the group; I’m the leader. Now there’s just two of us. We’re taking it on as a challenge, me and him. … He’s there when I need him, and I think he can get the job done whenever his number is called, just like I feel I can get the job done whenever my number is called upon.”

[+] EnlargeJosh Snead
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsJosh Snead rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown against Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
They don’t have much of a choice, as far as the spring roster goes.

Eric Adams had three carries last year and played in two games. Joseph Ajeigbe is a redshirt freshman. Jackson Conway and Eamonn Vain-Callahan are walk-on juniors. Last year, Snead and Powell combined to rush 169 times for 998 yards (5.91) and four touchdowns while catching 14 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

Snead said he and Powell are using this spring to try and get some of the younger players caught up to speed, particularly Ajeigbe, who was the No. 61 running back in the 2013 signing class.

“We’ve got Joe Ajeigbe, and this spring is very instrumental to his growing-up stage for next fall,” Snead said. “We’re trying to teach him the Duke way, how we go about doing things, and he’s learning day by day.”

This situation isn’t entirely new to Snead and Powell, though, as they learned of Duncan’s suspension before the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Snead led Duke in that loss with 104 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry against Texas A&M.

“It was disappointing to hear,” Snead said of Duncan’s suspension. “ We feel like we’re a team; we’re a family. If anyone needs help or anything, we feel like we can come to each other. We looked at it, and we felt like we could get by it. We had a bowl game we had to play in. It was sad we lost him, but we can’t cry over it so we came back out here and performed well as a running back unit in the bowl game. Now it’s me and Shaq, and we feel like we can get the job done this fall.”