ACC: Matt Luke
- Duke's main story of summer camp was the injury to veteran offensive lineman Brian Moore, who has been sidelined indefinitely with a fractured right arm. Moore started the past two seasons at right guard before making a successful transition to center this past spring. The injury resulted in the move of redshirt freshman Dave Harding from guard to center. Offensive line coach Matt Luke has been trying to figure out who the best five linemen are who can be ready for the season opener, and today's scrimmage could help answer that question.
- The return of linebacker Kelby Brown has been critical for Duke's defense. Brown missed spring practices while recovering from knee surgery, and nobody within the program knew what to expect upon his return from a torn MCL and ACL, but Brown has looked ready to start and be a major contributor again.
- Rick Petri’s work with the defensive line has been noticed. There’s a reason he’s had so much success everywhere he's been -- he's that good, and he's making the most of what he has to work with at Duke. This summer showed signs that Duke can put together a respectable performance up front.
1. North Carolina: Three starters and one part-time starter return from last year’s team, and this line could be the biggest and best since Butch Davis was hired. Guard Jonathan Cooper (22 starts), center Cam Holland (20) and tackle James Hurst (12) have combined for 54 career starts. Travis Bond has four starts and is the leading candidate to take over at the other guard position.
2. Miami: The Canes return nine of their top 10 offensive linemen including four starters from last year, and Joel Figueroa was granted a sixth season of eligibility. Even with the coaching change, the Canes should be strong up front. Center Tyler Horn is a veteran, Brandon Washington is a difference-maker, and there’s enough competition that Seantrel Henderson spent most of the spring as a backup.
3. Clemson: First-year offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell has four returning starters to work with in Landon Walker, Antoine McClain, Dalton Freeman and David Smith. They also have top reserve Mason Cloy, who has 19 career starts and has played in 38 games. There is plenty of depth for a dependable rotation.
4. Virginia Tech: All four returnees started every game last year, and there is enough depth that the Hokies should be able to rotate the most players up front they ever have. It’s a veteran group led by Blake DeChristopher, Andrew Lanier, Jaymes Brooks and Greg Nosal.
5. Florida State: Despite the losses of Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon, there’s experience up front. This fall, the starting lineup will consist of tackle Andrew Datko, left guard Bryan Stork or David Spurlock, center Jacob Fahrenkrug, right guard Spurlock or Stork, right tackle Zebrie Sanders. Just how good they’ll be remains to be seen as the majority of them were out with injuries this past spring.
6. NC State: The Pack lost Jake Vermiglio and will be without injured left guard Andrew Wallace for about half of the season, but Zach Allen, Camden Wentz and R.J. Mattes are returning starters. There’s also a lot of talent waiting to emerge with young players like Duran Christophe, Rob Crisp, Tyson Chandler, Torian Box and Andy Jomantas.
7. Virginia: Four players return with a combined 64 career starts in Anthony Mihota, Austin Pasztor, Oday Aboushi and Morgan Moses, who started the final seven games of the season as a true freshman. Pasztor is in his fourth season as a starter and has 32 career starts.
8. Boston College: Despite the losses of Anthony Castonzo, Thomas Claiborne and Rich Lapham, the Eagles are almost settled up front, it’s the experience behind the starters that’s reason for concern. The No. 2 offensive line is comprised entirely of redshirt freshmen. Mark Spinney returns at center, the projected starting guards are Nathan Richman and Ian White, who started three games as a freshman, and the tackles are Emmett Cleary and John Wetzel.
9. Maryland: It’s been an injury-prone group the past two seasons and that didn’t change this past spring. Left tackle Justin Gilbert, one of the top linemen on the team, reinjured the same knee he had ACL surgery on and will be out until October. R.J. Dill was also injured this spring, though he played in the spring game, and Justin Lewis was rehabbing from offseason surgery. Pete White also missed practices, so the group needs to solidify the two-deep roster.
10. Georgia Tech: The Jackets return three starters in guard Omoregie Uzzi, guard Will Jackson and tackle Phil Smith. Sophomore Jay Finch played extensively last season and Ray Beno and Nick McRae were key reserves. Redshirt freshmen Catlin Alford and Morgan Bailey could also work their way into the rotation. Uzzi will be the leader of the line, but they were outplayed by the defense this spring.
11. Wake Forest: Four starters are back, but the Deacs will sorely miss the experience and leadership of former center Russell Nenon. Garrick Williams started the final three games of 2010 -- two at guard and one at center, but he struggled with the snaps towards the end of spring and isn’t where the staff needs him to be yet.
12. Duke: The Blue Devils should take another step forward this season under offensive line coach Matt Luke, and they need to -- Duke’s running game was last in the ACC last year and 104th in the country. Brian Moore replaces a three-year starter at center, but given his experience at right guard the past two seasons, it should be a smooth transition. That will leave a hole, though, at the right guard position, where Laken Tomlinson and John Coleman are the top candidates.
“I make him snap every day here,” said Duke offensive line coach Matt Luke. “I don’t think he likes me very much for that.”
Duke’s offense will appreciate it, though, this fall.
One of the best (and most unheralded and unrecognized) position changes in the ACC this offseason was at Duke, where Moore moved from right guard to center. Moore had played almost every snap at right guard for the past two seasons, but he is talented enough that he was one of 42 players and four ACC centers on the 2011 Rimington Trophy Watch List. As a true freshman, Moore practiced as a backup center, but the fact that he hasn’t played the position in a game situation speaks volumes about what others think of his potential.
“He’s well-respected in the league,” Luke said. “He’s played a bunch. People probably view him as a better center prospect than a guard prospect as far as the NFL goes, but he plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Despite the fact he’s replacing a three-year starter at a position he never played, Moore’s move could actually be an upgrade to a line that returns four starters. His knowledge of the offense coupled with his size makes the position a better fit for him than guard. At 6-foot-3, 285 pounds, he’s a prototypical center and won’t be overmatched as much as he was at guard.
The only problem with Moore’s move is that now the offensive line loses significant experience at the right guard position. John Coleman and Laken Tomlinson are the top two candidates to take over.
“That’s always a concern,” Luke said. “We have some bigger bodies that we’re able to put in there that I think have a chance to be a good combination. They just haven’t played a whole bunch. That right guard spot is going to be one that somebody is going to have to step in there and do a great job just because we lose a bunch of experience.”
Duke’s passing game has flourished under coach David Cutcliffe, but the running game has consistently struggled. Improvement up front will help the Blue Devils, who ranked 104th in the country and last in the ACC last year in rushing offense.
“We’ve been getting better steadily,” Luke said. “They need to have the confidence they can physically take over a game instead of just get by. … We are a very athletic offensive line. We’ve gotten so much better just from a physical standpoint. Now they have to take it to the next level and have the confidence they can take over a game. I’m hoping they can take it to that level this year.”
2010 conference record: 1-7
Offense: 8, defense: 6, punter/kicker: 2
WR Conner Vernon, WR Donovan Varner, QB Sean Renfree, TE Cooper Helfet, PK Will Snyderwine, S Matt Daniels, NG Charlie Hatcher, LT Kyle Hill, C Brian Moore.
LB Abraham Kromah, DE Patrick Egboh, WR Austin Kelly, C Bryan Morgan
2010 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Desmond Scott* (530 yards)
Passing: Renfree* (3,131 yds)
Receiving: Vernon* (973 yds)
Tackles: Kromah (129)
Sacks: Egboh (4.5)
Interceptions: Ross Cockrell* (3)
1. Sean Renfree has a chance to be a special quarterback. Coach David Cutcliffe said repeatedly this spring that his quarterback had a great spring, not a good one. Renfree has a chance to flourish in his second season as a full-time starter, especially in a division filled with rookies at the position and one of the top receiving corps in the ACC.
2 New talent emerging. Brandon Braxton showed this spring that he has the potential to be an excellent fit with Varner and Vernon as Blue Devils’ top three wideouts. Duke will also have a new face at center, where Moore takes over for graduated three-year starter Morgan. His move from guard paid off this spring.
3. Duke will be more athletic on defense. It remains to be seen if the Blue Devils will stop anyone this fall, but they’ll at least look better trying to. Duke was more athletic and faster this spring, and part of that has to do with the commitment to a 4-2-5 defensive scheme to get a third safety on the field. Duke dabbled in it a bit last season but will use it exclusively this year under first-year coordinator Jim Knowles.
1. How much better will the defensive line be? Hatcher is the only member of the entire line entering his final season of eligibility. He’ll have to carry the load 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 assistant Rick Petri.
2. Will the running game finally be a factor? Duke made strides on the ground last season, but still ranked 104th in the country in rushing offense. All of the running backs return, and offensive line coach Matt Luke has his group looking like an ACC offensive line, but he only has one starter in his final season of eligibility in Hill at left tackle. It’s still a young group, but they’ve got more size and athleticism than in the past. Josh Snead is the fastest of the backs, Scott is the most well-rounded, and Juwan Thompson has the most upside.
3. Can Duke get to the quarterback? Duke ranked 113th in the country and last in the league in sacks last season with one per game. Knowles likes to blitz, but his players have to have confidence to make it work.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
Dear Duke fans,
I know you’re out there. You’re not the most vocal fans (unless it’s March), and you’re not the most visible (unless we’re in Cameron Indoor). But it’s football season, you have a team and it’s time to start paying attention. I don’t know if Duke will make it to a bowl game this year or not, but a road win over NC State and Russell Wilson marks significant progress in coach David Cutcliffe’s second season.
|AP Photo/Gerry Broome|
|Duke had plenty of reasons to celebrate after Saturday's win at NC State.|
You should have heard the locker room after the game. They were tired. They were emotionally drained. And yet they were singing. It’s a victory song Cutcliffe said was “designed through the years,” a song those within the program will never reveal. A song they’d like to sing more, even if the tune is, by Cutcliffe’s standards, a little dull.
“We don’t have a chance to do that a lot,” Cutcliffe said.
No, they don’t. The Blue Devils beat NC State for the first time in 11 tries. They snapped a 20-game road losing streak against ACC opponents.
“Everybody keeps talking about streaks,” Cutcliffe said. “Our streaks don’t look too good, so we’ll just keep it at one game at a time and see what happens when the dust settles. ... You can’t play good and let it defeat you.”
This wasn’t improvement, though, that happened overnight.
Over the past three weeks, the coaching staff made a concerted effort to practice the fundamentals on both the offensive and defensive lines -- steps, base, footwork. After watching Thursday’s practice tape alone, Cutcliffe told offensive line coach Matt Luke on Friday it was the best the group had looked “by far,” and it showed on Saturday. The defensive line has improved its ability to maintain gap control and isn’t constantly getting knocked off the ball. That showed against Virginia Tech, when the Blue Devils also contested almost every catch.
The wide receivers might be the most-improved group on the field. They’re making tough plays and have increased their yards after catch. The one area that is still lacking is the running game, and that will be addressed during the bye week.
Cutcliffe said this team is “better equipped” to handle its success than it was last year, when Duke jumped out to a 3-1 start, but cautioned there’s still a long road ahead. Last year’s September win over Virginia created a similar buzz, but turned out to be the one-hit wonder of the season. Could this year be different?
“What it means is we’re playing better,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s what it means. Whether it computes to wins, I can’t focus on that. ... I think last year our kids just didn’t know how to take it one at a time and understand the focus and intensity of each ball game.”
They certainly have the quarterback to win another game.
Behind a jaw-dropping performance from quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, Duke racked up 502 yards of total offense and converted 13 of 19 third downs.
In other words, Duke finally gave you something to cheer about. Something to talk about. And it could happen again on Oct. 24 against Maryland. But if Duke wins two ACC games for the first time since 2003 and nobody was there to see it, did it really happen?
“If you don’t think a venue that’s loud and crazy is not effective, then look at Cameron Indoor Stadium,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s a pretty effective atmosphere for our basketball program. When you can turn that type of atmosphere into a football stadium -- because I’ve seen them -- it ignites teams. I know the Duke people believe that. I hope they’re able to come, and I believe that they will.”
I know you’re out there. I’ve seen you in March.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
There is an undersized, 250-pound center in the ACC who can play the clarinet and the piano, has been composing music since he was 12, and does not fear lining up nose-to-nose against defensive linemen who have 50-100 pounds on him.
Bryan Morgan started every game for Duke last year, and this spring, with three starters gone to graduation, he is the most experienced player on the Blue Devils' offensive line.
|Duke Sports Information|
|Center Bryan Morgan has had to overcome being undersized his entire playing career.|
"You ever hear the saying it ain't the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog?" quarterback Thaddeus Lewis said. "That's what happens when he goes out there on the field. He's a veteran guy, he's making calls, getting the line in the right situation. He might be 250 pushing it, but he's a strong kid, very talented, very fundamentally sound, which gives him the edge against bigger guys we actually play against."
Morgan, of Hoover, Ala., came to Duke around 238, 240 pounds. Since then, the junior has been on a "see-food" diet (he sees it, he eats it). Morgan said strength and conditioning coach Noel Durfey has basically given him free rein to eat anything and everything.
"The one word he tells me is calories," Morgan said. "Calories, calories, calories. I've gained 14 pounds this winter. It's working, so I'm not going to stop."
Morgan doesn't just order a burger -- he gets it with an extra patty, extra bacon, cheese, fries, a drink, and a milkshake.
"I have to make sure I finish everything on my plate," he said.
It's one of his four or five meals a day, which usually includes a light breakfast before practice, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and then usually two bowls of cereal or a PBJ before bed. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, when he has three classes back-to-back, he packs trail mix or another high-calorie snack.
And his classes aren't just any classes. Morgan is a music major, and his dream is to be a composer or a conductor. He's trying to get some connections with the North Carolina Symphony, and maybe even one day compose music for movies. He has a computer program to help him compose, and is in his first music theory class.
"My music is sounding more mature," he said. "I'm working on some orchestrations hopefully I'll finish in the summer."
He's been fighting his size his entire playing career, but football is in his genes -- his father was an offensive lineman at Alabama A&M and was inducted into the school's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.
"It's paramount for me to go out there and show 'em what I have," Morgan said. "I know I can do it. Since I'm smaller than most offensive linemen I really have to hone in on my skills. I can never take a play off or it will show drastically because I'm undersized. If I'm not careful they can throw me around because I'm on the light side."
Of course, there's always a way to win.
"Oh, the game is all about leverage," he said. "I try to get under their pads every play."
It hasn't always worked. Last year was Morgan's first full season as a starter at center after moving from tackle in the spring of 2008. In 2007, when he got in the game for 54 snaps at Virginia as a true freshman tackle, Morgan got up close and personal with former Virginia defensive end Chris Long.
"Chris Long was probably the best player I've played against," Morgan said. "He was quick, and the biggest guy I've gone against. That definitely wasn't my best game at all. But I really studied that tape on that day and said I've really got to work because that is what I'm going to be going against every game. I always keep that in the back of my mind. I don't want that to happen again."
Morgan has improved drastically since that game, and said it's like "night and day" from last year now that he's had a full season to adjust to his new position. Last season, Duke's offensive line helped reduce the team's sacks allowed total from 45 in 2007 to just 22 in 2008.
"Bryan's a special guy, No. 1 because of his size," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "He's always been told he's too small, and last year I don't think he missed a snap. Because of his size limitations, he's had to overcome that with knowledge and work ethic, and so when you put that together with experience, it helps him be the leader of that unit and get everybody on the same page."
Not only are Morgan's looks deceiving, but the coaching staff has encouraged other players to watch him.
"Coach Durfey says watch his body demeanor, and if you're down and you feel like you're tired, just look at that guy right there next to you," Lewis said. "Bryan, he's going to show you the definition of a football player and how you should carry yourself."
All 250 pounds of him.