ACC: Rick Petri

ACC power rankings: Week 1

August, 29, 2011
Before you read this, keep one thing in mind: These power rankings are based on what each team looks like right now, and right now, Miami has 13 players suspended, according to a source. If that changes by Labor Day and Miami is at full strength for its game against Maryland, I would bump the Canes up to the No. 3 team in the conference. But without 13 players, Miami is going to struggle. Regardless of what Miami looks like, one thing is for sure: Beyond the front-runners in each division, this conference is up for grabs, and this list will fluctuate as the season goes to reflect that.

Here are your first official power rankings for the 2011 season:

1. Florida State: The Seminoles are the preseason favorite to win the ACC in only Jimbo Fisher’s second season, and with good reason. Florida State returns the majority of talent that won last season’s Atlantic Division title, and this looks like a championship team. If there’s one question mark lingering, it’s on the offensive line, which has been injured almost all offseason.

2. Virginia Tech: Frank Beamer enters his 25th season and is by far the conference veteran. First-year starting quarterback Logan Thomas will go through some growing pains, but he has a veteran supporting cast to help him through the transition. The Hokies have been warned about Appalachian State’s ability to upset.

3. North Carolina: The best thing interim coach Everett Withers has going for him is the team itself, a talent-laden group more than capable of contending for the Coastal Division if it can block out all distractions and get the leadership and coaching it needs without Butch Davis. The offensive and defensive lines are among the best if not the best in the conference.

4. Clemson: There is plenty of talent to challenge Florida State for the Atlantic Division title, but how far the Tigers go depends on how quickly first-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd and his teammates pick up the new offense in game situations. Boyd made significant progress in summer camp.

5. NC State: The Russell Wilson era is over, but those within the program are confident in the abilities of Mike Glennon. The question is who besides T.J. Graham will help him out at wide receiver. With true freshmen at kicker and punter, the kicking game is also still a concern, though both rookies fared well in summer camp.

6. Maryland: The Terps have new uniforms and a new coach but the same goal -- to win the Atlantic Division. Whether they do that under first-year coach Randy Edsall depends on how the team adjusts to the new terminology and schemes of the new staff. Maryland’s biggest asset is quarterback Danny O’Brien, the ACC’s 2010 Rookie of the Year.

7. Miami: If Miami’s roster is decimated by suspensions, its season isn’t over, but its championship hopes under first-year coach Al Golden will definitely be derailed. There are a few teams on the schedule Miami might be able to beat with its backups, but not enough to win the Coastal Division. The good news for the Canes? Stephen Morris is a more-than-capable option at quarterback, and some of their backups are outstanding. Not ready to write the Canes off yet.

8. Boston College: The Eagles have been raving about their offensive improvement this month, some of which can be attributed to the progress of quarterback Chase Rettig in his second season as a starter, and because of the hire of offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers, who has made an immediate impact. Was the offense that good this summer, though, or does the defense have a few weaknesses? Northwestern should provide a better clue.

9. Georgia Tech: Just how much improvement the Jackets have made since last season remains to be seen. Quarterback Tevin Washington was pushed this summer by Vad Lee and Synjyn Days, and the defense is still working to generate a pass rush.

10. Duke: Quarterback Sean Renfree has improved in every facet of the game, according to coach David Cutcliffe, and the entire team has shown enough promise this offseason that Cutcliffe said he thinks they could get to a bowl game. First-year defensive line coach Rick Petri has made an immediate impact on the area most in need of improvement, but the offensive line remains a question after some offseason reshuffling.

11. Wake Forest: Those within the program are convinced this year’s team is better than last year’s 3-9 finish, but the Deacs’ schedule will make it tough to prove it. Quarterback Tanner Price is more comfortable in his second season as a starter, and running back Josh Harris has been impressive.

12. Virginia: The defense is going to present some problems for opponents, but offensively, questions remain. If Michael Rocco is the answer at quarterback, he still has to prove it in a game situation, and while explosive, the Hoos’ running backs are undersized. Mike London isn’t settling for his program taking baby steps in his second season, but considering he has to depend on some true freshmen and a rookie quarterback, there are bound to be some growing pains.

Summer summary: Duke

August, 23, 2011
The series looking back at the highlights of summer camp for each team as we gear up for game week continues today with Duke:
  • 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.
Most notable injury: Aside from Moore, defensive end Kenny Anunike has missed a significant amount of camp with an ankle injury. His status is in question for the opener against Richmond.

2011 ACC predictions

August, 18, 2011
Every week during the season, I give you my predictions for the games. Every now and then, I get one right. With the season quickly approaching, it’s time for the first round of predictions for the ACC. They're bold, so brace yourself ...

1. The ACC will have two teams in BCS bowls. It hasn’t happened during the expansion era, but this year looks favorable for that to change. If Florida State lives up to the hype and represents the ACC in the Orange Bowl, it’s very possible a one-loss Virginia Tech team (that lone loss coming to FSU in the ACC title game), is chosen for another BCS bowl. There’s no reason the Hokies shouldn’t have an eighth straight 10-win season, but with the turmoil that is going on in the rest of the Coastal Division, another undefeated run in conference play is a legitimate possibility.

2. Miami and North Carolina will face a loss of scholarships and a postseason ban. With nine major NCAA violations, it seems a likely scenario for the Tar Heels, and considering the pile of allegations against Miami, it almost seems inevitable. (Note: This is not the one I was referring to when I mentioned 'bold.')

3. Duke will go bowling. The Blue Devils are in their fourth season under coach David Cutcliffe, and are a significantly, visibly improved program with one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC. Duke could reach the postseason for the first time since 1994, but it has to eliminate the turnovers, play better defense, and establish a running game. The hire of defensive line coach Rick Petri should help, and there is more depth and experience on offense so Duke shouldn’t have to be as one-dimensional.

4. The ACC will NOT lose to an FCS team. It’s become a trend in recent years, as James Madison, Richmond and William & Mary have all had their way with the ACC. Not this year. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said he would remind his players of App State’s win over Michigan in 2007 so there is no overlooking their season opener. North Carolina opens with JMU and Virginia hosts William & Mary. All of them should be wary of the little guys this year and spare the conference further embarrassment.

5. NC State will beat North Carolina for a fifth straight year. Tom O’Brien defeated Butch Davis for four straight seasons. Now he’ll have the edge in head-coaching experience and home-field advantage over interim coach Everett Withers when the Wolfpack hosts the Tar Heels on Nov. 5.

Coaching 'em up: Duke

July, 15, 2011
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.

ACC team position rankings: Defensive lines

June, 27, 2011
As the title indicated ...

[+] EnlargeQuinton Coples
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireUNC returns a veteran defensive line led by end Quinton Coples.
1. North Carolina: This is a deep and talented group that returns all four starters including Donte Paige-Moss, Jared McAdoo, Quinton Coples and Tydreke Powell. Junior college transfer Sylvester Williams joins three other players who started at least one game: Kareem Martin (three starts), DT Tim Jackson (five starts) and DT Jordan Nix (two starts).

2. Florida State: All four starters return in juniors Brandon Jenkins, Jacobi McDaniel, Anthony McCloud and Everett Dawkins. Jenkins finished sixth nationally with 13.5 sacks. This group should take another step forward in the second season under coordinator Mark Stoops, but it already has an outstanding base to build on as the Noles ranked third nationally in sacks and 21st in tackles for loss last season.

3. Miami: The Canes should have one of the better rotations in the ACC. They return starters Olivier Vernon, Micanor Regis and Marcus Forston, who combined for 12 sacks and 30.5 TFLs. It’s a deep group, as DE Adewale Ojomo (seven starts), DT Luther Robinson (five starts), DE Marcus Robinson (10 games), DT Curtis Porter (one start), DE Andrew Smith (11 games) and DE Dyron Dye (six games) all have experience.

4. Virginia: Like Florida State, this is another group that should benefit from being in the second season under the same coordinator. Jim Reid switched the scheme back to a traditional 4-3, and the Hoos return a veteran group led by Matt Conrath (33 starts), DT Nick Jenkins (29 starts), and DE Cam Johnson (22 starts).

5. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have a better understanding of what is expected from them in their second season in Al Groh’s 3-4 defense, and all three starters return in ends Izaan Cross (41 tackles) and Jason Peters (52 tackles), and tackle Logan Walls. Defensive tackles Shawn Green, T.J. Barnes and J.C. Lanier will also compete for playing time along with DE Anthony Williams.

6. Maryland: The Terps should be solid up front with the return of Joe Vellano, A.J. Francis and Justin Anderson. Francis is the veteran of the group (19 career starts) and had 44 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season, but Vellano is also an all-conference candidate. The Terps have good depth with Zachariah Kerr, Isaiah Ross and Bradley Johnson.

7. Virginia Tech: This is a group that could and should jump a few spots by the end of the season. On paper, they’ve got to replace three starters, but this spring the group proved capable of getting the Hokies back to their days of dominating on defense. Based on potential, they should be ranked higher, but based on lack of dependable, proven depth, they could even fall lower.

8. Clemson: It will be difficult for the Tigers to replace the production of Da’Quan Bowers, but the defensive line is in capable hands with Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson, and Malliciah Goodman has embraced the challenge of taking Bowers’ spot. Branch was second on the team with five sacks last season and 8.5 tackles for loss. Thompson had 40 tackles, including six for losses. Defensive tackle Rennie Moore, DE Kourtnei Brown and DT Tyler Shatley also have experience.

9. NC State: Defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy is one of the underrated players in the ACC, and he returns along with defensive end Jeff Rieskamp. Several players got significant snaps last season, though, including DE Darryl Cato-Bishop (13 tackles), DT Markus Kuhn (17 tackles, and DT Brian Slay (20 tackles, two TFLs).

10. Wake Forest: The Deacs return three starters including Tristan Dorty, Kyle Wilber and Zack Thompson. Thompson only started five games last season, but after spring practices, coach Jim Grobe said Thompson has all-conference potential.

11. Boston College: Starters Max Holloway and Kaleb Ramsey return, along with four other linemen (DTs Dillon Quinn and Conor O’Neal, and DEs Dan Williams and Kasim Edebali) who each started at least two games last fall.

12. Duke: Until proven otherwise, this is where the Blue Devils belong, but Rick Petri was hired to change that. He’ll have veteran nose guard Charlie Hatcher (24 career starts) to work with, and sophomore Sydney Sarmiento, who started 11 games last season. Junior Kenny Anunike, Justin Foxx and DEs Desmond Johnson and Jamal Wallace could also see playing time.

Proving ground: Coastal Division

May, 31, 2011
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has owned the ACC since his program joined the league. He’s got nothing to prove. His rookie quarterback? Prove away. Duke defensive line coach Rick Petri? Proven. Duke’s defensive line? Not so much. There are plenty of players, coaches and position groups with something to prove in the ACC this season. This morning we took a look at the Atlantic Division. It’s time to move on two who has the most to prove in the Coastal Division this fall, ranked from most to least. You’ll notice a trend in this division:

1. North Carolina coach Butch Davis: He’s got to prove he can get his players to win and stay eligible. Period. Oh, and he's got to prove he can beat Tom O'Brien this year.

2. Duke’s defensive line: There’s only one way for Duke’s defense to go, and that’s up. The defensive line has the furthest to go, as the Blue Devils ranked 109th in the country in tackles for loss and 113th in sacks. Getting pressure on quarterbacks is a priority for Duke.

3. Virginia’s quarterbacks:Pick one, any one: Ross Metheny, Michael Strauss, Michael Rocco, David Watford … they’ve all got something to prove, but only one will be named the starter this summer. Virginia’s defense should again be a strength, particularly through the front seven. If the Hoos can find a quarterback who can manage the offense without turning it over, Virginia might surprise a few teams.

4. Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. He’s got all of the physical attributes and had as good of a spring as the coaching staff could possibly expect. Most if not all doubts were erased about his ability to replace the winningest quarterback in school history, now only one task remains: prove it in every game.

5. Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington: He struggled during the spring game and now must prove this summer that he deserves to keep the starting job. Synjyn Days outperformed Washington in the spring game, but Washington was more consistent throughout the 15 practice sessions. Vad Lee will be pushing both of them, but it’s Washington’s job to lose, and he must master the offense for the Jackets to get back to the ACC title game.

6. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris: First, he’s got to prove he deserves the starting job again, and that starts this summer. Then, he’s got to prove capable of continuing that success in games, making the right decisions and being a leader in the huddle. Al Golden has seen the potential in Harris. Now it’s a matter of getting him to execute it.

Two teams likely to surprise in 2011

May, 10, 2011
Stop me if you've heard this one before ...

Boston College will be better than most people think.

Get used to hearing this one ...

Duke won.

Here's a look at one team in each division most likely to surprise you this year:

Boston College: The only reason the Eagles are considered a "surprise" is because they're again going to be overshadowed by the likes of Florida State and Clemson. While the Eagles don't match those programs in the recruiting world, they can compensate for it with their work ethic, discipline and a few other intangibles they've got going for them. BC returns its statistical leaders from 2010 in rushing, passing, receiving, tackles, sacks and interceptions -- the only program in the ACC that can make that claim. Kevin Rogers was a great hire as offensive coordinator, and BC's defense is traditionally one of the best in the league. They've got the Noles at home on a Thursday night in November, but what could hurt the Eagles is the fact that four of the final six games are on the road. Yikes. If they can take care of business at home against FSU and NC State, though -- surprise.

Duke: No, I don't expect to win the Coastal Division or suddenly morph into a top-tier team. I do, however, expect significant progress in Year 4 under David Cutcliffe just as one would expect it under any head coach of any program entering his fourth season. There's no reason Duke shouldn't be able to beat FIU on the road and no reason it shouldn't be expected to win that game. It's time for Duke to take the next step and become bowl eligible, and in order to do that, the Blue Devils are going to have to beat somebody they're "not supposed to." They'll be able to do that because they've got one of the better quarterbacks in the conference and a group of talented, proven receivers. It won't happen, though, if the defense continues to be so friendly and the running game doesn't evolve. If first-year defensive line coach Rick Petri can make the kind of impact he has at other programs -- surprise.

Duke's defense has speed to burn

April, 21, 2011
Duke's defense has statistically been one of the worst in the country, but based on the speed he saw this spring, coach David Cutcliffe said improvement isn't far away.

“I’m excited about what I think we can do defensively because we’re going to certainly be the fastest defense we’ve been since we’ve been here," he said.

The question is whether they'll get to the quarterbacks in time to make a difference. Cutcliffe said improving the pass rush was an emphasis this spring, but 10 of 15 defensive linemen on scholarship are either freshmen or redshirt freshmen. Still, he said he liked the progress the defense made this spring under the direction of first-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and defensive line coach Rick Petri.

Friday mailblog

April, 15, 2011
Sometimes, the truth hurts ...

John Beall in Atlanta, GA writes: Hi Heather,Enjoy reading your blog and especially when its about my school Maryland. Had to move to Atlanta afterwards but got to work somewhere right? I feel that Maryland isn't getting any National Attention this year. I understand with the new coaching staff and all of that but we do have the ACC Rookie of the Year and many other returning starters. Remember he wasn't even our starting quarterback last year and Danny ends up winning that award and breaking other Maryland records. With Under Armour making us new uniforms and spending money, a solid coach who took UConn to the BCS game last year, I see us being in attention for the ACC Championship. What are your thoughts?

HD: Thanks for reading, but Maryland's "national attention" will remain N/A until the Terps are in the Orange Bowl. I understand they've got some talent on their roster, and Danny O'Brien is a quarterback to be excited about, but with new schemes on both sides and being in the same division as FSU and Clemson -- which both have recruited better -- it's going to be tough for Edsall to surpass last year's results on a consistent basis.

Colt in Tally writes: Hey HD, so, I was looking over the FSU depth chart, and man... WE ARE STACKED! There's only two positions that stuck out as potential problems... offensive line and wide receiver. What do you see being FSU's biggest obstacle keeping them from being national champs? OL or WR? Or something else?

HD: C. Oklahoma.

Al in Durham, NC writes: Thanks for putting up Duke news and insights. I know their record hasn't been good and they surely don't have the following of other programs, but I'm so hopeful they can get over the hump this year. The offense was good enough this past year to have gone bowling if they just didn't drop passes. Several of Renfree's early interceptions should've been caught by our praised receivers. They win the Wake game and I just don't think they lose to Army.I loved the Petri hire! In your experience, how soon can a DL hire make noticeable improvements to such a porous group. I realize the talent gap...realistically, what can we expect?

HD: That's the main concern for David Cutcliffe after an otherwise productive spring, but I agree that if anyone can improve that group quickly, it's Rick Petri. I think he made a measurable difference in Miami's defensive line last year, and I think he'll do the same for Duke. He can help the players compensate for that talent gap by playing fundamentally sound. If they listen to him and execute, I think it could make a difference in Duke's season.

Rob in Fayetteville, NC writes: Hello HD, I was wondering what are your predicaments for upcoming Hokies season? Have a great day HD!

HD: Ahem. Predicaments? Or predictions? Predicaments are plenty -- new quarterback, new defensive line, top two rushers are gone. Prediction? Another 10-win season.

Bryant F in Tampa, FL writes: So what's the deal with the ever-ongoing investigation with UNC? Why is it taking so long to come to a conclusion with what I think cost them a solid chance at the ACC title last year? The NCAA is not being fair what so ever. It didn't take them long to come to a conclusion for more popular programs, such as Ohio State and Alabama, when they learned of their inappropriate actions.

HD: When it comes to the NCAA, Bryant, usually one answer will suffice: I don't understand.

Pressure is on ... Duke?

March, 22, 2011
Expectations are shadowing just about every program in the ACC -- some more than others.

It's time Duke joined the club.

Those within the program have always had high expectations under coach David Cutcliffe, but now that he's entering his fourth season in Durham, the rest of the ACC should expect more from Duke this season, too. Cutliffe’s 12 victories in three years with the Blue Devils are two more than the program’s total in the previous eight seasons (2000-07) combined. It's time to take the next step.

Here are three reasons the Blue Devils will go bowling in 2011:

1. The passing game. Duke has an elite group of receivers and a promising young quarterback. Sean Renfree got better as the 2010 season progressed and has the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC this year. In 2010, Renfree's first season as full-time starter, the Blue Devils' offense produced an average of 381.3 yards per game -- Duke’s highest total since 1989. Renfree became just the fourth player in school history to throw for more than 3,000 yards. He's also got a seasoned group of receivers who are among the ACC's leaders to work with. Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon combined for 143 receptions last season. Duke can and will move the ball.

2. Welcome to Durham, Rick Petri. The Blue Devils hired a new defensive line coach with good reputation who should give them a boost where they need it most -- up front. Miami's loss was Duke's gain, as Petri is well-respected in the business and should help the Blue Devils become more aggressive. Duke ranked 113th in the nation in sacks last season and 109th in tackles for loss. Miami was ninth in the country in sacks and led the nation in tackles for loss. No, Duke won't make that kind of a leap, but there's no question it should be better.

3. Duke has three winnable nonconference games. At this point in Cutcliffe's career at Duke, games against Richmond, Tulane and Florida International should all be considered winnable games. If the Blue Devils can go 3-1 in the nonconference schedule, they should be able to find three more wins, but Duke is going to have to beat somebody in the league it's "not supposed to."

Duke's defense making strides

March, 15, 2011
Duke’s defenders are well aware of where they ranked nationally in the NCAA’s major statistical categories -- among the worst. In particular, the Blue Devils have struggled up front, and ranked No. 109 in tackles for loss, and No. 113 in sacks. Redshirt senior nose guard Charlie Hatcher said in an interview today that the defense is making progress this spring, despite being under the direction of its third coordinator in as many seasons. Jim Knowles has taken over the defense this year, and Rick Petri was hired to coach the defensive line.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Hatcher.
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireNose tackle Charlie Hatcher says Duke's defense will improve this fall under new coordinator Rick Petri.
Duke returned to spring ball this week after its spring break. Here's what Hatcher had to say about the state of the defense:

How are things going under Rick Petri?

Charlie Hatcher: Rick Petri is doing a great job. He’s bringing in a lot of new fundamentals for us that are different from what we’re used to. It’s breaking old habits, which is pretty difficult for an old guy, but it’s going really well.

New techniques? Can you give me any specific examples?

CH: Before we were doing a lot of ripping off of blocks. We’ve changed that now to doing more swipes and two-gapping.

Do you like the new changes?

CH: I do like them, I think they’re going to help a lot for making more plays and put us in better positions. I’m not liking how difficult it is to break the old habits.

Why do you think you guys have struggled so much in the stats everyone seems to key in on, in terms of getting pressure on quarterbacks?

CH: I’m not really sure. We’ve always had a great D-line coach, we’ve always had great schemes coming in. We just haven’t executed up front as players in the front seven. A bust here, a bust there on blitzes that you can’t bust on, because that’s how big plays happen for the offense. Just minimizing busts would help us a lot when we’re pressuring quarterbacks. They’re putting a lot of focus on that this year. We’re doing a lot of blitz pick-up periods and we’re doing a lot of working on getting to the quarterback and being violent upfield.

How big of a deal has the revolving door been at coordinator?

CH: It’s always difficult to adapt to a new coach, but coach Cut does a great job of bringing in new guys who have the same drive and same vision. It’s always the same type of people. Coach Cut prides himself on having a great staff and great family environment, and he really does a good job of that with all of the new defensive guys we’ve been getting in over the past several years.

How determined are you guys as a D-line or the front seven to improve those numbers, and how much do they bother you, or do you not pay attention to the stats?

CH: Oh, we pay attention to the stats. We talked about that on Day 1. That’s one of our main goals, obviously. Improving those results in wins directly. If we can get to the quarterback more, and get off the field more, you’re going to end up with our offense, which has done really well, to have more time on the field and score more points.

How much progress do you feel like you guys have made so far this spring?

CH: I feel we’ve made leaps and bounds. We came in with a lot of talented guys but not a lot of experience. They’re still learning, but when they know what they’re doing, it’s amazing what they can do because of how athletic they are and how talented they are physically.

How much better do you guys think you can be as a defense this year?

CH: We believe we can push into one of the top defenses in the ACC and that’s our goal, that’s what we’re working on.

Do you feel like expectations should be higher from the outside looking in because it’s Cutcliffe’s fourth season?

CH: Expectations should be higher. We’re putting the expectations on ourselves to be higher. We’re doing a lot, working a lot harder in practice, which is shocking to me, being here for three years with coach Cut already. I didn’t think it could get any harder, but we really stepped it up. We’ve really focused on our own expectations, but with that being said, expectations should rise for us once people see what we’ve been doing and how hard we’re working.

Halfway point for Duke: Offense leading way

March, 4, 2011
Duke coach David Cutcliffe has told his quarterback, Sean Renfree, that Renfree is a “really fine athlete and nobody knows it.”

It won’t be much longer before the secret’s out.

Cutcliffe said Renfree, who is entering his second season as a starter, has had a “tremendous” spring and made significant improvement from a year ago.

“His sense of timing, he’s taking better care of the football, he’s able to be aggressive but not take risks that don’t make sense,” Cutcliffe said. “Less of those marks against him on his grades. He looks so much more athletic. He’s completely healthy, his brace is gone.”

While the rest of the ACC has yet to take a spring snap, Duke has only seven spring practices remaining. A veteran offense has been the highlight in Durham, and naturally ahead of a young, injury-laden defense that’s under the direction of a third coordinator in as many years. The offensive line play is significantly better. All of the backs and all but one receiver return. With Renfree’s progress and a strong kicking game already in place, the key to Duke’s success this season will be how quickly the defense can mature and transition into Jim Knowles’ system. Cutcliffe said he has encouraged Knowles to install his system, change the terminology and make any adjustments needed.

“We gained Rick Petri,” Cutcliffe said. “He was with me for six years at Ole Miss, widely known as one of the best teachers of defensive line play in the country at any level and he’s been tremendous. And Jim Knowles is putting in a system he helped orchestrate at Ole Miss that helped us go 7-1 in the SEC and 10-3 in the year I had at Ole Miss. I’m excited and our kids are very familiar with coach Knowles since he was here as an assistant a year ago. We’re viewing it as a positive as opposed to something negative.”

The focus this spring has been less on schematics and more on fundamentals because of the youth involved. Twelve of the 15 defensive linemen are freshmen and sophomores. Overall, Cutcliffe said the majority of the scholarship roster will be comprised of freshmen and sophomores.

“If we don’t focus on fundamentals,” Cutcliffe said, “we’re making a mistake.”

That will continue to be the priority when the Blue Devils return from spring break this week. They have been getting in a lot of line work against each other, and haven’t been afraid to tackle.

Despite the inexperience on defense, Cutcliffe said “there’s no question” Duke will be a better team in 2011.

“We really haven’t been as far away as people want to make us,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s really what we believe.”

Q&A with Duke D-line coach Rick Petri

January, 21, 2011
On Thursday, Duke announced Rick Petri was hired to coach the defensive line, the same group he coached at Miami in 2010. Petri made a significant difference for Miami's defensive line, which led the nation in tackles for loss. He spent six seasons with Duke coach David Cutcliffe at Ole Miss, and I caught up with Petri while he was on the road this week:

What do you think you can do there with the talent you have to work with? What’s he told you about what’s on the roster? They really struggled to get to quarterbacks last year. It seems like of all the position coaches you’ve really got your work cut out for you there.

Rick Petri: Now you’re scaring me.

No pressure.

RP: I’ll be honest with you, the only thing I know is that they’re young. That’s a double-edged sword. It’s good in that you can make them what you want them to be, but it’s also bad in that they haven’t experienced much, so it’s going to be on the job training. That’s really challenging for a coach and can give you a lot of grey hair, which I already have, so I don’t think they’ll get too much out of me on that end. The youth is good and it’s bad. I enjoy the challenge. I’ve coached from Division II up to what some people would say the higher levels in college football and I liked teaching at every level. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-round draft pick or a walk-on, I’ll teach you the same and try to push you the same and make you the best player you can be.

How did coach Cutcliffe sell you on this? I know he’s got things going in the right direction, but what really attracted you to the possibilities there?

RP: Him and his goals and his direction and his plan on meeting those goals. I definitely feel like there’s a commitment from the university to him and the football program, and you’ve gotta have that in anything you do. You’ve got to have commitment from the top and I definitely think that’s there, so whenever you have that, and you’re in a great conference, you have a chance to improve. You’ve got to worry about improving first, before the rest of it.

And you made a lot of improvements at Miami. What in looking back was your biggest accomplishment in your mind you were able to do with that group?

RP: If you look at defensive linemen sacks, 18 to 29 ˝, I think we improved our TFLs on the d-line by 12. … I’m very proud of what they did there. I’m very proud that they became much better technique players, and they played with effort. They were really willing to learn.

I know Duke is working on bringing in better, faster, more talented athletes, but is there any reason to think you can’t eventually produce similar numbers with the athletes you have to work with at Duke, or is that an unrealistic goal?

RP: 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.

How tough was it for you the way things went down at Miami?

RP: It was disappointing. Anytime that happens like that it’s disappointing. You develop a relationship with your players and then all of a sudden it’s gone, when you think you’re just starting. But one door closes, another opens and you get a new opportunity. I wish them the best. I’ll always think very, very highly of those young men. We really got close in that year. I know they’ll be successful. Hopefully I’ll help them. Hopefully I did help them and they’ll be better down the road, but that opportunity is gone, and I’ve got to take advantage of the next. I’m very appreciative of coach Cut giving me the opportunity.

You’re a good coach, but it seems like good coaches have a tough time sticking around because they’re good. So I have to ask you, are going to stick around for a while?

RP: Have you looked at my career?

All 34 years of it?

RP: There’s never been a lot of one’s or two’s. A lot of five’s and six’s and 10s. There were a couple of three’s, but at South Carolina we got let go. I left Louisiana Tech and went to Miami. I’m not a tumbleweed that way. I like getting in somewhere and being part of something. But the flip side of that is this business has made it much harder to. But no, I’m not looking to leave.

The only other thing I wanted to ask you was about recruiting. You get thrown into it a week or so before signing day. How do you approach that?

RP: I’m sure most of the recruiting is pretty well, they’ve got their guys. What I’d like to do is get a chance to meet the defensive linemen who are either committed or are being recruited and try and start a relationship. Every coach has an area. Hopefully I can get out in the area I’m assigned so I can get out and touch base with the high school coaches and start developing relationships, because recruiting is that, and I’ll go from there.

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 21, 2011
This should hold you over until Monday ...

Duke hires Rick Petri as D-line coach

January, 20, 2011
Former Miami defensive line coach Rick Petri has been hired to coach the same position group at Duke, and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles will assume the lead role with Duke’s practice scheduling, weekly preparation and gameday play-calling, the school announced on Thursday.

Petri, a 34-year veteran in the college ranks, coached six seasons with Cutcliffe at Ole Miss.

“We are very fortunate to strengthen our defensive staff with the addition of Rick Petri,” Cutcliffe said in a prepared statement. “Rick is widely known in the coaching profession as one of the top teachers of defensive line play, and his track record of preparing young men for the National Football League speaks for itself. Also, his ideas and methods of helping players mature into young adults fit very well with our philosophies.

“Jim Knowles will coordinate our defense,” Cutcliffe said. “Rick will coach the defensive line, Jim Collins the linebackers and Derek Jones the secondary. I believe with this group of coaches we have assembled the finest defensive staff in America.”

Assembling standout staffs hasn't been a problem for Cutcliffe, but keeping them has -- not because they don't want to work for him, but because they were good enough to move on. If Duke is going to take the next step, though, there needs to be some continuity, particularly on defense, where there has been three different coordinators in as many seasons. Former defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre left Duke after the 2009 season to become the head coach at San Jose State, and Marion Hobby left Duke recently to coach the defensive line at Clemson.

Duke's defense really struggled to pressure quarterbacks last year and get into opponents' backfields, but those were two areas Miami flourished in, thanks to Petri's help. The Canes finished the 2010 season leading the nation in tackles for loss and tied for ninth in the country in sacks. He should help the Blue Devils become more aggressive up front.