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Jim Takes In Meet The Blue Devils

Optimism abounds around Duke football

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Duke v Northern Illinois
DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 26: T.J. Rahming #3 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrates his first half touchdown with Austin Davis #50 while playing the Northern Illinois Huskies in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field on December 26, 2017 in Detroit Michigan.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

After last week’s scrimmage, Duke football coach David Cutcliffe said that he was looking forward to the real beginning of fall camp.

His Duke team was finishing summer-school exams and Cutcliffe and his staff were looking forward to their undivided attention before fall classes begin the Monday before the season-opener against Army.

How did that week go?

“It’s been really good this week,” Cutcliffe said Saturday. “Our team has a lot of want-to. Coaches have taken advantage of it. We’ve got a few more days of it that are going to be really critical. We’ll start working on Army in earnest next week.”

Cutcliffe got a snap-shot of his team in Friday night’s scrimmage. You needed a secret decoder pinkie ring to get in and no one in the media had one.

But Cutcliffe did give us some of his time before today’s Meet the Blue Devils event and I can report a few things.

It was a modest scrimmage, as these things go, 75 plays, many of them involving players pretty deep on the depth chart. Mateo Durant led Duke with 92 rushing yards. Jake Marwede had a big catch. Ben Frye had three tackles for loss (two sacks), while Jacob Morgenstern, Jeremiah Lewis and Javon Jackson had interceptions.

Unless you’re a depth-chart wonk—I plead guilty as charged—you might be wondering who these guys are. Much of this was accomplished as 3 v. 3, third team against third team.

But the studs got enough work to continue their development. Daniel Jones passed for 183 yards, including a touchdown to tight end Davis Koppenhaver, while Ben Humphreys recovered a fumble. Brittain Brown, Deon Jackson, Johnathan Lloyd, and Daniel Helm came in for praise from Cutcliffe.

Depth and competition in practice have been two of Cutcliffe’s mantras since his first day at Duke.

From those perspectives, Cutcliffe liked what he saw.

“The best take from last-night’s scrimmage was that our twos (second team) in so many areas continue to challenge our ones (first team). We hope that’s a good thing and I believe it is. The thing that I’m now focused on is being more consistent. We’re a mature enough football team to expect consistency.”

Cutcliffe used guard Zach Baker, currently running second team, as an example of what he wants.

“Where I come from, that wouldn’t sit well with me and I’d want to change it.”

What are some of the key position-competitions?

Cutcliffe mentioned that transfer Jack Wohlabaugh is making a push for a starting spot at center. When asked if that would move presumptive starting center Zach Harmon back to his old guard position, Cutcliffe quipped “if he can beat out the other guards.”

Harmon, Wohlabaugh, Julian Santos, Rakavius Chambers and Baker give Duke five solid interior offensive linemen. But Cutcliffe went out of his way to mention true freshmen Casey Holman and Maurice McIntyre as legitimate possibilities to play this season.

“All of them are stronger,” Cutcliffe says of his offensive linemen. “We’re actually bigger and stronger than we were a year ago. Coach Bridge has done a tremendous job of creating some position toughness and togetherness. We see some competition in the offensive line. We have some people who can compete. I’m real pleased with Casey Holman and Maurice McIntyre. They’re pushing. They want to get into the two deep. Odds are we may see that.”

Holoman and McIntyre are both are listed as guards, although Holoman could be an option at tackle. McIntyre is a robust 340-pounder who has turned eyes in his few months on campus.

In a good way.

Duke has 11 recruited wide receivers. Nobody plays 11 wide receivers. But clarity has been hard to find, with freshman Jarett Garner out with illness and Lloyd, Aaron Young and Trevon Lee having been hampered by injuries.

Cutcliffe says Lloyd, Young, T.J. Rahming and Chris Taylor are “at the head of the pack” at wide receiver but adds that true freshman Jake Bobo has continued to impress.

“He has a gift for catching contested passes. He’s big, with really quick hands and great focus. He’s doing his business off the field, learning the plays. We’ll see how it all falls out.”

Like most young receivers. Bobo’s blocking will determine his playing time.

Cutcliffe dropped some tantalizing hints about running backs Brittain Brown and Deon Jackson.

“We’re going to go with putting Brittain and Deon on the field at the same time, in different positions. We’re going to have some fun with that.”

Redshirt freshman Marvin Hubbard III and true freshman Mateo Durant are fighting for touches behind Brown and Jackson.

“Durant has had some spectacular plays so far, as has Hubbard,” Cutcliffe says. “Those two guys may be leading us in explosives so far. I see a balance of players who can make big plays that can help us win ball games.”

Trevon McSwain is back at defensive tackle, after a brief experiment on offense. He’s currently second-team, behind Edgar Cerenord and Derrick Tangleo. Massive true freshman Tajh Rice-another 340-pounder—is making a strong case for a two-deep spot.

Drew Jordan has moved ahead of Tre Hornbuckle at left defensive end, alongside Victor Dimukeje but all three will play. Terrell Lucas leads Chidi Okonya and Chris Rumph for the other second-team spot.

Josh Blackwell and Michael Carter continue to be 1 and 1A at cornerback opposite Mark Gilbert.

Cutcliffe expresses confidence in his kicking game, Colin Wareham and A.J. Reed 1-2 as kickers, Austin Parker and Jackson Hubbard competing for the punting spot, Jack Driggers the kickoff guy.

“I’m very pleased with our specialists. The place-kicking game is more consistent than it’s been in years, since we had Ross Martin.”

Cutcliffe says those third-teamers may have a chance to make an impact on special teams.

“We’re trying to find people to fill game roles. That’s how they’ll get on the field.”

He adds that he’ll likely add some freshmen to the special-teams mix late in the season to take advantage of the new redshirt rule.

“What we’re doing right now is what we’ve always done, seeing who can help us in the first game,” Cutcliffe says of the true freshmen, mentioning Rice, Bobo, Holman and McIntyre.

“We’ve got some young players right now that excite me.”

Cutcliffe is beginning his second decade at Duke and he warns against complacency.

But the trend lines are good, very good.

“This is the fastest team we’ve had here, no question. Recruiting is going really well. We’ve recruited better and we have continuity as an organization. That is unusual. So, we can better our consistency. We have to be careful not to confuse complacency with consistency. Where the program is 10 years later is so much better. You’re building a program and you’re never finished. You don’t ever arrive. You better find a joy in the building.”