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Jim Takes In Duke Spring Football

Dark clouds overhead but rays of hope on the field

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Duke v Northwestern
EVANSTON, IL- SEPTEMBER 08: Quentin Harris #18 of the Duke Blue Devils throws the ball against the Northwestern Wildcats during the second half on September 8, 2018 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. The Duke Blue Devils won 21-10.
Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

The Duke Spring Showcase.

Sure sounds bucolic. A balmy spring breeze, robins, maybe a daffodil or two, a chance to show off the program to fans, parents and recruits.

Umm, no. This is a spring in North Carolina, where the unofficial state motto is if-you-don’t-like-the weather, wait-a-minute.

A steady rain, a cold wind and temperatures in the 50s postponed all the non-football components of the day and didn’t do all that much for the football components.

It was nasty.

And Duke held out more than a few key players as a precaution, Deon Jackson among them.

David Cutcliffe said Duke had 13 players on the two-deep sitting out.

And as with all intrasquad competitions, there was a strong zero-sum element. Every Duke sack was a sack allowed by Duke, every turnover forced by Duke was a turnover committed by Duke.

The format wasn’t exactly designed for drama. The ball was placed somewhere and the offense tried to score and the defense tried to stop them and then they did it again.

A short roster and sub-optimal weather shortened the number of plays run.

So, I’m not going to try to craft a coherent narrative. Nobody kept score.

But I did notice some things that are worth sharing.

The quarterbacks did a lot of running. Quentin Harris is pretty good at it. He rushed for 31 yards on six carries, with two touchdowns, while connecting on seven-of-11 passes, for 69 yards.

Gunnar Holmberg also showed some running ability, Chris Katrenick not so much.

Harris was clearly the superior quarterback. But it may have been as simple as the fact that he was throwing to Jake Bobo, the rising sophomore receiver. Bobo had five catches, for 31 yards and a score, from Harris. Bobo didn’t get anything deep but he looks like a possession receiver to die for.

Duke did hit two long shots.

Harris connected on a 38-yarder to Aaron Young, who made a diving catch on the sideline.

“He saved me there,” Harris said. “I overthrew him but he made a great catch.”

Young did miss some time this spring due to injury but he looked healthy and animated Friday night after missing most of last season with hamstring issues.

Katrenick hit Darrell Harding for 37 yards.

Never heard of Darrell Harding?

He’s a true freshman from Florida, 6-4 worth of wide receiver. Harding somehow managed to win one of the two awards for most improved offensive player, a curious designation for a true freshman in his first month of practice competition.

But there’s a lot of buzz about Harding and there are lots of holes to fill on the wide-receiver depth chart.

One to keep an eye on.

A couple of young defensive backs also made a positive impression. Redshirt freshman cornerback Jeremiah Lewis had the game’s only turnover with an interception but the real eye-opener for me was true freshman cornerback Jalen Alexander, who made plays as a defender and put away Brittain Brown in the open field after Brown gave him his best shake-and-bake moves.

Duke’s defensive line was better than Duke’s offensive line, which is no surprise. End Victor Dimukeje had two tackles for a loss and a pass deflection in a performance Cutcliffe called “disruptive.”

But the offensive line competed and won some battles. Brown had 51 yards on eight carries, so somebody was blocking for him.

Duke’s offensive line has been somewhat makeshift. Tackle Jaylen Miller made his first appearance of the spring in the Showcase, after being deemed fully recovered from last fall’s surgery. Tackle Robert Kraeling has been sick, tackle Patrick Leitten missed all spring after surgery and guard Jake Rimmer just had surgery.

Still, color me surprised when I saw Jacob Monk playing right tackle. Monk is a highly-touted 300-pounder but played inside in high school. But David Cutcliffe said that Monk would start if this season began today.

Senior guard Julian Santos and redshirt junior Jack Wohlabaugh had big springs.

Obviously, a small snap-shot of a program with a lot of developing to do and all summer and then fall to develop.

“We got a lot of little looks at some game-like situations,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. A lot to study. I think, all in all, I’m interested in seeing what a healthy Duke football team looks like.”

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