Another opening, another show.
Duke unveiled its 2019 football team Saturday night in a controlled, 75-play scrimmage, open to the media.
These things tend to be pretty vanilla and this was no exception. This was Duke’s eighth practice after all. No one expected a fine-honed machine. Much of the action was 1v2, that is first-team offense against second-team defense and vice-versa. Key players like running back Deon Jackson and defensive end Victor Dimukeje were held out for minor bumps and bruises.
No problem there.
But there might be a problem at quarterback. Reserve Gunnar Holmberg sustained a knee injury earlier in the week.
“Unfortunately, Gunnar Holmberg has injured a knee,” David Cutcliffe said after the practice. “He has an imminent surgery so he will be out indefinitely. It is not a ligament. At this day and time, you try to go in and repair for long-term health. I am disappointed for him and I’m disappointed for us. I know he will do everything he can to be back for us as quickly as possible.”
Now Holmberg is a promising talent but he’s a redshirt freshman who barely saw the field last season.
But Duke is down to two recruited quarterbacks, redshirt senior Quentin Harris and redshirt sophomore Chris Katrenick.
That’s cutting it pretty thin.
Duke does have four walk-ons at the position. Only Robert Nelson played and he played a lot and had some good moments.
But as the saying goes, walk-ons are usually walk-ons for a reason.
There was no game clock but the action was divided into two halves.
The defense absolutely dominated the offense in the first half. Some of it was personnel. Brittain Brown started at running back and had a couple of solid rotations but sat down for a platoon of backups.
But the offense hurt itself with penalties and according to Cutcliffe, poor attitude.
“The thing that has to be addressed the most-and we addressed it better in the second half--were the errors, a post-snap penalty, three pre-snap penalties, a critical hold and then turnovers. . . . I want to see consistency of focus and consistency of effort. I thought we got good effort but I thought our offensive focus was poor in the first half. Will this team be able to play 60 minutes with focus and effort? . Probably the most disappointing thing in the first half [for the offense] is that when things went poorly, we emotionally made them worse. We can’t do that. That’s when you step up. C’mon. It’s a big-boy game. Somebody slaps you in the mouth, are you going to cry? That’s the mentality we can’t afford to have.”
Harris said the offense got it together at halftime.
“We’re still ironing out the kinks. You saw a lot of young guys. We’re just trying to get a feel for each other and this is the first time we’ve had a real football-like atmosphere. We just got acclimated and got into a groove and some things started happening.”
One of the things that happened during the second half was Harris hitting Aaron Young for a 34-yard touchdown. A perfect pass and a contested catch in traffic.
Young was one of a large number of previously-injured Blue Devils back on the field. Defensive tackle Edgar Cerenord had two sacks, while Cutcliffe said safety Dylan Singleton was playing the best football of his Duke career. Linebacker Brandon Hill, defensive tackle Ben Frye and running back Mataeo Durant also made appearances.
And there were some newbies. True freshman Jaylen Coleman led everyone with 63 yards on 13 rushes. Coleman is a state-champion sprinter but he also weighs 205-pounds and showed the ability to run through tackles.
He’s a keeper.
Duke moved another freshman, Jordan Waters, from safety to running back this week and Waters rushed for 54 yards on nine carries. Cutcliffe said Waters would not be going back to safety.
Waters did have to be helped off the field after the scrimmage ended but it looked like cramps to my untutored eyes.
True freshman Jalon Calhoun had two catches at wide receiver, while redshirt freshman Jarrett Garner hauled in a 44-yard scoring strike from Nelson, who threw the night’s most perfect strike,
Junior safety Michael Carter had two interceptions, barely missing a third. True freshman corner Tony Davis had a pick, while tackle Trevon McSwain and end Tre Hornbuckle also had big nights on the defensive side of the ball,
The place-kicking was shaky. A.J. Reed was two-of-three on field goals, while freshman Charlie Ham missed his only attempt. Cutcliffe confirmed that Reed was ahead of Ham at this point but “I’m concerned about the kicking game,” not a good place for a team that will need to win close games to get back to a bowl.
“We’ve got to dive into this film,” Cutcliffe said. “There’s a lot to see. Once you get into the film, you start to understand the whys and the circumstances surrounding all the things that happened out there.”