Duke safety Michael Carter II and center Will Taylor met with the media Tuesday morning to discuss a variety of subjects, including Duke’s upcoming visit to South Bend and the always formidable Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
Carter was recently named one of Duke’s five captains, along with Jack Wohlabaugh, Noah Gray, Deon Jackson and Chris Rumph II.
The captains are selected by the players. Their most visible responsibility is going to midfield for the pregame coin toss. But behind the scenes they’re a leadership group, a bridge between the players and the coaches.
COVID-19 has dropped a new responsibility on the captain’s collective laps.
“We just help reiterate what the coaches are telling us as far as how to continue our mitigation,” Carter said. “We’ve got to hold everybody accountable and everybody has to hold themselves accountable, just to make sure everyone is doing their part.”
David Cutcliffe suggested yesterday that Duke was passive early in last year’s meeting with Notre Dame, helping dig an early hole.
Carter says he also saw that lack of aggression.
“I think that we weren’t as aggressive as we should have been, especially in the tackling phase of the game. What we’re coming out to do Saturday is establish that physicality just tackle better, put the running back on the ground, put the quarterback on the ground, make it hard for those explosive guys.”
Quarterback Ian Book is one of those explosive guys. He ate Duke’s lunch last year on scramble plays and Carter says it can’t happen again
“He’s very good at keeping plays alive. We’ve got to tackle him on the first chance. He’s very difficult to tackle. We’ve got to wrap up and swarm to the ball. Everybody has to swarm to the ball.”
Duke’s defensive backs may have the team’s best combination of talent, depth and experience. Carter says that group is ready to accept the implications of that strength.
“We can definitely have a role in carrying this team far. Coach G [Matt Guerrieri] says we need to be the tempo setters, bring the energy, play fast, make sure everybody’s focused.”
Taylor followed Carter. He’s Duke’s starting center now, taking over for Jack Wohlabaugh, out for the season following an ACL injury.
Taylor got three starts late last year when Wohlabaugh was out with a foot injury.
He says he used this summer to his benefit.
“The whole quarantine served me well, helped get my diet right. I worked out a lot.”
That extra work left him at 305 pounds. He says he ended last season at about 290.
“It’s good weight. I come out here and I feel confident. I feel like I know the offense. I feel like I know what I’m doing. I feel strong out here. I feel mentally prepared.”
Duke averaged a woeful 3.6 yards per rush last season, down from 2018’s 4.4.
Taylor says a renewed emphasis on smash-mouth football will turn that around.
“Everything we’ve been doing in this shortened off-season, we’re taking every day to come out ready to work. Coach [Greg] Frey has prepared us, gotten our minds right, helped build up a new kind of culture and standard that we play to. I feel like everyone out here can feel it when we’re practicing that there’s something different in the air,”
“I feel like we’re more physical. That’s the biggest thing. I’ve had a lot of fun coming out here these last few weeks where you line up across from a guy and all you’re thinking about is running straight through him. It’s fun to play like that. The less you have to think about in your head the more you can think about being physical. I feel like that’s going to be our key.”
With Wohlabaugh out Duke’s center contingent consists of Taylor, redshirt freshman Elijah Wroten and true freshmen Graham Barton and Addison Penn.
That makes Taylor the veteran in the room.
“I feel like I’m a lead-by-example guy,” he says. “I come out here ready to work every day. There are going to be some days where I’m not bringing it as much and someone else can pick me up and get my head right and then vice-versa.”
Duke hopes to start reaping the benefits of all that hard work this Saturday, in front of a national TV audience and an opponent bursting with next-level talent.