By Paxton Delany
The Duke Blue Devils won a total of three games in their 2011 season, a disappointing outcome to say the least. They were second from the bottom among ACC teams, barely beating out Maryland. Duke’s overall record was 3-9 and 1-7 in the ACC.
Duke started its 2011 season barely losing to Richmond (21-23) and then being greatly defeated by Stanford (14-44). The Blue Devils then turned it around and won straight three games against Boston College (20-19), Tulane (48-27), and Florida International (31-27). The Blue Devils then faced the bulk of their ACC schedule. The Devils fell to Florida State (16-41), barely to Wake Forest (23-24), Virginia Tech (10-14), Miami (14-49), Virginia (21-31), Georgia Tech (31-38) and North Carolina (21-37). A painful season for the Blue Devils indeed.
After five seasons with Duke, coach David Cutcliffe will be looking for an improvement in this 2012 season. The bad news? The Blue Devils dropped Boston College and Tulane from their schedule, meaning two of their wins from 2011 are not on the docket. Duke picked up ACC powerhouse Clemson, Memphis (C-USA) and North Carolina Central (MEAC).
While the Blue Devils appear to be breaking barriers and coming oh-so-close to beating some ACC teams – Wake (23-24) and Virginia Tech (10-14), for example – they did lose key players like Matt Daniels 1st-team All-ACC and 2nd-team All-American. Daniels signed with the St. Louis Rams in April this year where he’s competing with former Cavalier Rodney McLeod for a spot in the secondary. Duke graduated 11 more seniors as well. The losses include: wide receivers Preston Scott and Donovan Varner, running back Jay Hollingsworth, safeties Lee Butler and Jeffrey Faris, kickers Jeffery Ijjas and Guillermo Freile, punter Alex King, tight ends George Pearkes and Cooper Helfet, and lastly center back Johnny Williams. Helfet recently signed a free agent contact with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.
Even with all those losses, the Blue Devils will be returning many of their key players, including team leaders like quarterback Sean Renfree, running backs sophomore Juwan Thompson and junior Desmond Scott, and receiver Connor Vernon. Also returning to the line-up is offensive guard Laken Tomlinson, who was named a 1st-team freshman All-American. Kelby Brown, a junior linebacker, returns after injuring his knee and having successful ACL surgery.
New to Duke is former Buckeye Jeremy Cash, an Ohio State transfer who transferred in for the spring of 2012. New to the field but not to the roster is running back Josh Snead. Since being injured in 2010 and 2011, Snead is ready to be back on the field and add some much needed depth to the backfield. New recruits coming to Duke’s campus in 2012 will be redshirted for the most part. True freshmen Thomas Sirk is one of the few recruits expected to be stepping up to the line to play in the 2012 season. Other “freshmen” will be new to the playing field for the Blue Devils but not to the team after redshirt and development seasons. The 2010 recruiting class, for example, will be stepping on to the field and adding much needed depth.
Redshirting freshmen is part of the plan at Duke. For 2012, the Devils signed 20 freshmen and redshirts may be in the future for most of them this year. Starting Blue Devils guard David Harding talked about his own redshirting experience: “It’s important to be given that year to get bigger because in the trenches, the size difference between high school and college is a lot different. Getting that time to get in the weight room and put on weight … and also time to understand the playbook. It is something that’s really beneficial.”
Not only do the Devils have new recruits coming in, but new to the coaching staff is John Latina. Latina replaces coaching assistant Matt Luke. Latina served under Cutcliffe at Ole Miss and now will serve as the offensive line coach at Duke.
On March 17, the Blue Devils played their first scrimmage of the spring season. Quarterback Renfree complete 15 of 19 passes for 135 yards and 2 touchdowns. Blair Holliday caught 8 passes and completed 1 touchdown. Josh Snead ran 61 yards and 1 touchdown on 8 attempts. Safety Walt Canty took the one turnover of the day with an interception. Coach Cutcliffe commented on the first spring scrimmage saying, “We really got out of it what we wanted.” On March 24, the Devils played their second scrimmage of the spring season where Renfree completed 14 of 17 passes for a total of 220 yards; that almost doubled his first scrimmage yardage. Renfree also completed 2 touchdowns to tight end Issac Blakeney and wide receiver Blair Holliday. Corey Gattis led the receivers with 6 catches for 81 yards. Snead carried the ball 7 times for 27 yards. On the defensive end, safety Jordan Byas took a quarterback sack and a pass break-up. Linebacker Walt Canty also registered a tackle. At Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke hosted its annual spring scrimmage, the third and final of the spring season, in late March. Thomas Sirk completed 11 of 13 passes for 90 yards and completed 2 touchdowns. Sophomore running back Eric Adams had 31 rushes for 107 yards. The offensive MVP was quarterback Brandon Connette, who completed 4 of 7 passes for 83 yards and 1 touchdown and posted 6 rushes for 54 yards. The Defensive MVP was awarded to cornerback Ross Cockrell, who had 2 pass break-ups, 1 quarterback pressure and 4 tackles, one contributing to a fumble.