David Cutcliffe’s troops will open spring practice on Wednesday at the Brooks Practice Facility.DURHAM, N.C. – On the heels of Monday’s 2011 schedule announcement, Duke head football coach
Per NCAA regulations, the Blue Devils will take to the field a total of 15 times, with the annual Spring Game concluding the session on Saturday, March 26 at Wallace Wade Stadium. Duke returns 17 starters and 43 lettermen from a year ago, and the head coach will put his emphasis in the trenches.
“It all starts in the line of scrimmage right now for us,” said Cutcliffe. “Our capabilities up front allow us to make all the decisions on what we’re going to do. If we can’t stop the run and hold up defensively, it’s very difficult to play quality defense. That’s been the biggest challenge. We are reloading a group that we think runs better and is going to be bigger and more talented, but they’ve got to show us this spring. And offensively, first is to settle on the right five. For the first time, we really have some competition in the offensive line. With the mix of younger and older guys, it’s going to be pretty interesting. My absolute focus is going to be more on the interiors of both lines.”
Eight starters return on offense including All-ACC wide receiver Conner Vernon, who led the league with 73 pass receptions last year as a sophomore. Also back is quarterback Sean Renfree, who became just the fourth player in Duke history to throw for 3,000 or more yards in a single season, and tight end Cooper Helfet, who received all-league accolades in 2010 after catching 34 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns. While four starters return on the offensive line, Brian Moore, who started the past two seasons at right guard, shifts to center to replace veteran Bryan Morgan, who handled the snapping chores for the past three seasons.
On defense, six starters are back with safety Matt Daniels and nose guard Charlie Hatcher, both seniors, leading the charge. Daniels carded 93 tackles with 6.0 tackles for loss, three caused fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception last fall while Hatcher anchored the defensive front with 46 tackles including 7.5 behind the line of scrimmage. On the sidelines, Jim Knowles takes over as defensive coordinator while Rick Petri joins the staff to coach the defensive line.
“Jim Knowles and I have certainly spent an inordinate amount of time together talking about philosophy and about how we want to piece this thing together,” said Cutcliffe. “Our approach, that’s certainly a work in progress from the standpoint of he and I, but the good part of this is that Jim has basically done this for us at Ole Miss. I’m very familiar with where we are headed, and it’s a direction that I want to go. We’re probably going to be a little bit more of a pressure-oriented coverage. Certainly one of the things that our defense has got to do, and it goes hand in hand with the offense, we’ve got to take the ball away better than we do.”
Cutcliffe noted that four defensive players – defensive end Kenny Anunike, linebacker Kelby Brown, safety Lee Butler and cornerback Quan Stevenson – will miss the contact portion of spring drills while recovering from off-season surgeries and that Tony Foster will switch from wide receiver to cornerback.
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