By LESLIE GABER
Duke Sports Information
DURHAM, N.C. -- While the Blue Devils' defensive line has been reshaped over the offseason due to injuries and position changes, one young lineman aims to emerge as a pass rushing threat.
Defensive end Dezmond Johnson, who redshirted as a freshman before seeing significant playing time in 2011, is scheduled to be a key component in Duke's defensive scheme again this fall. The redshirt sophomore's efforts to improve have not gone unnoticed by his teammates, who think he is poised for a successful season.
"In pass rush moves he's been really impressive," said offensive guard Dave Harding. "You've got to buckle down and get ready for him when he's coming in. He's stepped up with some injuries on the D-line, so I think he's doing really well."
Johnson saw action in all 12 games last year with starts against Georgia Tech and North Carolina. In that span, the Nashville, Tenn., native logged 20 tackles, three tackles for loss, one quarterback sack and two quarterback pressures. However, he says his development on defense is still an ongoing process, and that he approaches each practice as an opportunity to learn and improve.
"Taking the critique from [defensive line] Coach [Rick] Petri and just listening to what he tells me - he'll tell me if I'm too wide or I need to shoot my hands faster," Johnson said. "If he tells me something I did wrong one practice, I try to improve on that for the next one."
The influence of veteran players on the Blue Devils' defensive line also has been valuable for Johnson. He cites the leadership of returning starters Sydney Sarmiento and Justin Foxx, as well as redshirt senior Kenny Anunike - who will be back after missing all but four games in 2011 due to injury - as key to his growth over the past year.
"Those are great guys on the field because they have been there," Johnson said. "If I don't understand something, I can go to them and ask them what their opinion would be or what should I do on this assignment. They know the game better and they've been here longer, so just listening to them, it's great to have them."
With experienced players like Anunike, Sarmiento and Foxx lining up beside him, Johnson believes the defensive line is poised to turn a few heads this season. He says the overall athleticism of the group has greatly improved, and that the work ethic and determination of his teammates has already been evident through a couple of weeks of preseason camp.
All of this, Johnson says, is helping him grow as a lineman heading into his second full season of action. With 12 games and a couple of summers of work already under his belt, he feels his level of confidence and comfort within Duke's defensive system has increased dramatically from where he was as a rookie.
"Sitting out my freshman year gave me time to sit back and watch from different aspects," Johnson remarked. "And then actually playing last year helped out a lot because I used what I learned my freshman year and applied that to the field. I have a better understanding of the game."-d-u-k-e-