DEFENSIVE FRONT With a quick glance, it is easy to see that Duke’s defensive line group is among the nation’s most youthful units at the position. Only one player – Charlie Hatcher – enters his final season of eligibility, and the roster for spring drills includes six rookies that redshirted during the 2010 campaign. Hatcher is the only player with 20 or more games of experience under his belt.
"Charlie will be a really important cog," Cutcliffe said. "He must feel like a camp counselor with a bunch of rookies coming to camp with him."
Hatcher has played in 33 career contests, starting 24, and owns totals of 98 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and nine quarterback pressures. A year ago, he registered at least one tackle behind the line of scrimmage in all eight ACC tilts. This spring, Duke’s defensive linemen will get their first taste of new assistant coach Rick Petri, who joined the staff to replace departed coordinator Marion Hobby.
"Rick is an extremely gifted teacher," Cutcliffe said. “Just look at the players he has prepared to play in the NFL; he knows what he’s doing with defensive linemen.”
SIGHTS & SOUNDS On occasion during the season, football coaches around the country will employ a sound system at the practice field to simulate crowd noise. This spring, the Blue Devils have a natural off-field distraction with the construction of the Duke Multi-Purpose Fieldhouse, located adjacent to the Brooks Practice Field.
“I told our squad and our coaching staff this is high-dollar crowd noise going on down here,” Cutcliffe said. “With the construction project, we certainly told them to continue working. We told them to continue doing whatever they do. It is basically crowd noise. The focus and the energy has not changed out here. I’ve been really impressed with our coaches. It’s made our people communicate. I’m loving watching our defense communicate – be louder, be more assertive – which is something we’ve really got to work on anyway.”
The 80,000-square foot facility features a 120-yard playing surface and is expected to be completed in August of 2011. The building, designed and constructed by The Beck Group with primary use scheduled for Duke’s football and campus recreation programs, will have a 65-foot ceiling at its peak and also include a filming tower, retractable goalpost and locker room facility for game officials. The lead gift of $6 million was provided by former Duke All-America running back Bob Pascal.
PARKER BOOSTS TIGHT END GROUP David Cutcliffe’s offenses have always utilized the tight end in blocking schemes and pass patterns, and 2011 appears to be no different from the past. Although Brett Huffman and Brandon King – who combined to gather 69 receptions for 689 yards and 11 touchdowns in their respective careers – graduated, the Blue Devils welcome back into the mix Danny Parker, a redshirt senior who did not play a season ago while nursing an ankle injury.
“Danny’s really our most physical player at tight end,” commented Cutcliffe. “He is such a great competitor. He was redshirted, and when you’re redshirted you kind of back off a little bit. That’s just the natural process, particularly as an upperclassman. He’s enthused and excited about being out here and just watching that position right now, I see a lot of positive things coming out of there. Again, two seniors like we had a year ago with Cooper (Helfet) and Danny, and then some very capable young players there. We need some boost; it’s an area we’re going to continue to recruit hard because it’s so critical to our success.”
In Parker, Duke gets back a proven veteran who has appeared in 32 career games with nine catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns. He will compliment returning lettermen Cooper Helfet (HM All-ACC; 34 receptions, 380 yards, 2 TDs in 2010) and Jack Farrell (played in all 12 games in 2010) as well as redshirt freshman Braxton Deaver, who was impressive as a member of the scout team last fall.
BROWN STATUS Last fall, David Cutcliffe had trouble keeping then true freshman Kelby Brown off the field when he was healthy. The head coach is now struggling with same problem even though Brown is still recovering from off-season knee surgery.
“If Kelby had his way, he’d practice,” Cutcliffe said. “And I’m being dead serious. You have to put reins on him a little bit. He is an amazing youngster and his pain tolerance is almost too good. If he’s not careful he’s going to hurt himself.”
After recording 63 tackles and an NCAA-best four fumble recoveries in nine games, Brown was injured against Georgia Tech and missed the season finale the following week. He is expected to return to the field this summer, but for now, the Matthews, N.C., native must watch spring drills from the sideline.
“He should be back, full go, before August,” noted Cutcliffe. “I want him back full go in July where he’s getting that kind of work we need with our squad before we start.”
TURNOVERS One point of emphasis for Cutcliffe and the Blue Devil offense this spring will be on valuing the possession of the football. In 2010, Duke suffered 28 turnovers – the second-highest total in the ACC behind Miami’s 36.
“Our entire offensive team has got to be centered around taking care of the football,” said Cutcliffe. “We had 28 turnovers a year ago, which is almost twice as many as what our standard has become. And, I don’t want any of them, believe me. But if you get in the 14-15 range then you’re in the upper echelon of teams. You get into the 27, you’re certainly doubling that and getting into the lower echelon.”
CUTCLIFFE ON THE 2011 SCHEDULE “I think it’s a great looking schedule. I like the fact that we have five games, then the open date, and then seven. Opening up with an outstanding FCS team in Richmond, followed by one of the best teams returning in college football in Stanford here are big tests in both the first and second weeks. You know we’re going to have to be ready. We’re going to have to come out of the shoot ready. To open up with Richmond, then probably a top five team in Stanford, and then go on the road and play at Boston College, at a venue we’re not all that familiar with, for our first conference game in the third game, that is quite a challenge.”