2013 Position Preview: Defensive Backs

Blue Devils have greater ACC-ready depth in the secondary, but less game experience as 2013 begins.

DEPTH CHART (expected starters in italics):




If experience is the mantra on the defensive line, hope has to be the mantra in the secondary. Ross Cockrell is the only mainstay from last season. Cockrell tied for the ACC lead in interceptions with 5. This offseason, he has been helping the new guys get adjusted and teaching/coaching like crazy. Ross is a stabilizing force in the secondary, and you know what you get with him. The question is, who steps up in the other four spots?

Jeremy Cash, a transfer from Ohio State, is expected to make a big impact at the strike safety spot. He started for the Buckeyes two years ago but had to sit out last season as a transfer student. At 6'2" and 210 lbs, he has the size to mix it up all over the field. Cockrell pegged Cash as the guy who could lead the defense in tackles this season. Coaches have said they think they have something special in Cash. He will allow them to create different looks (like a 50-front) without giving it away by a personnel change. At the same time, he can drop back into coverage.

Across from Cockrell, veteran Garrett Patterson is on top of the depth chart for now. The team has brought in some talented freshman, and coaches said they expect those guys to get playing time. Coaches have heard good things from player-led workouts about CB Bryon Fields, a 5'11" 185 lb freshman corner. Likewise, freshman CB Evrett Edwards (5'11" 175 lbs) could see the field after enrolling at Duke in January to practice during the spring. Cockrell pegged redshirt-freshman CB DeVon Edwards as one of the fastest guys on the team. The 5'9" 185 lb cornerback could battle Garrett Patterson for the starting spot.

At the starting bandit safety spot is Dwayne Norman. He was thrown into the fire as a true freshman when the injury plague blasted through the secondary last season. He ended up starting five games and playing in all 13. At the other safety spot, Cobrin McCarthy is back after shoulder surgery cut his freshman year short. He could be pushed by freshman Quay Mann. Mann enrolled at Duke in January to practice in the spring and switched from cornerback to safety. Plus, the secondary has three other safeties coming in as true freshman. Jake Kite was rated as the 39th safety by ESPN.com. Philip Carter was rated as the 72nd safety, and Chris Holmes was rated the 77th by Scout.com.

All of the young players give coaches an option. Try someone at a position. If he doesn't work, try someone else. By sheer weight of numbers, one of them has to stick. To help guys adjust, coaches are counting on the front six of the defense to generate pressure and make plays. Plus, the coaches said they are simplifying some of the schemes and coverages. Guys will play less press coverage and work to keep receivers in front of them. This change could also limit the explosive plays that plagued Duke's defense last season.

What needs to happen in 2013:

After losing so much experience, youth has to play well this year. For this defense to succeed, several young players need to step up and fill the monstrous holes left by the departed seniors. Ross Cockrell is a fantastic cornerback solid cornerstone in the secondary. Jeremy Cash is expected to make a difference as well. Those other three spots are open, and they have to be filled by someone.

The big key for the young players is to limit the big plays. Don't give up the easy scores. Force the offense to go the full length of the field. Duke caused 23 turnovers last season (one of the only good defensive stats). An opportunistic defense can take advantage of more offensive plays by creating a turnover. Ultimately, though, points per game matter. As long as the secondary keeps teams out of the end zone, it can leave the rest to the offense.

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