The Blue Devil defense continues to add depth as the Duke coaching staff looks to improve the unit as a whole. One player to keep an eye on early is redshirt freshman Chris Holmes, the 6-foot-2, 215 pound linebacker out of Virginia.
A season ago he redshirted, but as one source put it "it was tough to keep the shirt on him late in the season." His speed and explosive nature will provide immediate depth at the linebacker, and sometimes safety position for Duke in 2014. Since he enrolled at Duke, Holmes has added 25 pounds to his frame and earned the program's Iron Duke Award which is presented annually to one offensive player, one defensive player and one player in the developmental program for their year-round commitment to strength training and conditioning.
And the results are readily apparent early on. Look for him to factor in early and often with the Blue Devils on defense. He starts the season listed as a backup, but bet on him finding his way onto the field early and often as Duke's defense looks to improve its speed and athleticism.
Classmate Joseph Ajeigbe will have his shot at running back after the Blue Devils lost Jela Duncan for the season. Like Holmes, Ajeigbe has put in the time during his offseason and leads the running back stable with a 365 pound bench press. With his strength and size, he could emerge as the team's best power back option.
Defensive back Evrett Edwards was thought to have the inside track on avoiding a redshirt last season, but the adjustment to the speed and complexity of the college game was a challenge for the Virginia native. With a year under his belt, and with the injury to Jonathan Lloyd, look for Edwards to push for playing time at either cornerback or safety.
He played last season, but a lot more is expected from Johnell Barnes who caught 15 passes for 217 yards (14.47) while returning 10 kickoffs for 204 yards (20.40). Heading into camp the word on Barnes was that he could emerge as Duke's secondary target behind all-everyting Jamison Crowder.
At right tackle, look for a battle to emerge between Tanner Stone and Casey Blaser. Both players were projected to help at times last season, and both look ready to jump in and complete a veteran group in the trenches.
In a perfect world the Blue Devils would redshirt their entire class, but need sometimes trumps all else. That seems to be the case with crop of true freshmen - especially at a few key positions.
Early reports from inside the practice facility indicate that the young defensive linemen, Edgar Cerenord and Taariq Shabazz have come in and impressed throughout the summer and into the walk throughs and non-pad drills. Of the two, Cerenord is the most likely to play as a true freshman along the inside of the defensive line, though Shabazz has earned enough buzz to be considered along the perimeter of the line.
On the other side of the ball, Shaun Wilson - the speedy running back out of Charlotte who put up incredible numbers over the last two seasons of his high school career - is a darkhorse to avoid a redshirt and play early on. As one source put it "he's a playmaker, and his tape was so much fun to watch last year. He's going to have a chance". This is another instance where the absence of Duncan will play a role in a player getting an earlier shot than expected.
Depth isn't as much of a concern for Duke among the wide receivers, but that doesn't mean that some of the kids can't and won't come in with a desire to play immediately. And some of them may be able to. We're hearing that both Chris Taylor and Trevon Lee are impressing. "They look really skilled...they do the little things well," one source indicated. Lee, of course, was one of the more highly rated recruits in the class, while Taylor’s early commitment had him under the radar. Still, depending on who you talk to, these two are neck and neck and give Duke two really good options.
The rubber meets the road this weekend as the Blue Devils will go with full pads beginning on August 9th. From there the Blue Devils will have a pair of scrimmages within a seven day period before “Meet the Blue Devils Day” occurs on August 16th.