Duke Football Scrimmage Notebook

The Blue Devils hit the field on Saturday night in Durham for the team's first scrimmage of the season. Several new players were factoring in all over the field as the coaches work towards establishing a two-deep for the season opener against Tulane. Here's our practice notebook.

OFFENSIVE NOTES

- After losing Jamison Crowder to the Washington Redskins in the 2015 NFL Draft, there was a huge void in the Duke offense as the Blue Devils searched for a top, go-to wide receiver.  If Saturday night is any indication, the player to look to is Johnell Barnes who caught five passes for 103 yards on the night.  Each of those five catches came in different areas of the fields and what set Barnes apart from other receivers was his ability to make and extend plays after the catch.   He had, perhaps, the highlight catch of the night on a 37 yard bomb from Sirk down the left sideline, bringing down the catch with a defensive back draped all over him.

- If Barnes is going to be the top receiver, then Max McCaffrey will be a solid No. 2 option for Thomas Sirk.  The senior made four catches for 42 yards on the night, and was solid with his routes and making tough catches over the middle when needed.  The third starter, Chris Taylor, saw limited targets throughout the night.  

- One of the themes throughout the night was mixing in the twos with the ones and sometimes the threes with the twos as the coaches were looking for “those players who fit with one another” according to Coach Cutcliffe.  One of the player who got a number of snaps with the first string was T.J. Rahming who played a lot in the slot and seemed to be a target for screens and quick outs. 

- The running game got a lot of attention from the coaching staff, with starter Shaquille Powell seeing limited snaps on the night.  Recently converted running back Nico Pierre earned a lot of praise from teammates and coaches as he continually picked up blocks in the passing and running game.  

- Starting quarterback Thomas Sirk had a good night, completing 13-of-21 passes with at least two passes dropped by second string wideouts getting reps with the ones.   Back up Parker Boehme completed six of 10 passes including one 45 yard bomb to Barnes.  

- The third string quarterback at the moment appears to be Quentin Harris who rolled out and got away from pressure routinely, extending plays with his legs.  When he was flushed outside, Harris could usually find a dump off pass or knew when to get rid of the ball.   After a few series, he flipped positions with Daniel Jones.  Jones has a very good looking throwing motion and seems to be extremely accurate, though not as mobile as Harris.  

- Along the offensive line, the starters appear to be Gabe Brandner, Cody Robinson, Matt Skura, Tanner Stone, and Casey Blaser.  The second string was Christian Harris, Alex Skidmore, Tripp McNeill, Sterling Korona, and Zach Harmon although Jake Sanders was held out of action along with Lucas Patrick.

- On special teams, Duke had Ryan Smith, T.J. Rahming, Max McCaffrey, and Keyston Fuller handling punt return duties with Johnell Barnes and Quay Mann returning kicks.  

DEFENSIVE NOTES

- The top defensive back from our point of view was Alonzo Saxton II who has been working with the starters after the injury to Bryon Fields.  Saxton was all over the field for a span of about six plays, recording a couple of pass breakups and then an interception off a tipped pass.   He got beat by Barnes on one of the longer passes, but came back and locked up Duke’s top pass catcher on the next series. 

- At linebacker, Duke’s not overly huge this season with Zavier Carmichael at 6-foot and 220 pounds and Dwayne Norman at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds.   But what they lack in size they more than make up with in speed.  Several times the two linebackers were shooting into gaps and stuffing the run before dropping into coverage and sticking with the various receivers in coverage on the same series.      Carmichael finished with an interception and a fumble recovery.

- Interestingly enough, Carmichael lined up alongside freshman Joe Giles-Harris on several snaps towards the end of the scrimmage with the freshman playing well and assisting on a few stops.   Classmate Ben Humphreys also looked good, and seems to have a knack for sniffing out plays and meeting the ball at the ideal point.  He needs to get stronger, but you can see the instincts and how they will translate.  

- Up front the Blue Devils have several players on the roster who have the tools to compete at the ACC level.  Each of Mike Ramsay, Quaven Ferguson, and Brandon Boyce had their moments.  Boyce in particular was getting into the backfield (albeit against the twos and threes) with his quickness off the ball.  However, when he got caught by a guard, he stymied.   Many fans have wondered when Duke is going to land a big time defensive tackle, but the narrative around camp is that there’s a chance that kind of player is potentially already on the roster.  

MISCELLANEOUS 

- The construction continues in Wallace Wade Stadium with the visitor side getting more and more seat backs installed.  The goal is to have the visitor’s side done before the home opener.  

- There were three professional scouts in attendance for the scrimmage.


- Several of the first and second team players were held out of the scrimmage for various reasons.  Aside from Jela Duncan, the team is expected to be at or near full strength for the season opener.  


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