Both Brandon Boyce and Phillip Carter factored into the two-deep for Duke heading into camp with Carter listed as the starter at the Rover position and Boyce as a second string defensive tackle option.
Losing a starter at any position is tough to overcome, but for a Duke program that has had a lot of recruiting success in the secondary, it’s the loss of Boyce that could cause the biggest immediate issue.
The loss of Boyce’s unique skill set will throw yet another wrench into the Blue Devils’ plans of developing a pass rush and penetrating presence at the line of scrimmage. A season ago Duke struggled for prolonged periods of time to generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks which prompted some internal changes in the program that included a much publicized change to the off-season workout plan as well as the hiring of new defensive line coach Ben Albert.
As camp has progressed the feedback on the impact of the Albert hire has been extremely positive from both fellow coaches and players. Coach Cutcliffe has sung his praises while Marquis Price told TDD that Albert is “a difference maker” who “pushes players to levels they never thought possible”.
While the preparation and coaching may have been ratcheted up for the Blue Devils, Duke is still dealing with bad luck and a lack of depth along the defensive line. And the Boyce suspension serves only to illustrate that point.
At the start of camp the Blue Devils were looking to start fifth year senior A.J. Wolf and either fourth year junior Mike Ramsay or third year sophomore Edgar Cerenord on the interior of the line. Backing up those positions were to be Boyce, redshirt freshman Zach Morris, and redshirt sophomore Quaven Ferguson.
Boyce was to be the spark plug pass rusher who utilized a very quick first step to get into the backfield much like former undersized Wake Forest D-tackle Nikita Whitlock. Meanwhile, both Morris (290) and Ferguson (305) entered camp stronger and ready to provide strength in numbers on the inside. On paper it looked as though the Blue Devils were plenty deep enough up front.
But Morris missed all of last year with a knee injury and has been limited t non-contact work early in camp. Similarly, Ferguson had his knee scoped and has been held out as well. And now, Duke has lost Boyce for the games against NC Central, Wake Forest, and Northwestern.
In short, of the six defensive tackles listed on the roster, three are out.
The depth probably won’t matter in week one, but as they drive for a fifth straight bowl game, Duke simply has to beat Wake Forest in Week Two. Assuming they get by both the Eagles and Deacons, playing against a run-heavy Northwestern squad on the road in Week Three is certainly not appealing if answers aren’t found.
Assuming neither Ferguson or Morris is ready to go by Weeks Two and Three, the only option appears to be to move a defensive end inside or, perhaps, convert an offensive lineman to defensive tackle. The former seems the most likely option could be redshirt freshman Trevon McSwain (6-6, 265) or, perhaps classmate Twazanga Mugala could spell the tackles at times.
Whatever the solution, there’s no denying that the coaches have their work cutout for them in at least the first three weeks, and that one player’s bad decisions have set both he and his team back.