John Watson

One on one with Duke DT AJ Wolf

With the end of his fifth and final preseason camp at Duke approaching, we sat down with redshirt senior defensive tackle A.J. Wolf to discuss the changes in the program, how the Blue Devils are dealing with injuries and depth challenges, and what the season may bring.

How is camp progressing - both on an individual and team level?

It’s been great for me.  It’s my last one and so I’m really working on giving it my all because this is it for me, and so it’s on me to set an example with my energy on a daily basis.   As a team we’re getting better.  We’re competing against each other really hard. 

A lot has been made of Coach Albert’s impact on the program.  Being that he’s your position coach, what have you seen from him?

He’s done a tremendous job.  With this being my fifth year, I’ve seen a lot, but Coach Albert is a guy who demands everyone’s best, and he doesn’t accept mediocrity.  When you’re tired, he’ll push you harder.  He does that with the defensive line, and he challenges the defense as a whole at times.  

Speaking of the defensive line, you guys have suffered some injuries and suspensions of late.  So how do you combat what looks to be a lack of depth right now for the first few weeks?

Yeah, that is unfortunate.  You never want to see those kinds of things happen, but at the same time it means there is more practice and more reps for us.  It’s definitely not ideal, and we want everyone to be with us and to be healthy, but we’ll be OK with the guys we have in the long run. 

Those situations, and the nature of camp allows for a ‘next man up situation I would assume.  

Yes, it does.

With that in mind, which players that haven’t played a ton to this point have stepped up on the line in your estimation?

Dominic McDonald has had a great camp and Danny Doyle has been really good as well.  He’s a former walk-on who got a scholarship as I’m sure you know.  Really, we have a bunch of young guys on the line, and it’s only me and Mike Ramsay who have played a bunch, so there are chances for everyone.  Edgar Cerenord has been really good as well.  He’s really strong.

One thing that was really crucial last year was developing and improving a pass rush.  How does the line improve on what it build last year in that area?

Coach Albert has really talked about the pass rush being a collective effort.  It’s not about one guy breaking through and getting a sack or hurry.  We know that on every passing down and every third and long we need to work together.  To make sure that gaps are covered, and that highs and lows are accounted for.  We will need to rush as a unit versus a one on one approach.  We have definitely done that in camp against our offense.

That collaborative approach seems to demand increased communication.   Is that something that falls on your shoulders as a fifth year guy?

Yeah, I need to set an example because, as you said, it’s my fifth year and I have a better knowledge of the defense and what has to be done depending on what kind of offense we’re facing.  Sometimes I’ll make changes and some times it’ll be the linebackers or the safeties.  

Speaking of the offense, you’ve had a few weeks to compete against them and they have new players and a new coordinator.   So what can you tell us about the differences you’ve seen?

At running back, Jela Duncan has had an unbelievable camp.  He’s really healthy and he’s been lights out.  I’ll just say that it’s not a lot of fun to try to tackle him.

With Thomas Sirk out, you’ve had a chance to see the other QBs as well…

All of them have done well and have taken the position by storm.  The play calling has been a little difference, and each of them seems to have really grasped what they are asked to do.

On paper it seems that this team could have taken another step forward, but with a tougher schedule it could have a tougher time finding the same success as a year ago.   Is that something you’ve talked about during this “Year of the Beast” offseason? 

It’s not something that was specifically brought up.  Instead the coaches have said that this program has built up and has an opportunity to be on national television three times this season, and may be more.  The Year of the Beast wasn’t really meant to react to the schedule, it’s more of a way to say that guys need to give it everything they’ve got like the guys who came before to build this program up did.  They left a legacy and now we have to keep that up because Duke is now an established Power Five football program.

Last question, you mentioned legacy…you’re in the last few days of your final camp.  What’s different in August of 2016 compared to when you got here in 2012?  

Expectations.  

When I first got here the track was still around the field, and we’ve had so many renovations to the facilities.   

My first year we were coming off a 3-9 season and when we got that 6th win it was a relief.  That first camp I’d say there was a hunger to do something special, but I don’t know that anyone expected to get there.  Now, after four straight bowl games, there’s an expectation that the team will keep this kind of success up.  We expect to maintain and grow this successful legacy.   There’s an aura around this program when it comes to winning because that’s who we are now.  


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