2003 Season Preview: Defense

The second part of the preview will focus on the defense. The defense returns nine starters, losing SLB <b>Jamyon Small</b> and all-ACC DE <b>Shawn Johnson</b>. It will be difficult to replace Johnson's productivity from a season ago, as he paced the Devils with 12 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss.

There are, however, many good, athletic players who will be competing to fill the void. Small's graduation closes out the Fred Goldsmith era at Duke. He was the last player recruiter by the former coach still in the program. All of the players are now Carl Franks' recruits. Lets see what the Franks players bring to the table.

Defensive line

The interior of the line is probably the best unit Duke has had in a long time. DT Matt Zielenski is the unquestioned leader. He is the strongest member of the Duke team and is a stout run-stuffing presence that Duke has lacked in previous years. A converted OLB, Zielenski has gained nearly 60 pounds in his years at Duke. He has surprising quickness and brute strength to give offensive linemen fits.

Zielenski will be joined in the lineup by Orrin Thompson. The tall, athletic Thompson offers a nice contrast to the squatty, powerful Zielenski. Though not as stout against the run, Thompson has great pursuit speed. Last year's starter, Demetrius Warrick, is another tall, rangy lineman who can really get after the ball. The other tackle in the regular rotation is sophomore Bob Benion. Benion was a lightly recruited player out of Pennsylvania who only had two DI scholarship offers (Duke and Temple). The rest of the county missed the boat on this guy. He stepped in and played siginificant minutes as a true freshman, and acquitted himself well against top competition. He's a shorter run-stopper type in the Zielenski mold, who has a bright future with the Devils.

The situation at Defensive End is not so concrete. One spot is set with returning starter Micah Harris manning one side. There are a plethora of athletic but undersized players vying for the other position. Converted linebackers Philip Alexander and Jim Scharrer are the top two candidates right now. They both are a bit undersized, but are instinctive players with a natural feel for the game. Johnson's top backup in 2002, David Martin, was slated to replace him this spring before a knee injury during the spring derailed that plan. If Martin comes back at full strength, he will definitely see plenty of playing time this fall. Two other names to keep an eye on are redshirt freshman Eli Nichols and true freshman Casey Camero. Both are athletic, undersized rush ends that can really run. Look for these two to get on the field in obvious passing situations.

Linebackers

Another strength of the Duke team is the linebacking corps, led by 3-year starter, MLB Ryan Fowler. Fowler started his career at OLB, but was moved to the middle upon defensive coordinator Ted Roof's arrival. He is very strong and has an excellent nose for the ball. With 155 tackles this season, Fowler would become Duke's all-time leader in that category. He also has an outside shot at the career records for sacks and tackles for loss, needing 12 sacks and 22 TFLs respectively to reach those milestones. He's not likely to break them all but the tackles and tackles for loss marks seem to be in jeopardy. Conveterd RB Malcolm Ruff and junior J.T. Cape will backup Fowler in the middle. Both are good sized athletes that can run.

The outside linebacker slots appear to be in good hands as well. Guiseppe Aguano has the task of replacing Jamyon Small's production in the SLB slot. He has lots of experience from being in the regular LB rotation for the past two seasons. He received a start in the UNC game last season after Small tore his ACL in the game prior. Pushing Aguano for playing time, however, will be Deandre White. Despite being the Devils' lightest linebacker (205 lbs.), White is a fierce hitter and has blazing speed for a linebacker. His hit on Alex Wade during the 2002 spring game is still being talked about amongst fans. The WPB position will be manned by budding star Brendan Dewan. In his first collegiate start against ECU last year, he recorded 12 tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown. True freshman could definitely crack the two-deep at OLB. Both Corey Sobel and Alex Williams have tremendous speed and a natural feel for the game. One or both could see early action, especially if there are any injuries..

Defensive backs

This is the main area of concern for Duke on defense. The good news is that everyone on the two-deep chart returns. The bad news is that these are the same players that allowed an ACC-worst 255 yards per game through the air. The outlook for this season might not be so grim though. Leading the Duke secondary is senior SS Terrell Smith, a candidate for post-season accolades. Smith was Duke's second leading tackler last season. He is somewhat small for a SS, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for in explosion. Smith has a good nose for the ball and is solid in run-support. Junior Alex Green sits atop the depth chart at FS. He is a fluid athlete, but sometimes makes mistakes in coverage. Backup CJ Woodard provides solid backup at both safety spots. Last year's starting CB Brian Greene might also move to safety and push for playing time.

Two-year starter Kenneth Stanford has one CB position is locked up. Pushed into action as a red-shirt freshman in 2001, Stanford improved markedly last year, and could have a real breakout season in 2003. He was near the top of the conference last year in pass break-ups. If he can turn some of those break-ups into interceptions, he will move toward the upper-tier of CBs in the ACC. The other starting position is there for the taking. Last year's starter Brian Greene is a great tackler and had good size, but was more of a safety that played corner out of necessity. SR Temo George brings experience to the position, but is undersized and has trouble guarding the taller receivers in the league. One of the pleasant surprises of the off-season was the medical clearance of Jamin Pastore to resume is football career. Pastore suffered a career-threatening injury against FSU two years ago and, for a while, it looked as if he would receive a medical hardship. He is, however, back on the field and ready to compete for playing time. Pastore has good size and agility, but there will be some rust from the 2-year layoff. Converted RB Von Bryant has excellent size and speed, but has virtually no experience at the position.

The defensive backfield is probably the one unit that will be most helped by the incoming freshmen. CBs Cedric Mason and John Talley both have good size. Mason might have a bit more athletic ability, but Talley is no slouch. At safety, Brandon Tapps and Jeramy Edwards will push the upperclassmen for playing time. With all of the returning players and the addition of the freshmen, Duke will almost certainly get better play out of the secondary.

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