If Duke is going to improve in the win column, the pass defense must do a better job against the pass. Free safety Alex Green is a 3-year starter, and has shown flashes of brilliance. He has a good nose for the ball, and great timing when going for interceptions. With his senior year coming, this is his time to show consistency and lead by example. Improvement against the pass can also come from better defensive line play, and senior defensive tackle Orrin Thompson is the key. He has NFL size and ability (6'6", 310 lbs), but disappeared at times in 2003. When Ted Roof took over in mid-season, however, Thompson's play improved dramatically. The coaches must keep him hungry and focused this season, as he is the one true giant on the Duke defense. If the motor runs non-stop, he could be a sleeper all-ACC candidate. Both players seemed to respond to Ted Roof's motivation and coaching style late in the 2003 season. Look for big things from both this fall.
Which of last year's red shirt freshmen are ready to contribute?
The red shirt class of 2003 was small in numbers, but there are a couple of players that should see some game action this fall. At offensive tackle, Garret Mason is an imposing figure, standing 6'5" and almost 300 lbs. He is built like a truck and definitely has the size to compete this season. He will probably be the backup for Christian Mitchell at right tackle.
What position will receive the biggest upgrade this off-season?
There will be several units that should show marked improvement this off-season. The one that stands out in my eyes right now, however, is the defensive backfield. In recent years Duke has struggled to field two decent cornerbacks, and the safety play has also been suspect. As spring approaches, Duke has 3-year starters returning at corner (Kenny Stanford) and safety (Alex Green).
The biggest improvement will come with the good depth the Devils will have on the outside. With John Talley, Deonto McCormick, and Cedric Mason, Duke has 3 young, gifted athletes that will make the porous Duke secondary a thing of the past. With the influx of younger players at corner, junior Brian Greene will be allowed to move to his natural safety spot. With 2 years of corner experience under his belt, he should be an excellent coverage safety. Also blessed with good size, he is a sure tackler and can provide support against the run.
Which 2004 player(s) has the biggest shoes to fill (replacing a 2003 senior)?
While the defense only lost a few starters, they were the backbone of Duke's run defense. The anchor of the 2003 squad was all-ACC performer Matt Zielenski. He was a bull in the middle of the defensive line, clogging up running lanes and occupying blockers. His production will have to be replaced by the defensive tackle rotation of Orrin Thompson, Bob Benion, Demetrius Warrick, and Kevin Wilson. Benion was a medical redshirt in 2003, but was our best freshman in the 2002 season. If he can regain his health, he will quickly become a force.
Demetrius Warrick is a good athlete for a defensive tackle, but doesn't have the low center of gravity needed to clog up the middle. He is more suited to line up over the guards than the center. Wilson has a low center of gravity, but is a little small for the nose. It will take a team effort by these four to offset the loss of "The Z-man". There will also be a big leadership void on defense, with the graduation of strong safety Terrell Smith. Teammates respected him because of the way he played on Saturdays. There is little chance that anyone will be able to replace the leadership void his departure creates.
Converted cornerback Brian Greene and reserve safety C.J. Woodard will at least try to step up and replace his production.
What can we expect to accomplish by the end of the spring practice?
I think we will definitely get a feel for the quarterback situation by the end of the spring. Many are really excited to see what Curt Dukes can do running the same offense as the other quarterbacks. Schneider and Dapolito will not go quietly, however, and they have both have an experience edge on Dukes.
We will also get a first look at the new Duke offense under the direction of Marty Galbraith. He is nicknamed "The Mad Scientist" by some, so one can only wonder what schemes he has to implement. We will also see some players changing positions. The new staff will have fresh ideas on how to best utilize the available personnel for maximum results. There will definitely be one, and probably two, players moved to the offensive line for numbers. The one position that Duke fans will have to take a wait and see approach on is wide receiver. There are some home run hitters arriving in the fall in the freshman class. Before depth charts are finalized, the staff will want to see what the new players can do with college-level competition.
The rest of the depth chart will probably work itself out during the course of the spring. Of course, that doesn't mean things can't change over the summer. All in all, it is an exciting time to be a Duke football fan. When is the last time this sentence didn't sound far-fetched?