Notes from the Spring Scrimmage.

This past Saturday, Duke marked the end of the spring practice season with their annual scrimmage. Due to injuries and lack of numbers at certain positions, the Devils were forced to run a situational scrimmage. While not the full game that many where hoping for, the scrimmage was entertaining and provided a small preview of things to come for the 2004 Blue Devils. Here are some random thoughs and observations about Saturday's game (er…scrimmage).

*- When taken as whole units, the defense was way ahead of the offense at this stage of the year. This was especially evident up front and on the perimeter. The defensive line had their way with the depleted offensive line, and the receivers did not get open very much throughout the scrimmage.

*- Absolutely nothing changed in the quarterback battle. Chris Dapolito started a bit shaky, but played much better after the first few series. Of course Saturday was the public unveiling of Nebraksa transfer Curt Dukes. He looked OK throwing the ball, but boy can he run. We didn't get to see Dukes's full running ability, since all the QBs were wearing the red "no contact" jerseys. I think he would have run through some of the "tackles" that were put on him. Expect to see him on the field one way or the other this fall. The front-runner, Mike Schneider, did not suit up because of injury.

*- The biggest thing that stood out was the size and ability of senior defensive tackle Orrin Thompson. He is a behemoth in the middle at 6'7", 325 lbs. There were many plays where he established a new line of scrimmage three to four yards in the backfield after the snap. He made life difficult for the interior blockers along the offensive line.

*- For the first time since I can remember at Duke, we might have some walk-ons who could play significant roles. Sure they might have played more snaps because of injuries, but several of them had their name called over the PA system more than once. Tailback Segun Akande ran the ball very well, even running through an Orrin Thompson arm tackle on one play. Safety Matt Rising is also one to watch. He made some nice tackles out on the perimeter, and really pursued to the ball well. One player who is going to be fun to watch is FB B.J. Smith. He is a very capable blocker who isn't afraid to hit anyone. His special teams play in practice has earned him the name "Captain Crunch". Seems like the captain might play his way onto the field in some capacity this fall.

*- From the limited success we had in the passing game, it seems as if Lance Johnson is our go-to-guy on the perimeter. Other than Johnson, no other wide receiver stood out. It could have been because of the patchwork offensive line we were playing with, but no other receiver had time to get open. Expect one or more of the incoming freshmen wide receivers to compete for immediate playing time.

*- Duke's team speed on defense is the best I've ever seen it. Everyone in the back 7 can really move, especially the linebackers. SLB Malcolm Ruff and WLB Brendan Dewan were all-over the place. The corners and safties can all move as well, though we don't have the Florida State and Miami type speed there. That means they will have to play with discipline.

*- The defensive depth is outstanding as well, especially at linebacker. There is little drop-off between the starters and reserves among the backers. The fact that Duke has so many quality players there should allow the Devils to play some 3-4 defense, sliding Ruff into the middle. The defensive line can also rotate 9-10 players in to keep everyone fresh. There will be some DB help with the incoming freshmen. Competition for playing time will be quite fierce this fall. That will only make the Devils better.

*- The positions switches that took place in the off-season showed positive results this spring. Casey Camero didn't miss a step in his transition from defensive end to defensive tackle. Now at 270 pounds, he should be ready for ACC play in the fall. Former cornerback JP Kimbrough ran the ball well and showed surprising power for a guy his size. Paul Campitelli got some quality reps in at center. He and everyone else on the Duke offensive line had trouble with Orrin Thompson. That won't be held against him for now. Deonto McCormick looked decent at wide receiver, but definitely showed some rust. The rest of the players who switches positions get an incomplete. It was difficult to keep an eye on all of them.

*- Probably the most important thing I saw was that the team didn't do stupid things. This might sound a bit trivial, but everything was run very crisply, and there were only 3 total penalties in about 100 plays run. The first team in the Ted Roof era might not be the most talented or the biggest. They are, however, starting everything off on the right foot by getting the players to do the little things right. Doing simple things, like not committing turnovers and penalties, will keep you in many ball games. The Duke fans are starved to watch a well-coached football team. Ladies and gentlemen, that is exactly what you will see in 2004.

All in all, the scrimmage showed that we need to continue to learn the offense and getting the injured players back at full strength will do wonders for our execution. The defense should be interesting to watch. I actually expect Duke to have their best defense since 1994. As with the offense, depth in the trenches will be an issue. If the Devils can keep everyone relatively healthy, there is no reason this defense can't keep Duke in ball games until the offense starts to click. It will take time and the three straight road games to open the season isn't exactly what the doctor ordered. Still, the optimism in the stands was at an all-time high for a spring game. The fans were buzzing and even some the nay-sayers were happy with what they saw. What more can you ask for?


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