"I've been very pleased with the work of Sonny Falcone, Chris Combs, William Stephens and Jeff Howser," Roof noted. "I think we've had an excellent off-season. The consistent high level of intensity has had a major presence within the weight room, and that is a credit to our strength and conditioning staff. We've made some great strides in the weight room, and now we need to take those gains and translate them to the practice field."
An emphasis certainly will fall on the implementation of a new offense, which will be directed by first-year coordinator Bill O'Brien.
"From a coach's perspective, we need to evaluate where we are throughout the spring. We can't do everything, because more often than not when you try to do everything you won't do anything well. What are our strengths? What are our weaknesses? We have to build on the strengths, improve on the weaknesses and make sure we can execute. I'm not interested in how much offense we can run, but how much we can run well."
The Blue Devils will open spring drills on Tuesday, March 1 with the first of 15 scheduled workouts.
Duke kicks off the 2005 season at East Carolina on September 3, with the home opener coming one week later in Wallace Wade Stadium versus defending ACC Champion Virginia Tech.
Junior quarterbacks Mike Schneider and Curt Dukes enter spring practice with the responsibilities of learning an offense under O'Brien while adapting to a line that lost four starters from last season.
"I've really been pleased with our quarterbacks in the off-season," Roof said. "They've been working extremely hard on all aspects of the game, and they've needed to because the quarterback has a lot of flexibility in the decision-making in this offense. Both of these guys have been doing a good job of leading the team."
Schneider showed progress last fall, lowering his interception percentage from six in 208 attempts as a rookie in 2003 to seven in 253 attempts during his sophomore season while doubling his touchdown season total from four to eight. Even more noticeable was his marked improvement in pass completion percentages as he jumped from .466 to .593 and, in turn, pushed his pass efficiency rating from 96.48 to 114.89. Schneider, who has started 18 career games including 10 last fall as a sophomore, finished the year with 150 completions in 253 attempts for 1,527 yards including a career-best 300-yard performance against Wake Forest on October 30.
"Where Mike has come from a leadership standpoint has been enjoyable to watch," Roof said. "He is our number one quarterback."
The Blue Devils' only other scholarship quarterback in spring drills is Dukes, who missed the last five games of the 2004 campaign due to injury. One of the team's top overall athletes, Dukes saw action at a variety of positions last year, his first season at Duke after transferring from Nebraska, including quarterback, fullback, tight end and wide receiver. For the year, he completed six-of-17 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown, rushed 16 times for 48 yards and caught three balls for 22 yards.
"Curt's coming off a knee injury, so he's just getting his mobility back," Roof stated. "He's done everything he can do plus a whole bunch. Two things you don't have to worry about with Curt are his commitment and desire to be successful."
Competition will engulf Duke's tailback unit this spring with the return of Cedric Dargan and three freshmen who all received playing time this past fall. Dargan, who led Duke in rushing with 462 yards despite playing in seven games due to injury last year, is a rising senior who has displayed the abilities to be a first-rate tailback when completely healthy.
"Part of being a good football player is staying healthy," commented Roof. "Cedric needs to do that because when he was healthy last year, he provided a big boost to our offense. At the same time, because of the injuries to Cedric, it helped a couple of other guys develop. We've got some depth at the position now and you must have depth at running back in this league. It is a necessity."
In the season-opener at Navy last season, Dargan rushed for over 100 yards in the first half, but was forced to the sideline for most of the second stanza with a leg injury. He then sat out the next four contests before returning for the final six games of the year, topping the 100-yard barrier twice with 108 yards on 21 carries against Virginia on October 23 and a 24-attempt, 113-yard outing at Wake Forest the next week.
Duke's three rookie tailbacks in 2004 included Tim Ball, Justin Boyle and Ronnie Drummer and the trio combined for 421 rushing yards along with 18 receptions for an additional 126 yards. Ball is a shifty runner with good speed while Boyle, who darted for an 83-yard touchdown run in Duke's win over The Citadel, is the most physical back of the bunch. Drummer displayed his abilities in a 16-13 victory over Clemson by catching five passes for 40 yards including a game-tying, four-yard touchdown reception with just 1:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. Drummer also averaged 20.3 yards on 19 kickoff returns.
"Tim Ball does everything well and is very dependable," Roof said. "I'm real pleased with Ronnie. He is without a doubt one of the fastest guys on the team. We won't have Justin for spring practice, but he showed plenty of what he can do last year including our longest run of the season. We have got some guys who have bright futures there."
Spearheaded by the transition of Malcolm Ruff from linebacker, Roof believes the fullback combination of two former high school teammates will suit the Blue Devils just fine in 2005.
"Malcolm used to be a running back, and then we switched him to linebacker," said Roof. "He did a really nice job on defense, but we felt that he could help our football team more at the fullback position right now. I've also been pleased with the job Mike Dowling has done this off-season. I expect the fullback to have an integral role in the offense this year."
As a freshman in 2002, Ruff was a reserve running back and rushed 17 times for 70 yards including a season-high 44 yards on nine carries against Maryland. He then moved over to linebacker, recording 98 tackles over two seasons along with a memorable 42-yard interception return for a touchdown in Duke's 2003 victory over Georgia Tech. Dowling and Ruff both played at The Gilman School in Baltimore, Md., graduating together in 2002.
Other fullbacks in the deck are Segun Akande and Beau Tooley.
Duke has had the fortune of playing with quality tight ends for a number of years, and 2005 should be no different with the return of Ben Patrick, Andy Roland and Nick Stefanow. Michael Cooper adds depth to the group.
"Tight end should be a position where we are very good," Roof said. "I'm excited about the possibilities there. Both Andy and Ben have caught a lot of balls and made big plays. I know the tight ends will have a big role in our offense and both of those guys are all-league type of players."
Elected as a team captain for his sophomore season, Patrick responded by leading the Blue Devils in receptions with 32 grabs for 311 yards and one touchdown. He flourished as a receiving threat over the final half of the season, hauling in 21 passes for 243 yards in the last five games. His desire to succeed and off-season work in the weightroom have not gone unnoticed by Roof.
"Ben continues to lead by example, and he has been instrumental in that role this winter," Roof said.
Roland, who will sit out spring drills while recovering from off-season surgery, continues to be one of the most versatile offensive players in the Duke program. He is the unit's top blocker, and found himself frequently lined up in the backfield last year to aide the running attack. In addition, Roland contributed 20 pass receptions for 257 yards and a team-best three touchdowns with top outings coming versus Florida State (5 receptions for 46 yards) and Clemson (4-38).
"With Andy, you are talking about a tight end that in three years has caught 56 passes for over 800 yards," commented Roof. "To average over 15 yards per reception is really quite impressive. Last year he played several roles for us on offense. We were able to move him around within the formation because of his abilities."
Stefanow lettered in 2004, playing primarily on special teams.
"With Andy out this spring, Nick will get plenty of quality reps and that will be a good barometer of how far along he has come," Roof said.
With its top three pass-catchers returning from 2004, Duke's youthful yet experienced wide receiving corps continues to grasp the goal of improving as one unit.
"I expect them to get better and to be better than they were last year," Roof said. "We lost a couple of guys, but the receivers that return were certainly the core of last year's unit. There is a lot of youth there, but young players that have experience."
Ronnie Elliott, who earned the program's Most Outstanding Receiver last fall, is the lone senior in the group while coming off a 28-reception campaign. His leadership is vital to the Blue Devil offense.
"I saw a huge transformation in Ronnie Elliott last year," Roof said. "He has emerged as the leader of the group. He was our top receiver last year, and I'm sure he'll work that much harder this year to end his college career on a very positive note."
Rising junior Deon Adams, who was hampered by injuries last season, returns along with three rising sophomores in Corey Thompson, Jomar Wright and Chancellor Young. Thompson and Wright found themselves in the rotation early and often last season, finishing the year with 19 and 18 pass receptions, respectively. While 12 of his 18 catches went for first downs, Wright paced the team in both receiving yards (323) and yards per catch (17.9). Young finished the year with a pair of receptions for 15 yards, and made a big contribution on special teams with eight total tackles en route to earning Co-Most Improved Special Teams Player honors at the program's annual banquet.
"We're excited about this group of receivers," Roof noted. "But it isn't a deep position right now and we're a little banged up with Deon, Corey and Jomar. Chancellor Young played some wide receiver and made a huge impact on special teams last year and I expect him to play a bigger role offensively this season."
Heath Gray, who joined the program last fall as a walk-on, and Ryan Wood, a January enrollee to the school, will push for playing time.
For the second consecutive season, Duke will replace four starters along its offensive line in 2005, making the group's progress a major focal point during spring drills.
"Every healthy player is going to get a bunch of reps this spring," Roof noted. "And that is a positive, especially when you are installing a new offense. The negative is that I wish we had more healthy players. One of the things I have been most pleased with is the leadership. We aren't where we want to be, but I see some leaders emerging. Games are won and lost up front; that's where it begins anyway. Our lack of experience is a concern because there is no substitute for it, but I've got complete confidence that Coach (Don) Yanowsky will mold that group into an efficient crew."
The three interior slots on the line have experienced players in the program, with right guard Tyler Krieg the lone returning starter within the unit. Krieg started all 11 games in 2004 for the first significant action of his career.
"Tyler has the ability to play a couple of different positions for us so he brings a certain level of versatility to the table," Roof said. "I've been pleased with his development."
Left guard Bob Benion, who started a pair of contests last season, and projected tackle Lavdrim Bauta both lettered in 2004 while Matt Rumsey served as the top reserve at center as a true freshman this past season and saw action in eight games.
"Bob has put on some weight and increased his strength, and he needed to in order to compete at a higher level," Roof said. "He is one of two guys that have started games for us in the trenches on offense, making him a very valuable player. Matt is a tough kid who came from a very successful high school program. He needed to gain size and strength just like all the young lineman in the country and he has done that. He is a relentless worker and I think that will pay off for him and our team. And it is time for Lav Bauta to step up and become a consistent performer for us."
At tackle, Duke hopes for a lift from Demetrius Warrick, who will switch to the offensive line after four seasons in the program on the defensive front, but will not participate in spring drills.
"Demetrius Warrick has made a very unselfish decision to switch sides of the ball and I commend him for that decision," Roof said. "He will bring a lot of intangibles including leadership and maturity to the offensive line."
Joining Bauta the mix at tackle will be Rob Schirmann, Zach Maurides, Fred Roland and Danny Bowling. Paul Campitelli and Andrew Guidry project at center while Garrett Mason offers depth at guard. Jonathan Terry and Cameron Goldberg both will miss spring drills while rehabilitating from injuries.
"We're happy with the work ethic of everyone in this group," Roof continued. "Fred Roland has really changed his body over the past six months and Rob Schirmann has worked hard. I'm also very pleased with the progress of Danny Bowling."
Despite the loss of three-year starting tackle Orrin Thompson, the Blue Devil defensive line has the potential to have a major impact on the team's success in 2005. Three starters - tackle Casey Camero and ends Justin Kitchen and Eli Nichols - return from a year ago while three-year letterman Phillip Alexander is back for his fifth season in the program after missing the final nine games of 2004 with a leg injury.
As a sophomore this past fall, Camero was solid in the middle with Thompson and produced 47 total tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, one fumble recovery and a team-leading nine quarterback hurries. In addition, Camero excelled on Duke's special teams by blocking three kicks. Nichols racked up 47 stops, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks and one interception in his first season as a starter while Kitchen, a converted linebacker who replaced Alexander in the lineup following week two, chipped in 30 tackles, a Duke-best 8.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks.
"Casey is coming along very well," Roof noted. "He has been here two years and played a lot of football for us, and I feel he will continue to improve and be a force for us on the inside. Justin has been a productive player, and has gotten bigger and stronger. On the other side is one of the most consistent football players on the team in Eli Nichols. He has made himself into a football player with a relentless work ethic."
Tackle Brian Sallee joins Alexander as two key potential contributors coming off injuries. Sallee, who joined the program last August following two seasons at Mendocino (Calif.) Junior College, was expected to be a top reserve on the interior but suffered a season-ending leg injury in the season-opener at Navy. Alexander, who was credited with 59 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks as a junior in 2003, was lost for the year in the second quarter of Duke's week two game at Connecticut.
"Phillip is doing a good job with his rehabilitation schedule," Roof noted. "He won't practice this spring, but we're confident that he'll be ready next year. We lost Brian early in the season last year, and I'm excited to see where he is this spring."
The line also could get a boost from rookie Vince Oghobaase, a 6-6, 335-pound prep All-America from Houston, Texas, who enrolled at Duke in January after graduating from high school one semester early. Other returnees include tackles Joel East and Eric Pritchard and ends Derek Bryant, Eric Griffin and Christopher Moore.
The return of three-year starter Brendan Dewan highlights the linebacking group heading into 2005. Two starters from the unit have departed with the graduation of team MVP Giuseppe Aguanno and shuffle of Malcolm Ruff to the offensive side of the ball.
In Dewan, Duke has an outside linebacker that has started 30 career games and, following his 84-tackle season in 2004, enters his final campaign with 234 career tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss and three interceptions. Joining Dewan on the strong side is fellow senior DeAndre White, who has 35 games of experience under his belt along with 92 career tackles.
"Those two guys have broken a lot of huddles at Duke University," said Roof. "Brendan knows what to do. He'll use this spring to refine some techniques. He and DeAndre have so much experience, and that is very exciting."
Two weak-side linebackers join the corps from other positions as Patrick Bailey moves from defensive end and Brandon Tapps switches from safety. Bailey saw action as a reserve last season, posting totals of 25 tackles and 3.0 tackles for loss while Tapps played in all 11 contests, primarily on special teams.
"Patrick is one of our best football players, and it is our job to get those guys on the field for most of the game," Roof said. "We had a little bit more depth at defensive line and not as much depth at linebacker, and we wanted to put him in a position on the second level of defense where he can make plays. I think this is going to be a good move for us. We'll also take a good look at Brandon Tapps this spring because one of the things we noticed during his time in the secondary is that he is a good tackler."
In the middle, Codey Lowe and Zach Smith are the leading candidates to fill the void left by Aguanno. The projected starter, Lowe finished with 44 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, one interception and one fumble recovery in 2004 while Smith saw considerable action on Duke's special teams units.
"Codey got some experience last year," Roof noted. "And I thought he did a nice job. He will continue to get better. Zach was mainly a special teams guy last year and did a good job in that role. We'll see if he can earn some more playing time on defense."
Charles Robinson (outside) and Alfred Williams (inside), both of whom redshirted last year, will get plenty of repetitions this spring, as will newcomer Travis Nelson. Outside linebackers Jeramy Edwards and Alex Williams, who had 41 tackles this past season, are expected to sit out spring drills due to injury.
"This is a big spring for guys like Charles and Alfred," Roof commented. "Last year they were on the scout team and did a very good job for us. Now, there is a higher level of accountability for them. We need to find out what we can get from a consistency standpoint. Travis Nelson also joined the team in the off-season. We're glad he's with us and we're looking forward to seeing him in spring ball."
Returning starters Brian Greene and John Talley headline the Duke secondary, a group that helped Duke rank third in the ACC in team interceptions (15) and fourth in total takeaways (26).
Talley, a second team All-ACC selection in 2004 after ranking tied for first in the league in total passes defended (18) and second in interceptions per game (0.0.36), is slated to start at cornerback for the second straight season. He registered 59 total tackles last year and returned two of his four interceptions for touchdowns. Offering depth will be rising sophomores Daniel Charbonnet and Evalio Harrell.
"I thought John Talley had an all-conference type of season last year," Roof said. "On the same note, I look for him to improve on that. He's had a good off-season to add some bulk to his body. That was a goal for him, he's responded and I think that will pay dividends. Behind John we have a battle going on between Daniel and Evalio. Daniel was forced into battle at corner last year as a true freshman and he responded well. They are both talented players and that competition will be good."
Opposite of Talley is Deonto McCormick, who in week 10 last year switched back into the secondary after catching 14 passes for 113 yards as a wide receiver in the first nine games of the season. McCormick responded with arguably Duke's biggest interception of the season when he picked off an errant Clemson pass with just 1:07 remaining in the fourth quarter to set up a game-winning 53-yard field goal by Matt Brooks as time expired. Jabari Marshall, one of the fastest members of the Duke program, could challenge for playing time while walk-ons Simon Cheng and Daniel Casanas offer depth. Rodney Ezzard will miss spring drills due to injury.
"At the end of last year we moved Deonto to corner and we've decided to leave him over there," Roof continued. "The guy behind him is a young man - Jabari Marshall - who I think has a very bright future. He's a very talented football player who can run and hit and cover. Once again, from an accountability standpoint is where he needs to grow this spring and I expect him to."
Greene is back after finishing tied for fourth on the team with 59 tackles last year - his first at safety following two seasons at cornerback. C.J. Woodard, who logged 30 tackles and a pair of interceptions as a junior in 2004, could battle with Greene at the free safety slot. Rising sophomore Chris Davis, who was third in the ACC and 14th nationally in kickoff return average, is the top candidate to start next to Greene at strong safety in place of the graduated Alex Green, a three-year starter.
"At safety, Brian Greene will be a four-year starter for us and Chris Davis played a lot for us as a true freshman last year," Roof said. "C.J. Woodard has been around a while and has been a great, great special teams player. He needs to challenge for a starting spot. Adrian Aye-Darko, Andreas Platt and Matt Rising all are good prospects and we moved Kendral Felder over from wide receiver so we're anxious to see what he can do."
The graduation of Matt Brooks and Trey McDonald leaves Duke's kicking and punting jobs open. Chris Sprague, a rising senior who handled kickoffs last fall, is expected to take McDonald's place at punter, backed up by Mike Kaplanis while Alex Feinberg, Randy DeSmyter and Greg Meyers are back to contend for the placekicking duties.
"Chris is going to be a good punter for us," said Roof. "At the kicker's spot, we've got Alex Feinberg who I am expecting to have a good spring. It's time for him to step up and elevate himself. Behind him is Randy DeSmyter and Greg Meyers, and both of those guys have some ability and can hopefully compete with Alex."
Rising sophomore Casey Hales returns at long snapper after handling the chores as a true freshman in 2004.