Ten Questions For Spring Practice

With Spring Football Practice now firmly in swing, there are many questions that head coach Ted Roof and his staff will look to answer if the Blue Devils hope to improve on last season's 2-9 campaign. <i>TheDevilsDen.com</i>'s resident football guru breaks down the coming few weeks of practice and examines 10 crucial queries that must be solved before Duke kicks off in the fall.

- Who is going to block?

For the second consecutive year, Duke has lost 4 offensive linemen to graduation. This attrition has left several gaping holes in the depth chart. The interior line seems to be somewhat settled, as all three returnees have starting experience. Guard Tyler Krieg could develop into one of the ACC's better linemen. The other guard position will be manned by Bob Benion. He is a great technician who understands positioning and leverage. At center, Matt Rumsey will look to take a big step forward from his first season at Duke.

The tackle positions, however, are wide-open for competition. Former guard Lav Bauta has moved outside to play tackle, and will probably start the spring on top of the dept chart. The other tackle spot will probably end up being a battle between two redshirt freshmen, Rob Schirrman and Fred Roland. Schirrman is a smaller, quicker player, while Roland is an imposing physical specimen. Neither player, however, has seen game action at the college level.

- Will Vince Oghobaase be the football program's version of Johnny Dawkins?

It is of course way too early to tell, since he's been on campus for less than two months. Still, Oghobaase has great size (6'6", 330 lbs) and a huge drive to succeed. He also has a boatload of confidence, which could rub off on others. In general, the Duke football team has lacked swagger for quite some time. A player like Oghobaase, who has the confidence along with ability to back it up, will do wonders for the mentality of the defense and the team overall.

- Who will be playing a new position this fall?

There have been several position switches of note. Former starting SLB Malcolm Ruff will return to his offensive roots and move to fullback. Ruff actually played RB for his freshman season, but moved to linebacker for the 03-04 seasons. At 260 lbs, he should be a wrecking ball for taking on opposing linebackers.

Reserve defensive end Patrick Bailey will take his hand off the ground and play outside linebacker. Bailey made some outstanding defensive plays in 2004 as a true freshman, but was too undersized to be effective every down lineman. He is a bit tall for the prototypical linebacker, but can run and doesn't miss tackles.

The most surprising move of the offseason is Demetrius Warrick shifting from defensive tackle to offensive tackle. You don't usually see a player move to a new, unfamiliar position before their senior season, but Warrick volunteered to do so because of the OL depth problem. He will have a lot of work to do in the preseason though, as he is sitting out the spring to recover from a knee injury.

- What are positions of strength for Duke?

Usually, positional strength is at a minimum for the Devils. This year, however, Duke is going to have a few that will stand up against most in the conference. The entire depth chart returns at running back, headlined by senior Cedric Dargan. Dargan has struggled with injuries throughout his career, but when he's healthy, he's a pretty good ACC caliber back. Despite his abilities, he's not a shoo-in to start. Sophomores Ronnie Drummer and Justin Boyle also showed flashes of ability in 2004. Sophomore Tim Ball also can fill in as a dual-threat running and receiving out of the backfield.

At defensive end, Duke will receive a huge lift with the return of 2003 2nd team all-ACC performer Phil Alexander from injury. Because the lines were decimated by injuries, some of the younger players received lots of playing time earlier than expected, none more than junior Eli Nichols. He played almost every defensive snap last season, and now has bulked up to about 260 lbs. Senior Justin Ktichen can backup both spots and makes plays.

Despite the lost of 3-year starter Alex Green, the safety position will be a strength. 3-year starter Brian  Greene returns along with impact sophomore Chris Davis. Senior CJ Woodard is a fierce hitter and provides quality depth. And there are a couple of talented redshirt freshmen waiting in the wings.

- Which positions are question marks?

The obvious position of concern is the offensive line. As stated before, Duke must replace four starters from 2004 and depth is scarce. Wide receiver is another position that will need to see better play in 2005. Senior Ronnie Elliot made some plays last season, but is more of a secondary receiver. Junior Deon Adams has the size and speed to be an impact player, but has shown little in two years. Last year's freshmen gave a glimpse of things to come for Duke, but they struggled with consistency and have lots of room for improvement.

For the first time in many years, Duke has some legitimate questions at linebacker. WLB Brendan Dewan has lots of experience as a three-year starter as does backup Deandre White. The other players, however, are relatively green. SLB Alex Williams has played many minutes in his first two seasons, but will have to step up his game now that Malcolm Ruff has moved to fullback. MLB Codey Lowe will assume the starting role in 2005 but his backup is uncertain. Redshirt freshman Alfred Williams and Sophomore Zach Smith will vie for the backup job. The wildcard of the group is former defensive end Patrick Bailey. He did an admirable job in the trenches last season, despite being horrendously undersized. Now he will be in a position to use his speed and tackling ability to hit the ball carriers, not fighting off linemen.

- What positions will see the biggest battles for playing time?

The battle for the starting running back slot should be fun to watch. Ced Dargan is the starter, but Ronnie Drummer and Justin Boyle could both give him a run for the spot. SLB Alex Williams will see a challenge from Patrick Bailey. John Talley will be the starter at one cornerback. The other starting spot is up for grabs. The starter heading into spring practice is junior Deonto McCormick. After playing nine games last season at wide receiver, he switched over to CB before the Clemson game, and promptly had a crucial interception that set up the game-winning field goal. He will be pushed by sophomore Daniel Charbonnet, and redshirts Jabari Marshall and Evalio Harrell.

- Which 2004 redshirt will have the biggest impact?

A few, such as Jabari Marshall and Alfred Williams, will see plenty of game action this fall. The biggest impact, however, will come from safety Adrian Aye-Darko. After nearly grayshirting last year, Aye-Darko won a scholarship and redshirted last season. He came to Duke a thin 6'2" 175 lbs, but has since put on nearly 30 pounds of muscle. He has corner-level coverage skills. The 1st team receivers had problems getting open against Aye-Darko when he was playing scout team corner. Those skills, along with a great work ethic will make Aye-Darko an immediate contributor this fall.

- What players are in the spotlight?

The biggest question mark on the 2005 Duke Blue Devil football team is the offensive tackle position. Right now, there isn't a player on the roster that has taken a meaningful snap at tackle. Junior Lav Bauta has moved from guard and right now is penciled in as a starter. Freshmen Rob Schirrman and Fred Roland will press for playing time. Demetrius Warrick has moved from defensive tackle, but will not be able to practice at full-speed until the fall because of off-season surgery. Those 4 players, along with redshirt freshman Cameron Goldberg will go a long way in determining Duke's success in 2005.

- Which players have the biggest shoes to fill?

The biggest losses for Duke were defensive tackle Orrin Thompson and free safety Alex Green. Those players were multi-year starters that will get a chance to play at the next level. Thompson will be replaced by junior Brian Sallee and true freshman Vince Oghobaase. Green's safety spot will be manned by sophomore Chris Davis and redshirt freshman Adrian Aye-Darko. Both Thompson and Green had ability that will be difficult to replace, so it will be up to the returnees to fill their shoes.

- Can Duke score more than 20 PPG in 2005?

Of course Duke can score more than 20 points per game, but two things must happen to ensure this milestone.

1. The offensive line must be able to open holes for the running game and protect QB Mike Schneider when he drops back to pass.

2. New offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien needs to devise a scheme that plays to the strength of the personnel and he must not be afraid to challenge the defense on occasion. Duke was way too predictable in 2004.

The Devils will not be able to out-athlete many teams, so they will have to out-execute their opponents. Execution is a lot easier when the opponents don't know what you are running next. Duke's success in 2005 hinges on these two things.

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