Heading into the off season the biggest question facing the Duke coaching staff was the status the offensive line. After being rather porous for the last two seasons, head Coach Ted Roof has an optimistic outlook several practices in.
"I'm very pleased with the development of the offensive line," Roof told TDD on Wednesday. "The technique has really improved and the work in the weight room is paying off. There's an old saying that the closer you play to the ball, the harder it is. That's certainly true."
"Are we where we need to be at this point? No. But we are getting closer to what we need and it's up to us to get there."
A couple of players who have stood out to Roof are expected to provide the needed experience and help when the Blue Devils kick off in the fall.
"Bob Benion and Demetrius Warrick have both looked really good out there. Both are a big banged up right now, but it's nothing that will prevent them from being ready to go in the fall. Benion looks like he has found a home on the football field. Also Lavdrim Bauta has really come on as well this Spring."
Quarterbacking Not An Issue
Last season several Duke fans questioned the ability of starter Mike Schneider as the team's offense sputtered at crucial times. However the rising junior signal caller was much better than his numbers indicated as several of the young receivers were notorious for not completing their of the bargain in the passing game. Still, Schneider has spent the off season working hard and the results should be tangible in the fall according to Roof.
"Mike has been doing great this spring. He's really committed himself to learning the ins and outs of the offense and is getting a lot better. He's also taking major strides in becoming this team's leader. He is at the top of the depth chart."
Another talented quarterback remains under the title of football player has also done well learning his third offense in three seasons.
"Curt Dukes has also improved a lot. With what will be trying to do there will be a place for him in the offense. He's just a great football player, and he's worked hard to improve his throwing ability."
The Big "O"
Though he's been sidelined with a minor injury, Coach Roof has nothing but rave reviews for five star freshman defensive tackle Vince Oghobasse.
"Sometimes recruiting rankings aren't always accurate, but that's not the case with Vince," said Roof. "He's going to be as good as advertised. He's everything we thought he would be, if not more."
Oghobaase is expected to be at full strength by the time fall practice opens up later this year.
Injury Bug Fought Off
Despite the usual bangs and bruises that are usually sustained in practice sessions, Duke is expected to be at full strength when the season opens against East Carolina in late August.
Red Shirt Freshmen Ready
With so much youth on the roster from a year ago, the Blue Devils will benefit from a class of sophomores with four years of eligibility remaining.
"That group should have some players really step up and help the team this year," said Roof. "We are excited about the progress they have made in their first year here."
Notable has been the emergence of cornerback Jabari Marshall, safety Chris Davis, tailback Ronnie Drummer, and linemen Fred Roland and Rob Schirmann. Andreas Platt has also stood out in Roof's eyes, as the head coached praised the former high school quarterback turned safety.
"He's come a very long way in his time here," said Roof of Platt.
Another unknown who could make a splash is Adrian Aye-Darko, who has added nearly 30 pounds to his frame to tip the scales at close to 210lbs. Reports out of practice last year had the 6'2 Florida native playing as a huge cornerback or more traditionally sized safety. This year promises more of the same.
"He's shown us some things that we're pleased with," said Roof. "Now we want to continue to see more from him."
Several Blue Devils have made the off season switch from one position to another in hopes of proving Roof and staff more options on both sides of the ball. Perhaps the biggest name to switch positions was Malcolm Ruff who made the change from middle linebacker to fullback.
"Malcolm has looked great so far," said Roof. "He's going to be a great lead blocker, and can really be a power runner. That's something we've desperately needed over the last few seasons. I've also been impressed with how quickly he's picked up the concept of protection in the passing game."
With Ruff moving from the linebacking corps, Duke needed more bodies and found them in Alfred Williams and Patrick Bailey, both of whom have caught their coach's eye with their play.
"Those two are going to give us good size at linebacker. Patrick and Al are great football players and both have picked up the position and its finer points very quickly. They just always seem to know what's going on."
True Freshmen Will Battle
While his current team is taking the practice field and working towards preparing for the Pirates in August, Coach Roof has a lot to look forward to in the late summer as Duke's best recruiting class in the last ten years comes to campus. And those players are coming to school expecting to contribute early on.
"Several of those players will be able to come in and compete for early playing time," said Roof. "I'm thinking the receivers will have to come in and play as well as some of the defensive linemen. It's a talented group and we're excited for them to get here."
Another position expected to get a push from the recruiting class is at quarterback where Duke brings in Gene Delle Donne and Zack Asack, meanwhile former high school quarterback turned athlete, Marcus Jones, could see reps at any number of positions given his combination of size, speed, and natural athleticism.