Perhaps the most notable player was the one who lined up in the most positions throughout the afternoon – freshman Marcus Jones. Though he emerged from the tunnel in the green jersey of a quarterback, Jones spent time as a punter, receiver, and quarterback on the afternoon. As a signal caller the 6'4 freshman went two-for-two through the air including a 37-yard touchdown pass to fellow freshman tight end Norm Gee.
As a receiver he displayed great leaping ability and a very soft set of hands, hauling in a pair of memorable receptions on the afternoon despite tight man on man coverage. If that wasn't enough, Jones also found the endzone on the ground via a reverse handoff, and even took part in special teams as a second string punter. In short, Jones figures to get on the field in one way or another, and likely in many different roles in 2005.
Steady As She Goes
As the leader of the team, first-string quarterback Mike Schnieder was once again very solid, going eight of 14 for 114 yards and one touchdown. The junior also managed to show off some increased speed by taking a broken play in the backfield and scrambling 13 yards to earn a first down despite heavy pressure and pursuit from the first team defensive line.
Though his receiving corps looks a bit young, forcing Schneider to buy time with his feet, the passing game seems to have taken a big step forward when compared to last season's tally. As the freshmen and younger players get their legs under them, Duke should be able to shed the disturbing label of the NCAA's most sluggish offense easily in 2005.
While the scrimmage was mostly set up to showcase and work out the new offensive schemes, the team's strength is clearly the defensive unit. On the afternoon Duke fans saw the return to action of fifth year defensive end Phillip Alexander, who ended up with one sack and countless QB hurries, while also helping stuff any run attempts towards his side of the field. Along the defensive line, Casey Camero also chipped in with a sack after shedding blockers and chasing Schneider down in the backfield. Right End Eli Nichols looked good on the opposite end of the line, registering several tackles for loss and a sack.
Meanwhile the freshmen unit of Joe Suder, Clifford Respress, and Ayanga Okpokowuruk each showed their abilities and their youth at the same time. All have big futures ahead of the, in the trenches, and will be a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators in years to come. Perhaps the most surprising observation when looking at the 6'6, 330lbs Suder, the 6'3 280lbs Respress, and the 6'4 265lbs Okpokowuruk is how quick and agile they are. Still, it's apparent that they will need time to adjust to the new level of competition, and are as likely to make big time plays, as they are to miss fairly routine assignments – as is the case with most young players.
Another surprise was the play and speed of the outside linebackers, who were quick to identify and fill the holes as the running attack came. While it's tough to get a read on this unit from a 60 play, condensed playbook scrimmage, it's safe to say that the new level of athleticism and speed is noticeable to even the untrained eye.
As can be expected, the defensive backfield was reliable as senior Brian Greene produced the day's only turnover, picking off a Schneider pass attempt late in the exercise. Meanwhile the corners provided stout coverage and broke up a number of attempts, or forced the QB to rethink things, and caused several "coverage hurries".
Unlike last season, due to injuries, the Duke running game appears to be very solid once again with Cedric Dargan and Malcolm Ruff leading the first team ground attack. Dargan's unofficial tally saw him with nearly 30 yards on five carries while Ruff bulled his way around in short yardage situations and was key on several other long runs by backs. Sophomore Justin Boyle was also earning praise, as was freshman Re'quan Boyette who broke a 24 yard scamper late in the afternoon and was one broken tackle from a much bigger gain.
Both Randy DeSmyter and Joe Surgan were able to put the ball deep on kick offs, but only DeSmyter was given a chance to put points on the board via a field goal attempt – one that sailed wide left from 37 yards out. Surgan converted his extra point attempt.
The kick off returns were solid, with Ronnie Drummer logging a 45 yard return in his only attempt via a number of broken tackles and sheer speed.