Clearly the most notable ‘new comer' on the field has been redshirt freshman nose guard Vince Oghobaase, who was considered the crown jewel of Coach Roof's first recruiting class. After suffering a season ending knee injury in just the fifth day of spring practice a year ago, Oghobaase is back and as good as ever. Listed at 6'6 and 310lbs, the big Texan is a load for anyone matched against him, and routinely makes a habit of intruding into the backfield. On this day he was in the backfield, pressuring the QB on four of seven snaps during on drill.
Fellow defensive lineman and highly rated recruit Ayanga Okpokowuruk has also returned from his own leg injury that cost him a freshman season. Ayanga's presence is immediately felt along both the D-line and on kick off coverage. He has not shown any ill effects of the leg injury.
Another returnee was Jabari Marshall, who returns after a year's hiatus. Marshall has added weight and filled out his frame, but still possesses his tremendous speed on the field. The year away from the practice field has left some signs of rust early on, but those dissipate noticeably with each practice.
That is the only word that can accurately describe sophomore place kicker Joe Surgan's leg. Today Surgan began his warm-ups by converting extra points with ease. The fact that the football was routinely hitting the top of the Wallace Wade scoreboard was enough to catch the eye of a few passersby.
However the show got better as Surgan backed up to 35 yards. Ball hit the top of the scoreboard.
45 yards? Ball hit the top of the scoreboard.
55 yards? Well the ball didn't hit the top of the scoreboard, but it did clear the uprights (not the cross bar, the uprights) by a good 10 feet before the net caught the kick, which would have been good from a good distance further.
One of the more interesting scenes was observed as the wideouts went through their practice routines. New position coach Scottie Montgomery is very vocal and seems to command the attention and respect of his players. In fact Montgomery could often be heard not only offering technique pointers, but he remained positive with his young group of receivers. In return the group looks to really gravitate towards him while playing with a bit more spring in their step. While it could be attributed to another year of maturity, it seems that Montgomery will make a very positive impact on this group.
One improvement that was clear was the ability of the receivers to get off the line of scrimmage against opponents. In recent years Duke has had trouble with the passing game as the wideouts were routinely jammed at the line.
Overall there is still a ton of youth among the top receiving options, and more is on the way this summer. However, some of the increased talent level is evident with just a cursory viewing. On this day Raphael Chestnut was particularly impressive as was Eron Riley – both made a couple of outstanding catches and have really worked on route running.
Depth at RB:
While everyone will tab the defensive side of the ball as having superior depth to the offense, there is one spot where Duke has a number of talented playmakers: running back.
The first runner to jump out this week was Tielor Robinson, a 5'11 245 pound bowling ball who appears to relish contact. He certainly delivered a couple of bone jarring hits that echoed throughout the practice field. On one such play, Robinson and senior linebacker Jeramy Edwards collided hard, allowing sophomore Re'quan Boyette to turn the corner and sprint up the field for an 18-yard gain. Robinson has also got a good set of hands and was comfortable catching screen passes and option pitches.
Boyette, who came on strong towards the end of the season, has continued his progression and has added 25 pounds to his frame since he arrived on campus. It's a noticeable change as he's certainly not afraid to run through a defender as several linebackers found out in the end of practice scrimmage. Boyette also took a number of pitches and screen passes for large chunks of yards.
Ronnie Drummer, who will be in a yearlong competition with Marshall for the title of fastest Blue Devil, continued to prove himself worthy of said title. On several broken plays Drummer was able to make something out of nothing thanks to an incredible acceleration rate and agility. Drummer showed off improved hands and could be used as a slot receiver at times this year as well as on kick returns.
Others who caught our eye for brief moments included Clifford Harris, who has an additional 15 pounds to his frame and seems very comfortable running between the tackles. Meanwhile reigning starter Justin Boyle did not participate in full contact drills today.
While incoming freshman Thaddeus Lewis will arrive in the summer as no worse than third on the depth chart, the battle for the starting spot is being waged between sophomores Zack Asack and Marcus Jones.
A year ago both were considered dual threat passers, and both still retain different levels of elusiveness. Today we observed both players and came away with the following impressions:
Marcus Jones has the stronger arm of the two, but it's Asack who is the more accurate. Asack looks to have added weight and filled out his frame. He seems very comfortable in the pocket and didn't look to run as much as he may have last year. As one fellow observer put it, "he just looks like a confident QB today". That was certainly true.
Jones, too, looks more comfortable in the pocket and surveying the field. He also seems more willing to allow his natural athletic ability (which is considerable to put it mildly) to take over. On one botched snap to the shotgun, Jones picked up the ball and started right where he saw a linebacker breaking through. He then stopped and took off to the left side where he was able to turn the corner and get out of bounds eight yards forward of the line of scrimmage.
*- What's the major difference between this year's team and last year? "The attitude is so much better out here this season. We've got a roster full of guys who are on the same page and that's a great change." – Duke upperclassman.
*- Mike Tauiliili (formerly Mike Brown) has a very, very elaborate tattoo on his right arm. The art is a tribute to his Samoan heritage (as is his surname change) and took 10 hours to complete. Despite his toughness on the field, he did not undergo all 10 hours at once.
*- While he's added some ink, he's also added his childhood buddy (Oghobaase) back on his roster and could be heard constantly communicating with Vince throughout the scrimmage. While the big lineman seems to be very quiet, his linebacker running mate is quite the opposite.
*- Garrett Mason will play center this year, making it the fifth position change he's undergone during his career.
*- Early word out of spring ball is that at least two freshmen offensive linemen will be called upon to play early. Pure speculation on TDD's part is that one of those will be Florida's Jarrod Holt. The other (based on guess work) could either be Marcus Lind or Rob Drum.
*- Did we mention that Joe Surgan should have to register his leg as a weapon?
*- Fred Roland looks to be much improved as he begins his sophomore season.
*- Ben Loebner has dropped a good deal of ‘bad weight' and is now listed at 6'9 and a svelte 305 pounds. When he arrived on campus he tipped the scales at 335 pounds.