It's no surprise since he's been hyped by various media outlets since he committed to the Blue Devils nearly 18 months ago, but there is no doubt that redshirt freshman Vince Oghobaase is the real deal. And while it was painful to watch him sit on the sideline a season ago, Duke fans may ultimately be better off for it as Vince is "in the best shape of his life". It's one thing to be 6-foot-6 and over 300 pounds, it's another thing to be that fast and that quick. He will certainly be someone Duke fans get excited over.
Oghobaase's line mates project to be the anchor of this season's team. The Blue Devils will most likely use a 4-3 alignment this season with Oghobaase and Eli Nichols on the interior and Casey Camero and Patrick Bailey on the outside. Backing up the ends to start the summer and fall practice sessions will be Ryan Radloff and Ayanga Okpokowuruk while the interior line will have Clifford Respress and Kenny Rucker on the two-deep.
The linebacking group is once again led by Mike Tauiliili who continues to look for people to plant on every play. Redshirt freshman Tim Ball, and Codey Lowe have also had their share of moments, particularly Lowe. Bailey, who is going to split time as a DE and an outside linebacker, has also impressed when he's assumed the LB role.
The defensive backfield has benefited not only from a high level of energy, but also the return of Jabari Marshall as well as the day-to-day practice against an every improving crop of young receivers. Right now it seems fairly certain that the starting backfield heading into the first practice session will be John Talley, Chris Davis, Andreas Platt, and Deonto McCormick.
Unfortunately it's unlikely that Respress will play in the spring game on Saturday as he suffered a high ankle sprain earlier in the week.
One of the biggest improvements this spring has been the throwing prowess of sophomore quarterback Marcus Jones. Over the past three weeks he's gone from being very inconsistent with his throws to being on target and able to hit receivers on a number of different routes. When you combine that accuracy with an already impressive arm, you've got a very good player who will make Zack Asack work to keep the starting position.
Speaking of Asack, he's also really made strides in his game and now seems to play with the kind of mindset you like to see in a starting quarterback. Of course he, like Jones, still needs to tighten his scope when preparing to fire the ball and he still has the tendency to miss high when he does miss, but he has shown his high level athleticism on a number of occasions and when he's flushed out of the pocket he seems to realize which way to run and how to make something out of nothing. He's also become a lot more vocal in the huddle and on the practice field.
In the backfield with the quarterbacks will be Duke's best group of runners top to bottom in quite a while. With one ACC-caliber back in Justin Boyle, the Blue Devils have their starter, but unlike previous years there are now a number of backs that could also vie for high volume carries throughout the season. One of the most impressive performers throughout the spring has been sophomore Re'quan Boyette who has shown the ability to run between the tackles, to the outside, as well as the ability to catch swing passes out of the backfield. He's not the only one either, as sophomore Clifford Harris has also made a strong case for more plays called for him with a tremendous spring. Both sophomore backs have reaped the rewards of an off-season in the weight and film rooms.
Perhaps the most intriguing player is Ronnie Drummer, who may be the fastest player on the team, but who has had trouble holding onto and catching the ball in and out of the backfield. However, when he's able to bring it in and take off, there will be few opponents who can catch him, no matter who they are.
Another key addition has been Army transfer Tielor Robinson who will sit out the spring game with a bum ankle. Before the injury, however, Robinson showed the kind of power that the Duke running game has lacked since Alex Wade. At just 5-foot-10, Robinson tips the scales at nearly 245 pounds and it's all chiseled muscle. He runs and blocks with the kind of force needed from a lead back.
With the young backs looking good, it was also a productive spring for the rising sophomore class of wide receivers. With new position coach Scottie Montgomery in charge, the ‘catchers' (as one of our favorite message board posters refers to them) have shown a renewed since of energy and effort. Most notable is the continued emergence of Eron Riley as a legitimate ACC level option. As has Raphael Chestnut, who made some incredible acrobatic catches on Friday and has done so throughout the spring season. Duke still misses Jomar Wright, who remains sidelined, but should he return to his previous level, Duke has a very solid young base to build the offense around.
No matter how much improvement has been shown by the quarterbacks, receivers, and running backs, it won't translate to the scoreboard without being able to block opposing defenses. And that ability will be called into question until the kickoff against Richmond. Simply put there are a lot of questions along the O-line. Both Cameron Goldberg and Matt Rumsey have looked good throughout the spring. Joe Suder, a mountain of a prospect, has all the potential in the world, but still has moments when he almost seems to play much smaller. The same can be said of Ben Loebner. However both have time to continue their drive to becoming rotation level options. At this point it is safe to say that at least two freshman offensive linemen in the class of 2006 will be stepping in immediately to the two deep roster come fall. The smart money is on Jarrod Holt, and one of the Swedish imports.
Wisconsin native and Duke bound freshman Mitchell Lederman was on campus today watching practice. His listing by Scout at 6-foot-7 and 325 pounds may be a bit conservative. He'll certainly redshirt, but he has a huge frame with wide shoulders.