Signing Day Report Card: Defense/Sp Teams

Coming off a 1-11 season, a casual observer might think Duke needs help everywhere. It is true that Duke has gaping holes at several positions, but some more than others required immediate attention. Looking at the spring 2008 roster gives great insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the Duke squad. We'll go unit by unit, evaluating this year's recruiting class against the overall needs.

*- denotes pictured
Defensive Line

Need: Low to Moderate
Signed: DE Curtis Hazelton*
2008 Impact Potential: Very Low

Assessment:
The Devils did not recruit the defensive line very rigorously. As a result, the staff ended only ended up signing sleeper Georgia prospect Curtis Hazelton. With the Blue Devils already having 11 defensive linemen on the roster and with the distinct possibility of moving a linebacker or two to rush end, there is not much room for Hazelton to come in and make an impact. This is one area the previous staff recruited very well, so there is quality depth here. Hazelton is a raw prospect, but has long arms and a good-sized frame.

Bottom Line:
Unless he shows up in the fall and is much more advanced than advertised, he will redshirt. For now, Hazelton does not have the requisite strength to take on ACC-level offensive linemen. Expect him to see the field in 2009 at the earliest. The Devils will have two seniors (Akinbiyi and Respress) and three juniors (Oghobaase, Okpokowuruk, and Rucker) in the two-deep Since the Devils lightly recruited this position in '08, they will focus their efforts in 09 to bring in at least two defensive tackles and most likely two defensive ends as well in the 2009 class.


Linebacker:

Need: Low Signed: OLB Trent Mackey*
2008 Impact Potential: Moderate to High

Assessment:
Duke already has 12 players on the roster listed as linebackers coming into spring ball. Still the Devils liked what they saw out of highly productive Louisiana product Trent Mackey. Skipped over because of his lack of height (5'9"), Mackey has everything else you want out of a linebacker: excellent speed, a nose for the ball, and hard tackler. Were he over 6" tall, the SEC schools would be all over him.

Bottom Line:
Despite being only a 2-star prospect, Mackey has a shot to come in and play right away. Duke has lots of numbers at linebacker, but not a lot of top-end speed. Mackey covers a lot of ground and is just a good football player. He a natural for the position despite the less than ideal height and will be tough to keep off the field. Duke signed for With 5 seniors in this group, the Devils will most likely be shopping for 3 or even 4 replacements come 2009.


Defensive Backfield

Need: Moderate to High
Signed: FS Matt Daniels, SS Jordon Byas, CB Randez James, CB Donovan Varner*, CB Lee Butler
2008 Impact Potential: High

Assessment:
The Devils recruited a possible starting defensive backfield and quite frankly hit a home run with this group. Leading the way is safety Matt Daniels, who was coveted many in the ACC and SEC including his home state team, Georgia. Daniels is a ferocious hitter that covers a ton of ground in a hurry. Joining Daniels at safety is overlooked Florda prospect Jordon Byas. After suffering a knee injury that cost him his junior season, Byas missed the summer camp circuit and was largely ignored by many schools and recruiting services. He still garnered offers from Clemson and Ole Miss but elected Duke after Cutcliffe came on board. Like Daniels, Byas can really hit people and has the coverage skills team covet from their safeties. At corner, the Devils might have done even better. Four star prospect Randez James has already enrolled at Duke and will participate in spring drills. As with most of the other Duke recruits, James can really run. He's a physically strong player with good coverage skills. He might challenge for playing time this fall. He's also an excellent kick returner. Don't be surprised if he teams with Jabari Marshall in this capacity. Florida product Donovan Varner is short in stature, but is very agile and has natural coverage ability. Lee Butler, who had been vacillating between Duke and Georgia Tech became a last-minute addition to the Blue Devil recruiting class. Possessing blazing speed, Butler further compliments what is a very impressive defensive backfield haul.

Bottom Line:
This group is undoubtedly the highlight of the 2008 Duke recruiting season. With most prospects, you say things like "He will eventually compete for playing time" or "he'll become a contributor". All of these players have legitimate shots at being multi-year starters for the Blue Devils. All are accomplished high school players with skill sets that translate well to the college game. The good news for the Blue Devils is that there are guys already on the roster that have ability as well. Three out of four starters return from last year's squad. Jabari Marshall and Leon Wright will in all likelihood be the starting corners, and senior Adrian-Aye Darko will return at strong safety. Senior safety Glenn Williams has also seen plenty of action during his career. Butler, Varner and James will eventually replace Wright and Marshall at corner when they graduate. Daniels and Byas will add class depth at safety. With 3 seniors and a junior atop the current depth chart, it was imperative that Duke replenish their ranks. And the staff did an outstanding job in doing so.


Special Teams:

Need: High
Signed: K Paul Asack*, LS Jackson Anderson
2008 Impact Potential: Very High

Assessment:
Duke has been plagues by kicking woes for the better part of a decade now. It was imperative that the staff get a reliable kicker in the fold. In Paul Asack, the Devils were able to find a player with excellent potential. Asack is the younger brother of current Duke backup QB Zach Asack, which helped in the recruitment process. The Devils also needed the services of a long snapper after the graduation of Casey Hales and the career-ending back injury of DE Ryan Radloff (the backup). Texas product Jackson Anderson will fill that role left with the two departures.

Bottom Line:
Duke absolutely had to get a placekicker in here. Not having a reliable option from 40-yards out has cost the Devils no less than 5 football games over the past three seasons. With Duke rarely able to out-talent opponents, they need every other advantage they can get their hands on. Asack was a star of the Chris Sailer kicking camp and hopefully will provide the reliability needed to handle the job. Anderson fills the glaring need of a long snapper and if no reliable candidate emerges during spring practice, will assume those duties this fall.


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