The theme of Wednesday's practice was working in the redzone. After the team went through their warm-up, head coach David Cutcliffe gathered both the offense and defense at midfield to discuss the importance of executing inside the 20 yard lines. After breaking out to positional stations, the team went through various exercises before lining up to execute several short yardage situational drills.
The catch phrase repeated throughout the morning with regard to the offensive philosophy in the red zone is "we are needy, not greedy" when down there. This mantra began with the quarterbacks and was repeated when the team came together as an offensive unit.
Before getting into the offense versus defense aspect, the team focused on Special Teams - most notably pinning their opponents inside their own 20. Punter Kevin Jones' kicks were landing within the desired drop zone, but were squirting out for touchbacks until Matt Daniels and then Matt Pridemore (within two snaps) beat the ball down the field to down it inside the two yard line. Both players earned spirited reactions from the coaches and players.
Touching on the third year sophomore, Pridemore: one Duke source indicated that when asked about which Blue Devil football player would do well at an ACC sprint meet, quarterback Thaddeus Lewis indicated that it would be Pridemore. Not bad for someone who was injured throughout 2008.
Soon after the drill incorporated dummy returns in charge of fielding the ball. Again, the punt coverage team was able to cover around 50 yards quick enough to apply pressure to the returner before the ball was received to force fair catches.
When the teams got into short yardage situations, quarterbacks Thaddeus Lewis and Sean Renfree got several reps with a number of running backs filtering in depending on the down and distance being simulated. Renfree showed off a good touch when finding receivers on routes requiring a bit of finesse, while Lewis was efficient and in control of the first team throughout. Without being too specific, the Blue Devils appear to have a much more diverse and intricate offensive attack near the goal line than in the past.
Patrick Kurunwune, Desmond Scott, Re'quan Boyette, and Jay Hollingsworth all saw time during the drills with freshman Kyle Griswould also getting a few reps. On one scoring drive by Cameron Jones, second team interior offensive lineman Joey Finison earned the praise of several coaches for helping open up the hole for the back to dart through.
EARLY BATTLES FOR FIRST AND SECOND TEAM O-LINE
On this day the first team offensive line appeared to be Kyle Hill at left tackle, Mitch Lederman at guard, Bryan Morgan at center, Brian Moore at the other guard, and Jarrod Holt as the right tackle. The battles between Hill and Ayanga Okpokowuruk drew considerable attention at times with each player winning his share of snaps.
"We compete against each other every day in practice," said Okpokowuruk after practice. "I think he's really going to have a good year. We are always pushing each other further to see which one will break. It's a good thing for both of us."
The second team offensive line was made up of Conor Irwin at left tackle, Jon Needham at guard, Jeffrey Coward at center, with Finison at the other guard, and Robert Drum at right tackle. It should be noted that several linemen changed on to the second team as the depth chart with this group appeared to be more fluid depending on the down and distance.
Also, of note, around six players were in black shirts - which denoted various stages of restrictions. None of these players were expected to miss significant time and the designations were contributing to the movement along the lines in various drills. Still, the offensive line(s) did appear to provide sufficient protection to the quarterbacks and were opening enough holes to allow the backs to shoot through for three and four yard bursts.
DEFENSIVE BACKS & LINEBACKERS LOOK QUICK
When the offense looked to attack either side of the field or the backs attempted to bounce outside, the linebackers and defensive backs were quick to meet them laterally. Abraham Kromah, Adam Banks, and Damian Thornton were all noticeable in getting to the side line quickly. In addition a back four of Chris Rwabukamba, Catron Gainey, Matt Daniels, and Leon Wright were moving very well.
*- Fall camp will conclude on Sunday. Tomorrow the Blue Devils will have a closed practice with a scimmage on Saturday beginning at 10:00 AM EST. Sunday's practice will also be closed to the media and public.
*- Voice of the Blue Devils, Bob Harris, arrived around 10 minutes into practice and stayed for the duration.
*- Work continues on the guest locker room facility, as practice progresses. It's quite a busy scene behind Wallace Wade these days.
*- It appears as though freshman defensive tackle John Drew will definitely play this season. The 6'2, 315 pound freshman will be called upon especially with the injury to fifth year senior nose guard Kinney Rucker. On Wednesday Drew was being watched closely by position coach Marion Hobby.