MLB: Vincent Rey - Sr. / Adam Banks - Jr. / Austin Gamble - Fr.
SLB: Abraham Kromah - Jr. / August Campbell - Fr.
WLB: Damian Thornton - Jr. / Tyree Glover - Fr.
While Tauiliili certainly was able to rack up the tackle numbers, the Blue Devils will need to replace his energy and leadership before attempting to replace his production. Luckily for head coach David Cutcliffe and his staff, the team is already promoting another highly energetic tackling machine to the role in the form of senior Vincent Rey.
At 6'1 and 245 pounds, Rey has already shown the ability to fill up the stat-sheet, leading the Blue Devils in tackles during the 2007 season with 111 while ranking fifth in the conference and 47th in the country with 9.25 tackles per game. As a junior his production remained steady with another 109 tackles including 10.5 tackles for loss - again finishing fifth in the conference with a 9.1 tackles per game figure. His steady production and enthusiasm for the game earned him the vote as a team captain in 2008 and 2009. In addition, Rey has been called the "heart and soul" of the defense by Cutcliffe, who expects the senior to step up and fill Tauiliili's shoes.
"[The expectation] adds some responsibility to what I am doing, sure," said Rey. "But it's also adding responsibility to my teammates and the linebackers in general. We know that the coaches and our teammates expect a lot out of us this year."
With an improved defensive line in front of them, the linebackers are indeed being counted on to improve their overall production in 2009. To that end the coaching staff has made an effort to improve the overall speed of the group which has opened the door for several freshmen to earn spots on the two-deep including Austin Gamble, Tyree Glover, and August Campbell.
"They look like football players and they are fast," Cutcliffe told the media during camp. "We have guys that certainly look the part back there this season."
Indeed the average two deep linebacker at Duke for the opening week averages at around 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds. But, unlike the past seasons, all of them have enough speed to cover the ground needed. Two players who have improved enough to earn starting positions are Abraham Kromah and Damian Thornton. Kromah - a converted safety of a few seasons - has added around 10 pounds to his frame while maintaining his initial burst and lateral quickness.
Meanwhile, the knock on Thornton when entering Duke was his speed. While he's not going to win many track meets, two years in Cutcliffe's conditioning program has measurably improved his closing speed and lateral quickness. Enough to all him to work on the outside, or to slide inside depending on what's needed. That kind of versatility isn't unique to the 6'2, 240 pound junior. In fact it's expected by the linebackers according to Rey.
"We have a bunch of guys in this group who are athletic and who can play all over the place. Guys like Abraham Kromah and Damian Thornton can play everywhere. Adam Banks can play multiple positions. That's the kind of thing we need. It's what Coach Collins likes to instill in us. Every one of us needs to be able to play the SAM, WILL, and MIKE positions at the drop of a hat."
Banks, in particular, has been called upon to play a number of roles during his time at Duke. This season he's up for a shot at either the middle or strong side linebacker as the first back-up. Not only does he boast impressive speed and size, Banks has a good instinct for the ball and a knack for sniffing out and exploiting the offense's objectives. Over the past two seasons he's played well enough in special teams and as a reserve, but this year could his time to step up and earn a more significant place in the rotation.
Depending on how things progress with the season and the matchups being faced, look for Banks to be, essentially, a de-facto fourth "starter" - eating minutes at both the middle and strong side spots.