LCB: Leon Wright- Sr. / Zach Greene- Fr.
SS: Matt Daniels- So. / Walt Canty- Fr.
FS: Catron Gainey- Sr. / Jordon Byas- Fr.
Of the two groups represented in the defensive backfield, the most proven are the two safety positions - occupied by Daniels and Gainey. Gainey, who will be a starter for the second season in a row, has prototypical size for the position at 6'2 and 205lbs and has shown the ability to be a factor in the run game and on jump balls thrown to the end zone. A season ago he finished third on the team with 66 tackles including one sack and one interception. Entering his final season, the Georgia native will be called upon to provide some much needed leadership in both the secondary and entire defense. After all, he's one of only seven players on the roster with more than 800 snaps of experience.
Meanwhile, Daniels has quickly earned the reputation of enforcer for those receivers who want to go over the middle or those in the return game who are not paying full attention. Already this preseason the 6'1, 200 pound sophomore knocked a couple of receivers out of practice with vicious hits. Coming off a freshman season that showed much promise before the injuries took hold, Daniels knows he's got to not only perform off the field, but also in practice as a mentor for the newcomers.
"We definitely don't have a lot of experience at safety," Daniels acknowledged. "We have a lot of talent, but aside from Catron [Gainey], I've got the most experience. So we, as a group, need to step it up and be leaders back there. We need to do the little things that make the difference."
One of those little things mentioned has focused on spending excess time in the film room - watching both for an idea of what opponents are going to try to do as well as the mistakes that lead to Duke faltering in various situations.
"When you watch film, you really have to focus in on the small things. Things like how the defensive line is lining up. What stance the wide receivers are in. If the offense is going to run a bootleg, the linemen will sometimes turn their backs to you a little bit. You learn to read these little things to get a better idea of what's going to happen."
All in all, it has allowed the Blue Devil secondary to have a better understanding not only of their responsibilities, but also a more thorough understanding of the entire defensive scheme.
"Want to not only know what I am supposed to do, but what everyone else has to do as well. That way if someone needs to be reminded of their responsibilities, I will know how to help them out."
The hope around Durham is that doesn't apply to cornerbacks Wright and Butler - both of whom have enjoyed strong camps and are looking to remain health throughout the 2009 season. Both players rely on speed first - especially Wright who, at 5'9 and 170 pounds, can be sometimes out-sized by bigger receivers. The same could be true of Butler (5'10, 180), though he appears to have a bit more "oomph" on the outside as evidenced by his first season in which he saw action in 11 games - including one start.
Backing up the corners are early enrollee Zach Greene and junior Chris Rwabukamba while the safeties will be spelled by freshmen Jordon Byas and Walt Canty. Both groups have a wave of potential and will likely spell what seems to be an annual concern for the Bleu Devils in preseason. However, it's still very early in their careers, and the trial by fires will likely produce some heart stopping moments for the coaching staff.
Overall the front seven of the Duke defense should be able to provide enough pressure on opposing passing games to at least prevent quarterbacks from throwing darts to receivers. With a lot of speed, some mistakes will be covered up, and - on the flip side - some mistakes will be made as players attempt to rely on their physical gifts over what's been coached during the week. In the end, however, the unit is stronger than a season ago, and barring injuries should finish off what looks to be a very solid Blue Devil defensive squad.