It's early in the preseason and it is likely the depth chart will have several shakeups before the season kicks off against Elon. However, during Monday night's scrimmage the depth chart was a bit different than the one showing up in the preseason media guide. Some of that was due to a couple of projected starters sitting the game out for various reasons, and some was based on performance.
On offense the first team was without starting wideout Donovan Varner who was replaced by Josh Trezvant. Austin Kelly and Conner Vernon round out Duke's first group of receivers. On the offensive line from left to right the Blue Devil first team was Kyle Hill, Brandon Harper, Bryan Morgan, Brian Moore, and redshirt freeman Perry Simmons. The starting tight end was Brett Huffman while Sean Renfree and Jay Hollingsworth were in the backfield.
It was tough to determine a true second (and first) team on the offense as the scrimmage setting was highly situational and the different substitution packages had the Blue Devils bringing in a variety of different players for different roles. Still, the second team in the first drill was headed by quarterback Brandon Connette. The receivers were Tyree Watkins, Cory Gattis, and Tony Foster with Cooper Helfet as the big receiver/tight end. The first glimpse of the second team offensive line started with Conner Irwin on the left along with redshirt freshman John Coleman, Joey Finison, Takoby Cofield, and David Harding. Josh Snead, Desmond Scott, and Patrick Kurunwune all got reps on this series and with the first team depending on down, distance, or situation.
Defensively the first team had a few changes as well. On the line the Blue Devils started Charlie Hatcher in the middle with Kenny Anunike and Patrick Egboh as the ends. The linebackers were Abraham Kromah, Damian Thornton, Austin Gamble, and Kevin Rojas. The defensive backfield start Matt Daniel and Jordon Byas with Lee Butler and Chris Rwabukamba at corner. Starting DE Wes Oglesby, while healthy, was unavailable.
The second set of downs, but the first run by the defensive "twos" saw Jamal Bruce, Justin Foxx, and Curtis Hazelton on the line. Erik Reks, Tyree Glover, Adam Banks, and August Campbell were the linebackers while the backfield had Walt Canty, Taylor Sowell, Garrett Patterson, and Ross Cockrell all showing in the first set. The only constant on Monday night was change. The Blue Devils executed a number of substitutions and formations so getting a read on the true rotation was somewhat difficult.
In the different special teams situations Conner Vernon returned kicks with Kurunwune.
BEFORE AND AFTER
After warm-ups the team gathered at midfield to listen to Coach's pre-game talk. This centered largely on execution and expectations. Cutcliffe was adamant on his players being dialed in mentally. He wanted his players to all know the down and distance, the personal packages, and so on. "This is the first game day operation of the year. You need to be sharp and you need to concentrate. You need to communicate," he told his team.
After the game Cutcliffe appeared to be somewhat displeased with his team's performance citing a pair of penalties by the second team offense that negated a nice drive and forced Duke to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown. From the post-game huddle he talked about being mentally tough and avoiding mistakes caused by being mentally weak. He told his team that everyone holds everyone accountable.
There were a number of big hits put on the various wide receivers and backs by the defense. Matt Daniels made a big hit in the middle of the field, knocking the ball loose from a receiver after switching off with Walt Canty. Canty would also force a reaction from the crowd when he popped Tyree Watkins as the receiver came over the middle.
Noticeable throughout the entire scrimmage was the speed of the linebackers. Austin Gamble made a number of plays outside the hash marks and ran down a pair of running backs trying to get to the outside. Similarly, Abraham Kromah drew a lot of positive reviews with his pursuit and open field tackling.
In the middle of the field, Damian Thornton had a nice afternoon clogging up the running lanes and actually was in the backfield quite a lot. One thing the new playbook allows is freedom for the linebackers and safeties. There's a lot more pressure with the improved speed as was evident when Campbell and Canty broke into the backfield and forced a safety.
THE PASSING GAME IN GENERAL
The offense struggled early on as is common with pre-season scrimmages. But as the day wore on the team began opening up the playbook more and more to gain some yards. Cooper Helfet showed his athleticism at the tight end spot on a short passing play that saw him make the catch and then break a few tackles before motoring over 40 yards. Trezvant hauled in three catches for 32 yards, while Conner Vernon had two for 44 yards including a 31 yard catch and run.
Sean Renfree (12-of-17 for 153 yards) is the starter and Connette (4-of-13 for 42 yards) the back-up. Renfree seems to have the best pocket presence of the four signal callers, while Connette's athleticism allows him to make something out of the various broken plays. When he got on the field, freshman Anthony Boone showed off a strong arm and an ability to to get yards with his legs.
YOUNG RBs SHOW WELL
True freshmen Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson are both making their case to avoid a redshirt season. Snead showed an ability to cut and dive down field with an elite ability to change speed. He got a number of snaps with the first team and is a big weapon when in the open field. He also showed a willingness to run between the tackles. Thompson is a big more physical, and looks like a viable short yardage option. Both players are sure handed and figured in the receiving game as well. The two combined for 45 yards on 14 carries.
The long awaited indoor practice facility plans have changed once again. Originally slated to be on the east side Brooks Practice Field, the building will now be placed on the west side of Wallace wade - to the right of Brooks and up on the hill. The plan is to break ground before the end of the year depending on permits, scheduling, etc.