Let’s be clear – you can’t really replace Kelby Brown. You can’t replace his 114 tackles, his instincts at linebacker, or his leadership on the field. But Duke has to find a way to move on knowing the All-ACC redshirt senior will miss the season with a torn left ACL.
“It was hard from an emotional standpoint,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said in a media conference call this morning. “From a business standpoint of operating the defense, it wasn’t that difficult, but emotionally very hard.”
Knowles faces the challenge of scheming against opposing offenses without the quarterback of his defense. Knowles has moved senior linebacker David Helton to the Mike position previously occupied by Brown. Helton led the team with 133 total tackles at Will linebacker.
“We have a guy in David Helton who has as much experience as Kelby who understands the defense,” Knowles said. “He understands the defense and knows the calls to make.”
Redshirt senior C.J. France, redshirt freshman Chris Holmes, and freshman Zavier Carmichael were all mentioned by Knowles as linebackers who could step up and see more playing time. Knowles is particularly intrigued with the progress Holmes has made from last season.
“He (Holmes) struggled a little bit with play recognition, but he’s got all the tools,” Knowles said. “Everything you would look for in a Will linebacker, the DB (defensive back) characteristics in terms of speed and athleticism.”
Expect to see safeties moving closer to the line of scrimmage as well. Knowles says guys like redshirt junior safety Jeremy Cash and junior safety Dwayne Norman will be used at the Will linebacker position.
The Will linebacker can possess a lot of defensive back qualities, and Knowles sees specific situations where this strategy could give the Blue Devils an advantage.
“Definitely third down of course, but also spread sets, personnel groups that try to open up the field,” Knowles said.
Knowles added that he thinks the defensive line is one of the real strengths of the team right now, and he expects a number of players to contribute. Aside from the starters, he says redshirt junior defensive ends Kyler Brown and Britton Grier can be real threats. Knowles also sees at least five guys getting valuable snaps at defensive tackle.
Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery jumped on the conference call after Knowles. Here are some notes about the offense…
- Following a sloppy performance in the team’s first scrimmage, Montgomery says the offense has cleaned up this week and limited unforced errors such as dropped passes.
- Montgomery thinks redshirt senior wide receiver Issac Blakeney is a very special player, and Montgomery says it is “mind boggling” to see some of the catches he’s made. “He’s a hard cover. He needs to understand how important he is to our football club.”
- Head coach David Cutcliffe said after the scrimmage Monday no one on the offense stood out except for the running backs. Montgomery added today “this is the group that I am the most pleased with.” He gave great reviews to redshirt freshman Joseph Ajeigbe and freshman Shaun Wilson, citing Ajeigbe’s ability as a downhill runner and Wilson’s overall demeanor in practice.
- Montgomery did not reveal which quarterback would take over the Brandon Connette role in goal line packages. Montgomery says the team has to continue to grow redshirt sophomore Thomas Sirk. While redshirt freshman Parker Boehme is not as experienced in the offense, Montgomery thinks he is a very accurate passer that “throws a really, really good football.”
- Redshirt senior tight end Braxton Deaver rejoined the team on Aug. 9 after a suspension from team activities by Cutcliffe. Montgomery says Deaver has done what Cutcliffe asked of him and he has put in a lot of time with redshirt senior starting quarterback Anthony Boone. “I’m confident he’ll (Deaver) be ready,” Montgomery said.