Duke head coach David Cutcliffe left his team’s first scrimmage unsatisfied with the precision and effort displayed on the field. Add that to losing redshirt senior linebacker Kelby Brown for the season with a torn left ACL and you could see why Cutcliffe was upset.
The second scrimmage today was a different story.
“All in all, sideline communication, the tempo of play, the energy was good. Really good,” Cutcliffe said. “I think our defense was cohesive. People were where they were supposed to be. There was nothing given to the offense. They had to earn it at times. The offense did earn it.”
The offense cleaned up sloppy play from the first scrimmage and cut down on the miscues that left Cutcliffe frustrated.
“We felt a lot better coming out as an offense,” redshirt senior right guard Laken Tomlinson said. “We had more flow. Even though we had a couple penalties, those are small things that we can coach.”
Cutcliffe was pleased with the quarterback play throughout the scrimmage with the second and third units in particular moving the ball well. Redshirt sophomore Thomas Sirk threw and ran for a touchdown. Redshirt freshman Parker Boehme showed off his accuracy, finishing 10-13 for 74 yards.
“I think we’ve got three quarterbacks (redshirt senior Anthony Boone, Sirk, Boehme) that will be ready to play when we start the season,” Cutcliffe said.
Freshman quarterback Nicodem Pierre also received significant playing time, but he struggled finding receivers downfield. Many of his passes were off target, including one that was intercepted by redshirt freshman cornerback T.J. Douglas.
Cutcliffe says while Pierre is not commanding the ball as well as he Will Down the line, he is fast and powerful as a runner. Pierre did display flashes of that strength and speed moving outside of the pocket. (Side note here: all quarterbacks in the scrimmage today were playing full contact except for Boone, as opposed to the first scrimmage when play was stopped when any quarterback was touched.)
Boone and Sirk were happy to see redshirt senior tight end Braxton Deaver return to full contact. Deaver worked in with the first and second team after missing the first scrimmage following a suspension.
“It (not playing) was like a sickness in my belly,” Deaver said. “I’m definitely not a sideline guy. I definitely like being in the game and being a part of what we’re doing.”
Boone and Deaver live together, so Deaver was never too far away despite not participating in the first week of practices.
“Every time that I wasn’t here (with the team), as soon as he (Boone) got home, we were on the iPad, going over everything we’re doing,” Deaver said. “I’ve definitely been in the system long enough where nothing’s really new to me.”
Along the offensive line, redshirt junior left guard Lucas Patrick did not play due to concussion-like symptoms. Redshirt junior Cody Robinson filled in for Patrick with the first team. Tomlinson liked the nastiness and physicality of the line today, creating holes for the stable of running backs.
Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery mentioned the running backs group is the one he has been the most pleased with, and Cutcliffe echoed that sentiment.
“They’re all playing well, and they all displayed it today,” Cutcliffe said. “I wish we had more depth there, but I’m excited about the quality. I think it’s been the most consistent part of our offensive team.”
Cutcliffe added that freshman back Shaun Wilson will definitely factor into the rotation, saying there’s “no question” he will play.
Defensively, the Blue Devils took the field with some new looks following the loss of Brown. Senior David Helton took over as the Mike linebacker in the middle where Brown previously stood. He says he knows the position and defense well enough, but he needs to communicate better to his teammates.
“It’s just remembering to open my mouth,” Helton said. “A lot of times I was sitting over there, I didn’t have to open my mouth. Now, it’s just verbalizing it.”
With some of the other linebackers that may move to the Will linebacker spot, Cutcliffe says he has great trust in redshirt senior C.J. France because of his preparation. Cutcliffe also likes junior Deion Williams and two freshmen in Tinashe Bere and Zavier Carmichael. Expect to see more of redshirt freshman Chris Holmes as well.
Redshirt senior defensive end Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo was impressed with how the group of linebackers performed without Brown on the field.
“I’m not gonna say it was a piece of cake for them, but we all work hard,” DeWalt-Ondijo said. “They work hard. Everybody works just as hard. It wasn’t a big transition for them, but they do have some shoes to fill.”
“A big thing for us is assignment, alignment, and effort,” Helton said. “I think we really did a good job of that today. We were well rested and it was exciting to see us fly around out there.”
The Blue Devils better get some rest while they can. Opening kickoff versus Elon is only 15 days away.