As football season ducks under the 50 day mark on the countdown clocks, Duke football fans prepare themselves to witness a season that is ripe for the taking yet with a small understanding of the team that will take the field. Gone are the mainstays Sean Renfree and Connor Vernon from an offense that averaged 409 yards per game last season. Now, guys like Jamison Crowder, Anthony Boone, and the stable of stout running backs must step up and seize their opportunity.
I spoke with CBSSports.com NFL Draft Scout Dane Brugler about some of Duke’s players and what we can expect to see from the Blue Devils on the gridiron this fall.
DB: For Cockrell, his lean, wiry build stands out on film as a weakness, struggling to get off blocks or be consistent in the run game. He doesn’t shy from contact, but his overaggressive style cause him to leave some production on the field. Cockrell also lacks elite speed and is closer to a 4.6 guy than a 4.4 player, making him tough to trust alone on the outside.
Duke’s pass defense as a whole has been shaky, to put it nicely, despite switching to the 4-2-5 a few years ago. Are there problems you’ve seen out of Cockrell that are reflected in his secondary teammates?
DB: I wouldn’t necessarily put the fault of the secondary on the shoulders of Cockrell and how he rubs off on the players around him. If anything, I would think Cockrell (a team co-captain) is a positive influence on his secondary mates.
On the other hand, does Cockrell have the ability to be an island guy this season?
DB: The lack of speed is tough to overlook. Players can refine their technique, improve footwork and iron out wrinkles in their game, but speed is something either you have or you don’t. Cockrell does have some traits that a corner needs to be left isolated on the outside, including his confidence and awareness to locate and get his hands on the ball when it’s thrown in his area. But overall, the speed is the biggest question mark as he struggles to recover after taking false steps.
Moving to the QB spot, Duke has had two very successful quarterbacks precede Anthony Boone but neither were able to make a draft impact. Is Boone the kind of player that can replicate what Renfree and Lewis did on the field and eventually reach the NFL as well?
DB: With only one career start under his belt, it’s really too early to tell what type of quarterback Boone will grow into, although the small sample size that we’ve seen is promising. He appears to be a tick under six-foot, but has a strong build in the 230-235 range. He has the arm strength you want and athleticism to extend plays with his legs. His accuracy has been up and down and should improve this season as the regular starter. Overall the biggest questions with Boone reside from the neck up and if he can improve his decision-making and overall consistency. He already has three years in the program, learning from Coach Cutclife and Renfree so he has the foundation, scouts will have a better idea of his potential after the 2013 season.
Based on what you’ve seen from the Duke offense, how do you think the switch to a read option will help them?
Offenses (at any level) should be built around the central part of the team: the quarterback. And with Boone, Duke has an athletic, strong-armed quarterback who can do some things than Renfree couldn’t. Cutcliffe is known as a quarterback’s coach, but he understands the benefits of building around the strengths of his quarterback, not forcing his quarterback to be a square peg in a round hole. I would guess we see a mix of several offensive looks in 2013 from Duke, but primarily zone read formations with more quarterback designed runs.
Lastly, what are your thoughts on Jamison Crowder? Despite his size, he’s shown us the ability to get open in the ACC and a nice burst of speed as a slot guy. Do you think he can make the transition to being the #1 target?
DB: It’s impossible to fully replace a guy like Conner Vernon and I don’t think Duke’s coaching staff will expect that from Crowder this year. However with that said, I think he can be the No. 1 receiving option for Duke in 2013. It might be tough to surpass his production from last year because he won’t have Vernon taking attention away from him this season and the quarterback situation isn’t as strong. But there is a lot to like about Crowder with his fluid footwork and smooth acceleration in his routes to create room to operate. He isn’t quite as reliable or savvy as Vernon, but he is a half-step quicker and still has a ways to go before he hits his ceiling. If Duke gets consistent play out of the quarterback position, I expect Crowder to be the main beneficiary and maybe develop into one of the better receivers in the ACC.