The secondary has had some of Duke’s brightest stars over the last 15 years yet it continually seems to be an issue. Too many times have I witnessed Duke limit opposing offenses to a brace of yards on first and second downs only to have it undone by a third and long deep pass.
As I alluded to in the linebackers piece, the secondary has been counted on to cover the front six’s mistakes. Such a burden has broken them several times, once or twice in critical late game moments. This year, with a senior laden line and returning stars at backer, the secondary hopes the lifted pressure will allow them to be more natural playmakers.
The leader is senior Ross Cockrell, a first team All-ACC corner last year, was annointed with the preseason tag as well. He’ll be depended on to lock down the oppositions top receiver each week. Fortunately, he won’t draw Sammy Watkins this season. While his speed is a concern for some NFL scouts, many feel he’ll be a draftable player next spring.
The job on the other side of the field hasn’t been filled yet. Many candidates have stepped up this spring to seize the starting nod at corner but Coach David Cutcliffe hasn’t named one as of this moment.
The leading candidates are Garrett Patterson and Breon Borders. Patterson is the only other upperclassmen corner on the team. He is largely inexperienced as he only logged 269 snaps last season. A spot player that has seen most of his time on special teams will be expected to step up and take a leadership role this season. He possesses good size for the position at 6-1 and has developed speed and athleticism. Neon Breon Borders has announced himself as a contender this fall. The true freshman has shone well so far in practice and is currently competing with Borders for those first team snaps. The flashy frosh reportedly has talked a big game in practice but backed it up with flashes of greatness. The key will be consistency as freshman corners tend to get abused on routes.
Borders isn’t the only freshman with a chance at starting, however. DeVon Edwards, Evrett Edwards, and Deondre Singleton all have a shot to get significant playing time this fall and any one of them could steal the starting job.
Devon Edwards redshirted last season and the coaches were pleased with his development during spring ball. He doesn’t possess ideal size at only 5-9 but he has good speed and packs a punch. Evrett Edwards is a true freshman that enrolled in January in order to participate in spring ball. He possesses decent athleticism but shines with his physicality. After logging two tackles in the spring game, Edwards will be a prominent name in the secondary this fall.
Singleton is another freshman that has the potential to breakthrough and log playing time this fall, however, it seems more likely he will redshirt and preserve an extra year of eligibility.
The safety positions are led by Jeremy Cash and Dwayne Norman. Cash, a 6-2, 210 beast, transferred from Ohio State in January of 2012. He was rated as the #25 safety in the nation by Rivals but saw little game action as a freshman at OSU. He is locked in as a starter this fall and will likely be the best defender on the squad. In the spring game, he notched 5 tackles, a tackle for loss, and an interception.
Norman finished last season second in the ACC among freshman defenders in tackles. He only started 5 games last year but quickly became a fixture in the secondary and one of its best tacklers. Known as one the fiercest competitors on the team, Norman will lock down the secondary with Cash to give Duke two of the toughest tacklers in the conference.
Starting along with them will either be Corbin McCarthy or Anthony Young-Wiseman. Young-Wiseman is an oft-injured senior who, if finally fully healthy, will give Duke another sure tackler with size and strength. McCarthy is a redshirt freshman that actually did play last year. He saw action in the first two games of the season before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in Palo Alto. He received a medical hardship waiver and will enter this season with four more years of eligibility. Cutcliffe has raved about his work ethic and expects him to be a significant player.
Much is still to be determined behind those four but a name to watch is true freshman Chris Holmes.
Veteran Leader: Cockrell
Waiting To Breakout:Norman
Most Likely To Take A Starting Job:McCarthy
2013 Projected Tackles Leader: Cash
Rising Star: Borders