Ross Cockrell, coach Derek Jones discuss Blue Devils' secondary
Duke defensive backs coach Derek Jones recently called all-ACC cornerback Ross Cockrell his personal GA, or grad assistant. He wasn't being too facetious.
There's a story in today's paper about Cockrell's transformation from overwhelmed redshirt freshman to borderline staff member. He's the lone returning starter in the secondary and has spent the summer brining the younger defensive backs along.
"I was talking to my dad and mom about it the other day, just how much things can change in a couple years, even after a couple games. It's kind of funny though, but I like it," Cockrell said. "Yeah, three years ago I was just a redshirt freshman trying to make it (laughs). Now I'm looking at people asking me to run meetings and stuff. But it's been good. It's been a good experience."
Even with a veteran secondary, the Blue Devils' defense struggled mightily down the stretch last season, giving up at least 42 points and an average of 586 yards over the last five games, all losses. One of the takeaways from that was to simplify coverage schemes and calls.
"Even with having older guys last year, a lot of the problems we had in the secondary, especially late on last year, we had some injuries and had to put some of our 2s in to play," Jones said. "Those guys didn't have enough playing experience to be able to carry us. And when you go into a game with a scheme or game plan, you don't want to all the time, but you have to say will the guys that are backups be able to handle thins as well as the starters. We all get smart when we have experience on the field, but you're tweaked ankle and a hurt shoulder away from having guys on the field that haven't played that much."
The proliferation of hurry-up offenses makes it difficult to make many calls along the back line anyhow, Cockrell said, so the change was necessary. The fact that it's coming in a year where many underclassman are expected to play works out well, too.
In addition to the young projected starters, there are a few true freshman threatening for playing time in the secondary as well. Guys like corners Breon Borders, Evrett Edwards and safeties Phillip Carter, Chris Holmes, Deondre Singleton and Jake Kite have a realistic shot at seeing the field (though there's no doubt the staff would like to redshirt a few).
"I'm really, really pleased with the talent level," Jones said of the freshmen. "They're all what we thought they were in recruiting, in athleticism. We wanted to make sure in recruiting this year that we didn't miss, that was the emphasis, especially at the corner position. From what I've seen all of those guys are going to be good players at Duke."
How soon that happens, though, is the million-dollar question.