Duke Now: Notes from the Blue Devils' second football scrimmage

lkeeley@newsobserver.comAugust 16, 2013 

— Duke held its second preseason scrimmage Friday morning, offering a glimpse at the two-deep depth chart. Here are a few observations:

*Jamison Crowder, Issac Blakeney and Brandon Braxton were the wide receivers in with the starting offense. Braxton, a senior, spent his first two years as a wide receiver, starting 15 games, and moved to safety last season. After battling injuries that kept him out of five games last year, Braxton moved back to receiver, his natural position.

“It’s been going good,” Braxton said of his transition. “It was kind of slow at first. I had to relearn all the plays. My mind only works on one thing, so it was like restarting again, but I picked it up pretty fast.”

It doesn’t hurt that he has natural chemistry with quarterback Anthony Boone and tight end Braxton Deaver, his two roommates. All three hail from the Charlotte area.

With the return of Braxton and Deaver, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, the Blue Devils have depth in the receivers corps. Sophomore Max McCaffrey, redshirt freshman Anthony Nash and true freshmen Ryan Smith and Johnell Barnes are competing for significant playing time, as is David Reeves, last year’s starter at tight end. The four running backs—senior Juwan Thompson, junior Josh Snead and sophomores Jela Duncan and Shaq Powell—will be involved in the passing game as well.

*Boone finished the scrimmage 5-of-11 for 93 yards and one touchdown, a 37-yard strike to Crowder. Brandon Connette, the backup quarterback, finished 5-for-8 for 29 yards and also rushed four times for a total of two yards.

True freshman quarterback Parker Boehme went 9-of-12 for 65 yards and Quay Chambers, also a true freshman, finished 3-of-5 for eight yards. Chambers also ran twice, breaking one run for a 65-yard touchdown.

Chambers has worked at positions other than quarterback during camp, Cutcliffe said. Given that he’s already behind Boehme on the depth chart, I would doubt he stays at quarterback.

“Quay is just exceptional as an athlete,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “The great part of having an athlete like that is you learn as a quarterback, and you have to know everybody’s assignment. At this point, Quay is probably proficient enough to play in the slot or to play our movable position that we play.”

Snead led the running backs with 45 yards on two attempts, including one that went for a 36-yard touchdown. Duncan took four carries and finished with 20 yards.

*The starting quarterback becomes a de-facto team leader, and Boone seems to have embraced that role. When reserve tight end Dan Beilinson went down after a big hit, Boone went out to help him off the field. It’s the little things that earn players the respect of their teammates.

*Crowder and cornerback Ross Cockrell showed their competitive fire on two early plays. Cockrell, defending Crowder 1-on-1, broke up a pass heading their way, and he let Crowder know it. The next play was a 37-yard pass that Crowder pulled down despite Cockrell’s coverage in the end zone.

“Friendly competition. Jamison and I are good friends,” Cockrell said. “But when we’re out there, we’re going at each other. We all want to be the best and show that we’re the best. So, we go hard, but it’s just getting ready for the season.”

*True freshman cornerback Breon Borders earned some time with the starting defense. He flashed what’s become his typical level of athleticism. At this point, I will be shocked if he does not play in Duke’s opening game against N.C. Central.

“He continues to impress,” Cutcliffe said of Borders. “He’s still got a lot to learn. He’s young. I want to see some consistency. He made a great play on a deep ball. The problem was, the guy was four yards in front of him. If that’s potentially somebody else, you might not catch up to him. Little things like that, but certainly I’m very pleased with the progress he’s made.”

True freshman Deondre Singleton also appeared early in the scrimmage.

In other secondary depth chart news, Anthony Young-Wiseman, a senior, has moved in front of redshirt freshmen Corbin McCarthy and is working with the starting safeties. Young-Wiseman and sophomores Dwayne Norman and Jeremy Cash ran with the starters. Cutcliffe singled out Cash in particular for having a great scrimmage.

*The Blue Devils are pleased with the depth on the defensive line. Jonathan Woodruff, Jamal Bruce, Sydney Sarmiento and Dezmond Johnson worked with the first unit. The second group was redshirt freshman Michael Mann, sophomore Carlos Wray, redshirt freshman A.J. Wolf and sixth-year senior Kenny Anunike. Cutcliffe praised Anunike for his consistency and said the team would continue to have a large rotation along its defensive front.

Filling out the starting front six were Kelby and Kyler Brown at the linebacker positions.

*The offensive line, on the other hand, is short on bodies. Injuries to back-up tackles Tanner Stone (out for the season with a broken ankle) and Casey Blaser (out indefinitely with a broken hand) have the Blue Devils scrambling a bit. True freshman Gabe Brandner and redshirt sophomore Sam Marshall, who was moved from defensive tackle this week, took snaps with the second-team line.

“We don’t have many 6-8, 290 pounders that move as well as he does,” Cutcliffe said of Marshall. “He’s a big man that has three years of eligibility. I told him we’re not trying to build Rome in a day. Let’s see where it goes.”

*One day after walk-on Hud Mellencamp, son of the legendary singer John, was charged with felony battery, Cutcliffe reiterated his statement and said that Mellencamp was going to Indiana to handle his legal issues. Cutcliffe didn’t know how long Mellencamp would be gone. Classes start Aug. 26.

“I’ll let that be a family matter, first and foremost,” Cutcliffe said of Mellencamp’s situation. “I’m trying to be respectful of that for obvious reasons. Let them handle that.”

Mellencamp, 19, along with his brother, Speck, 18, and Ty A. Smith, are charged with beating a 19-year-old man, leaving him with facial injuries that required stitches and the attention of a plastic surgeon.

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