Duke Now: Reviewing true freshmen standouts and projecting redshirt candidates

lkeeley@newsobserver.comSeptember 4, 2013 

Cornerback Breon Borders waits for the game-ending interception to drop into his hands. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY

Duke played five true freshmen in Saturday's win over N.C. Central. Head coach David Cutcliffe has said repeatedly that any true freshmen that don't redshirt will be expected to play a major role on the team. With that in mind, a breakdown of what each of the five did on the field, in order of number of snaps played:

CB Breon Borders

The unofficial newcomer of the year in training camp (based on number of times teammates offered unsolicited praise), Borders played 32 snaps and recorded his first career interception on the final play of the drive, returning it 19 yards before the final horn. Borders also recorded a pass breakup on the final drive of the third quarter.

"I didn’t see him talk any trash, but I didn’t see him stop smiling," senior Ross Cockrell said of Borders after his interception. "He never stopped smiling the whole rest of the night."

After week one, Borders leads all of Duke's DBs with his one pick.

"If he stays up on me the whole year, I’m cool with that, as long as we’re winning games," Cockrell said.

WR Ryan Smith

Not the biggest (5-foot-7, 165 pounds) but maybe the fastest on the team, Smith, from powerhouse Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, played 30 snaps (just for a baseline, starting quarterback Anthony Boone played 39). He caught one pass for 39 yards, which came in the second quarter on third-and-15. Boone targeted him one other time (on a play that was wiped out due to a defensive false start) and Brandon Connette targeted him with a late-game pass as well.

Smith was also flagged once in the second quarter for encroachment, a 5-yard penalty.

CB Bryon Fields

Early in camp, Fields was working exclusively at safety, and he was expected to be a strong redshirt candidate so he could have another year to develop. But Fields, from small-school Charlotte Providence Day, forced his way onto the field, and the staff moved him to cornerback, a higher-need position.

Fields played 27 snaps Saturday, recording one solo tackle and two pass breakups ("Bryon Fields got his hand on a few balls that he probably should have caught," Cockrell said). His tackle came at the end of the first quarter—note the early appearance—on a first-and-10 run that went for three yards.

His two pass breakups came later in the game, one of the final drive of the third quarter and another on the game's final drive.

WR Johnell Barnes

Barnes played 20 snaps and recorded one catch for 21 yards in the fourth quarter, with Connette throwing him the ball. On the previous play, Barnes had been flagged for a false start, but he responded with the 21-yard catch on third-and-7.

S Deondre Singleton

Singleton played 16 snaps, recording three total tackles, all in the fourth quarter (one solo, two assisted) and .5 tackles for a loss of one yard.

More true freshmen could see the field in later games, if a need arises, but at this point, these five are at the top of the class.

•••

Cutcliffe has also talked about the possibility of a few upperclassmen redshirting as well, to keep the Blue Devils' class sizes relatively balanced.

"I like where we're at, 31 freshmen and sophomores and 29 juniors and seniors in your top 60," Cutcliffe said. "That can get out of whack sometimes. You don’t want it to get out of whack where there are 40 guys in the junior and senior classes. It’s hard to rebuild form that."

There were two healthy upperclassmen that have previous experience that did not play against the Eagles: redshirt sophomore LB Lucas Fisher and sophomore TE Erich Schneider.

Now, since Fisher already redshirted, he can't again. He did change positions in the spring, moving from defensive end. Fisher played in eight games last year and was on the field for a total of 30 snaps.

Schneider, though, is a good redshirt candidate. The 6-foot-7, 225 pound Schneider played in all 13 games as a reserve tight end last year. He was on the field for 227 snaps, with a season-high 32 against Clemson, and caught one pass for 13 yards at Stanford.

Schneider has moved to wide receiver because his size is more ideal for that position (Cutcliffe would prefer his tight ends be thicker). There's not a need for another wide receiver this year, so it makes sense for Schneider to take a year to develop versus seeing himself buried on the depth chart.

As far as upperclassmen redshirts, also keep an eye on junior WR Jack Wise (a walk-on who played in 11 games last year) and DE Britton Grier (played 170 snaps in 11 games last year). Both were listed as out on last week's injury report.

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