Duke checked off one of the annual rites of camp Monday: the first day in full pads.
The NCAA mandates a five-day acclimation period before teams can fully dress for football, and during that period, Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe often couches any observations with the disclaimer that it’s not real football yet. But now, standout performers can be identified.
And tight end Braxton Deaver didn’t hesitate to name one.
“Benjamin Humphreys has shined like I’ve never seen a freshman linebacker shine,” he said. “He has a lot of natural instincts. He reminds a lot of Kelby Brown. It’s interesting to watch a freshman come in and not shy away from contact the way he has. Usually a lot of kids do. He plays low, and the more experience that kid gets, the better he will be. You’re probably going to see him on the field.”
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Humphreys was the jewel of Duke’s most recent recruiting class, a 4-star linebacker and Army All-American from Los Angeles powerhouse Mater Dei High. His penchant for contact became apparent when the Blue Devils put on shoulder pads Friday, and it became more clear after practice Monday. Denver estimated the Humphreys has intercepted four or five passes over the past few days.
If Humphreys is having that kind of impact, it will be hard to keep him off the field. And with Brown out and two new starters at linebacker, Humphreys isn’t blocked by anyone he couldn’t potentially beat out for playing time.
Monday also started the beginning of two-a-day practices for Duke. The team went from 8:30 - 10:30 a.m. and then will have practice No. 2 starting at 6 p.m. In between, there is a lot of resting. Freshmen, sophomores and juniors are required to stay on campus in between sessions, and most seniors choose to as well.
“We’re allowed to leave, but I have too many things that need oil, too many kinks in the machine to go anywhere,” Deaver said. “There are blow-up mattresses that all sorts of kids bring, those and sleeping bags. I’ll hop on with another lineman and we’ll just lay right next to each other.
“It’s a very bonding team we have here.”
For linemen especially, this is the time during camp where it can be difficult to maintain an ideal playing weight. Right tackle Casey Blaser, who is listed at 6-foot-5, 290 pounds, said he makes a conscious effort to try and take in more calories the week before in preparation.
He estimates his daily caloric intake at 5,000 to 5,500 a day.
“Honestly, I don’t really count meals,” he said. “When I get hungry, I get hungry, and I try to eat every couple of hours. That’s about it.”
And it’s not just offensive linemen – defensive tackle A.J. Wolf, who is listed at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, said he aims for around 4,500 to 5,000 calories. He gets his through three big meals and “a lot of snacks.”
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One other player who has caught Deaver’s eye but won’t be on the field this year: tight end Daniel Helm. The sophomore transferred from Tennessee in January and will sit out this season. He was ranked as a top-10 tight end recruit by all he major scouting services and started two games for the Volunteers last year, catching six receptions for 37 yards and a two-point conversion against Georgia. Helm will have three years of eligibility remaining after this year.
“He is maybe the nicest kid you will ever meet off the field, but that kid puts a helmet on and he will power bomb your mother,” Deaver said. “He is a nasty player. In the spring, he jumped 36 inches with his vertical. The sky is the limit. He is an unbelievable athlete.”