Duke will be the first of the Triangle’s ACC teams to take the football field for real when the Blue Devils open on Aug. 31, a Friday night, against Army.
Because of that, the Blue Devils are on a slightly expedited schedule. In two weeks, they’ll be in full game week preparation mode.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe told his players following Saturday’s night’s intra-squad scrimmage that they’ll begin some prep work for Army this week. That’s how close the regular season is.
With that in mind, plenty of important developments can be gleaned from the 120-play full-contact scrimmage the Blue Devils went through under the Wallace Wade Stadium lights Saturday night.
Cutcliffe has said this, on paper, is his most talented and athletic team at Duke. Now that he’s seen the team in practice for two weeks and in a live scrimmage setting, he believes big things are possible.
“I think we’ll probably see more plays, more individuals make really big plays on both sides of the ball,” Cutcliffe said. “More individuals have the ability to make a lot of plays. That was consistent throughout.”
That includes some new names to the Duke football world. Many are mentioned below in a look at five things we learned on Saturday night:
There’s hope at wide receiver
Duke’s problems in the passing game have been well-documented, from the receivers’ struggles the last two years to turn contested plays in to catches to quarterback Daniel Jones’ pedestrian completion percentage of 56 percent last season.
But the receiving corps played well during the scrimmage. Not perfect, mind you, but well.
Seniors receivers TJ Rahming and Johnathan Lloyd each caught touchdown passes from Jones, who completed 12 of 20 passes (60 percent) for 179 yards. Sophomore tight end Noah Gray, who will be a factor in Duke’s passing game this season, also caught a touchdown pass from Jones.
Rahming caught three passes overall, showing the ability to make catches in traffic.
But the receiver who turned the most heads was freshman Jake Bobo. The 6-4 Bobo caught four passes for 93 yards, mostly working with reserve quarterbacks Quentin Harris and Chris Katrenick.
Bobo’s ability to make plays on the ball in traffic, displaying athleticism and concentration, has been consistent throughout his first camp as a college football player. Those attributes were on full display Saturday night.
“We’ll have to go day by day with a young one,” Cutcliffe said. “This far into practice, which is not very far, I do know that he is an individual who has a knack for making great plays. He’s done it in practice. He’s a very consistent football player in that regard. He’s got size. He’s got great hands.”
Jones has noticed Bobo, who wears No. 19, as well.
“He’s certainly talented,” Jones said. “You all saw today the ability he has to find the ball and make plays. It’s really been fun to watch how quickly he’s improved. I’m just really excited to see what he can do.”
Kicking game solidifying
Collin Wareham, a senior walk-on kicker, became the team’s No. 1 kicker in spring practice while Austin Parker was away from the team serving an academic-related suspension from school.
Parker, Duke’s kicker and punter last season, has returned but is working as a second-team punter only.
Wareham showed why the coaching staff has put so much faith in him during the scrimmage. He made field goals covering 23, 31, 32, 39, 40 and 45 yards. Back-up kicker A.J. Reed made field goals from 36, 37 and 46 yards away.
Though Wareham missed two attempt durings warmups that Cutcliffe blamed on a poor snap and bad hold, neither kicker missed a field goal attempt in scrimmage play.
“Once the scrimmage started, Collin Wareham was what he’s been every day,” Cutcliffe said. “I think he’s missed one -- and I’ll knock on wood here -- he’s missed one kick all of camp.”
Duke is solid on one side at cornerback with all-ACC pick Mark Gilbert returning. He had an interception during the scrimmage, as if to remind everyone who he is.
The other cornerback spot is where the battle is this month, with Josh Blackwell, Michael Carter II and, to a lesser extent Myles Hudzick, in the mix.
Cutcliffe called the situation a “day-by-day circumstance.”
During Saturday night’s scrimmage, Blackwell worked with the first team defense but Carter isn’t out of the running.
“He had a great day (Friday), Josh did,” Cutcliffe said. “Both of them have a lot of talent. I will say this and Michael’s got to remember this, Michael is newer to the position. I love the competition. I love it. Michael Carter is going to playing some where in some form for us and Josh Blackwell is going to be playing for us.”
Blackwell and Carter both arrived at Duke last year. Carter played as a true freshman while Blackwell redshirted.
A safety a year ago, Carter has moved to cornerback this summer.
Deep defensive line
Duke’s staff is so encouraged by its depth along the defensive line that it has moved Trevon McSwain from defensive tackle to offensive tackle.
Part of what allowed that was the emergence of freshmen defensive tackles Elijah Brown (6-4, 315) and Tahj Rice (6-2, 320).
Brown played with the second-team defensive unit on Saturday night with Rice also getting some of those repetitions.
Redshirt senior Edgar Cerenord has one starting tackle job secured. Sophomore Derrick Tangelo started next to him on Saturday night. Sophomore Alex Nyembwe, at 6-2, 310 pounds, also got some playing time.
Redshirt junior Twazanga Mugala also played with the second-team defense at tackle.
Duke has plenty of young talent in the middle
“We’re banking on those guys stepping up,” Cutcliffe said.
At defensive end, sophomore Drew Jordan started on the right side with Tre Hornbuckle, a starter last season, moving to second team. Sophomore Victor Dimukeje started a left defensive end with junior Terrell Lucas on second team.
Duke’s only offensive lineman starting at the same position he played last season is junior left guard Julian Santos. Zach Harmon started at right guard last season but is now Duke’s starting center.
The rest of the starting line on Saturday night was sophomore Rakavius Chambers (right guard), redshirt senior Christian Harris (left tackle) and redshirt sophomore Robert Kraeling (right tackle).
The second-team line was anchored by center Jack Wohlabaugh, the Ohio State transfer who was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA last month. Jaylen Miller is at left tackle, with Zach Baker at left guard.
The right side is manned by Jacob Rimmer at guard and Casey Holman at tackle.
But McSwain is progressing quickly to give Duke another option at offensive tackle.
“We are working him as much as we can work him,” Cutcliffe said. “We are limiting some of the calls to try to introduce him to it the right way. But he is really, really smart. We knew that already. He has really gathered a lot of information.”