Duke, riding a three-game losing streak on the field, announced the dismissal of three football players Tuesday.
Starting wide receiver Johnell Barnes, a junior, redshirt sophomore wide receiver Terrance Alls and redshirt sophomore linebacker Chris Holmes are no longer part of the team, Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe said.
“This is, without doubt, the most difficult thing teams and coaches face,” Cutcliffe said at his weekly news conference. “This is not a reaction to anything that has occurred during the last couple weeks. This has been something that we have worked very hard with these young men to continue to understand what’s expected of them. We have standards in this program that we’re committed to. When we’re recruiting, we let them and their parents know these things.
“With this circumstance, it had reached a point where it was in their best interest, and certainly the program’s best interest, to move forward somewhere else. We appreciate and thank them for their contributions to the program. We wish them well in whatever they choose to do.”
This is not the first disciplinary incident for Barnes or Alls. His freshman year, Barnes broke his hand punching a lacrosse player at an off-campus bar. Alls was suspended for the first six contests of this year for undisclosed team rules violations.
Consistency has been an issue for the wide receiving corps on the field this year. The coaching staff was ready to anoint Barnes as the No. 1 receiver entering the season, but he could never perform well enough to earn that role (his last meaningful impact will be a dropped touchdown pass in the second half against Pitt). Senior Max McCaffrey, a possession receiver, has been option No. 1 because of his reliability. And in praising reserve-turned-starter Anthony Nash, a redshirt junior, Cutcliffe has always mentioned his character.
“I couldn’t be happier for a more conscientious young man,” Cutcliffe said after Saturday’s loss to Pitt. “He’s a hard worker.”
Without Barnes (34 catches) and Alls (six), Duke has McCaffrey (42), Nash (19) and freshman T.J. Rahming (21), who started three games this year but none in five weeks, as its main receiving options. Rahming didn’t start against N.C. Central in the second week because of a midweek work ethic that left something to be desired. Running back Shaquille Powell has been consistently active in the passing game, too.
Holmes, a once-promising prospect, had fallen to fifth in the linebacker rotation between two available spots.
Cutcliffe hasn’t minced words when talking about how challenging the past three weeks have been for the Blue Devils (6-4 overall, 3-3 ACC). First, there was the bizarre loss to Miami, after which the ACC admitted officiating mistakes during the last-second kickoff return and that the Hurricanes’ final touchdown shouldn’t have counted.
Cutcliffe announced Tuesday that he resigned from the National Football Rules committee, effective immediately, saying, “I wouldn’t be able to do as good a job as I need to do, based on all the people I would need to work with in that role.”
After Miami came the blowout loss at North Carolina and, most recently, the second-half meltdown against Pitt.
“They clearly understand after so many things have been pointed out to them, whether it’s on tape or verbally, that things have to change,” Cutcliffe said. “We have to get better.”
The Blue Devils close the regular season at Virginia and at Wake Forest. There is plenty at stake, in terms of potential bowl destinations. There are many miles, literally and otherwise, between the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City and the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.
“It’s hard to get nine wins in any Big Five conference or in Division I football, so that would be a huge milestone for us this year,” McCaffrey said of the team goal that still remains. “It starts with Virginia.”