Duke Now

Defense rules in Duke football’s spring scrimmage

Duke defensive tackle Carlos Wray (98) reacts after a fourth quarter sack of Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer (12). Duke was beat by Virginia Tech 17-16 at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, NC Saturday, November 15, 2014.
Duke defensive tackle Carlos Wray (98) reacts after a fourth quarter sack of Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer (12). Duke was beat by Virginia Tech 17-16 at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, NC Saturday, November 15, 2014. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Duke’s version of a spring game was modified from the traditional format Saturday, with construction ongoing at Wallace Wade Stadium and below-freezing temperatures and a biting wind outside.

So, in lieu of an actual game, Duke practiced position-specific drills for 90 minutes and concluded the day with a 25-minute situational scrimmage. And even without the offense attempting the traditional march down the field, it was clear which side of the ball was having the most success.

“The defense definitely won,” defensive tackle Carlos Wray said. “They got behind the sticks (tackled for loss), they didn’t convert a fourth down, they missed the two-point conversion, which is what we call a game-winner, and the referees deemed that the pass over in the left corner of the end zone was incomplete, which gave us the W.”

Wray’s assessment was accurate, and he and fellow starting linemen Kyler Brown, A.J. Wolf and Britton Grier got after starting quarterback Thomas Sirk. Reserves Mike Ramsay and true freshmen Marquies Price also recorded sacks.

Coach David Cutcliffe wouldn’t say that the defense is ahead of the offense at this point, but it would make sense for that to be the case. Duke is breaking in a new quarterback (Sirk), two new linemen (left tackle Gabe Brandner and right guard Cody Robinson) and looking for two new top receivers. Returning starter Max McCaffrey, along with junior Johnell Barnes and redshirt sophomore Terrence Alls, were the starting receivers during Saturday’s scrimmage.

Alls, who has made significant strides since last season, has been one of the spring’s pleasant surprises. He and Brandner won the most improved award for the offense (Wolf and cornerback/safety Alonzo Saxton II were defensive picks).

“When he catches it, gets into the tuck and then his breakaway speed – Terrence has breakaway speed like none other on our team,” Sirk said. “If you get him in open space, he is going to score.”

Even in the limited observation period Saturday, it was clear why Sirk, a redshirt junior, was the No. 1 quarterback. He has the size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and the arm strength to throw the deep ball, in addition to his ability to get yards on the ground. Redshirt sophomore Parker Boehme is No. 2.

“I’m very pleased with Thomas, and I’m very pleased with Parker,” Cutcliffe said. “What we’ve seen, at this point, is that we’ve got a one and a two that are really executing at a high level.”

That leaves redshirt freshman Nico Pierre as the No. 3 quarterback. When Pierre signed, there were hopes he could win the job after his redshirt season, but he is clearly not as polished as Sirk or Boehme as a passer.

The Blue Devils will finish their spring practices next week – the weather forced the schedule to be modified slightly – by working the defense against the option (they play Army and Georgia Tech next season) and looking at different fronts on offense. Practices will wrap up by the start of spring break next weekend.

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