While the ink was still drying on the national letters of intent that Duke received from the newest members of its football program, the Blue Devils unveiled their incoming freshman class and made a definitive statement about the team’s future.
On National Signing Day Wednesday, 16 high school seniors made their decisions to play for Duke next fall official, adding to four more who had enrolled early for the Spring semester. But when the Blue Devils released their official 2013 recruiting class for the first time, the team broke away from typical football jargon.
The 20 players were listed at just three positions: quarterback, back or lineman. As head coach David Cutcliffe took to the podium to speak about his new recruits for the first time, his message was clear: He is still searching for the 11 most athletic people to send onto the gridiron.
“These are some guys who can just run,” Cutcliffe said. “They’re playmakers on both sides of the ball.... If you do your research, a lot of them played and started on both sides of the ball for their [high school] teams.”
With just two offensive linemen and two defensive linemen in the class, Cutcliffe’s priority was speed and athleticism. He also sought to fill some holes left in Duke’s defensive backfield, which allowed nearly 50 points per contest in the team’s final five games of the season and lost three starters to graduation.
At least eight of Duke’s signees will play in the Blue Devil secondary, a unit that was decimated by injuries last season and allowed 267.6 passing yards per contest, ranking second-worst in the ACC.
“We had so many injuries that we just about ran out in the secondary,” Cutcliffe said. “It was an area that we knew we had numbers that we needed to address.”
Some of the Blue Devil recruits may compete for first-team reps next season, especially on the defensive side of the football. Cornerback Evrett Edwards and safety Chris Holmes, in particular, may be called upon to step in as true freshmen.
Edwards, who is one of the more highly-touted recruits in the Blue Devils’ 2013 recruiting class, enrolled at Duke a semester early along with cornerback Quay Mann, quarterback Parker Boehme and linebacker Dominic McDonald. They will be able to participate in Duke’s spring practices and become better acquainted with the team’s playbook throughout the semester. This will be particularly advantageous to the defensive players, who will be tasked with learning the Blue Devils’ complex 4-2-5 defensive scheme.
“Evrett is a very talented young man,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s very committed to his academics, a very disciplined young man and a mature young man. He’s a really good football player.”
Duke’s recruiting class appears to be versatile on the offensive side of the ball as well, featuring two dual-threat quarterbacks in Boehme and Quay Chambers as well as T.J. Douglas, who will play wide receiver for the Blue Devils. Douglas was a second-team All-State selection as a quarterback at Fort Myers High School in Fort Myers, Fla.
“T.J. can play anywhere,” Cutcliffe said. “All I know about T.J. is that he can run it, catch it, throw it, cover it. He just can play.”
Cutcliffe said with an athletic crew of recruits, he will keep an open mind about what positions may be best for them in the future, adding that it may be a different position than some of the recruits played in high school. The head coach may be able to afford this flexibility in his sixth year, given that most of the team’s 20 incoming freshman played both sides of the ball and made impacts on special teams in high school.
Although Duke will add 20 players to its program, the team was also forced to address the departure of two members of its coaching staff. Wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Matt Lubick announced last week that he had accepted a job at Oregon and Cutcliffe announced during his press conference Wednesday that tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Ron Middleton has been hired by the Jacksonville Jaguars to be the team’s tight ends coach.