With its season-opener against N.C. Central just five days away, Duke released its first depth chart of the 2013 regular season Tuesday. It appears the Blue Devils’ lineup for opening day could be laden with young talent, as six true freshmen were listed on the team’s opening depth chart.
“I see us being able to try to play a lot of people early,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “We’re going to go in possibly looking to play 60 or so people.”
Cutcliffe added that he has yet to make decisions regarding which first-year players would redshirt, but speculated that between five and seven rookies could see the field for Duke this season.
It appears that the majority of the true freshmen who see the field for the Blue Devils this season will do so in the defensive backfield. Redshirt senior cornerback Ross Cockrell is the lone returning full-time starter in Duke’s secondary. Despite serious competition from younger competitors, redshirt senior Garett Patterson is listed as the starter at the other corner spot. But the remaining three cornerbacks on the Blue Devils’ depth chart have yet to see a collegiate snap. Redshirt freshman DeVon Edwards and freshmen Breon Borders and Bryon Fields are listed behind Cockrell and Patterson.
“I feel better about our secondary,” Cutcliffe said. “That was the first thing I brought up about concerns, because I think that’s going really well for us.”
Absent from Duke’s two-deep depth chart was Evrett Edwards, who enrolled early and participated in spring practice with the Blue Devils in 2013. Edwards, who was the most highly-touted of Duke’s incoming freshman, was listed as the Blue Devils’ third cornerback on its original preseason depth chart.
Newcomer Chris Holmes is listed behind redshirt sophomore Jeremy Cash at the strike safety position, with freshman Deondre Singleton occupying the spot on the depth chart behind bandit safety Dwayne Norman.
Duke also listed two freshmen on the depth chart at the wide receiver position. Johnell Barnes will play behind sophomore Max McCaffrey, and senior Brandon Braxton and Ryan Smith will line up in the slot behind redshirt junior Isaac Blakeney.
In addition to revealing the starters for the Blue Devils’ matchup with the Eagles, Duke’s depth chart also provided a deeper look into the evolution of the team throughout training camp.
Returning to the offensive side of the ball after a year spent at safety, Braxton entered training camp as a backup but will split the starting job at Duke’s left receiver slot with McCaffrey.
Quarterback Anthony Boone said that Braxton’s promotion was a testament to the hard work he put in relearning his old position during the summer.
“He’s doing a great job,” Boone said. “He’s working his butt off, he’s running extra routes and when he’s tired, he’s going hard.”
It also appeared that Duke could be changing the way it utilizes its slot receivers. After 5-foot-9 Desmond Scott reeled in 66 passes during an effective senior season, the Blue Devils appeared to be headed in a different direction when it listed the 6-foot-6 Blakeney as the team’s new starter in the slot with 6-foot-7 Erich Schneider slated as his backup on the preseason depth chart. But with Smith, who measures just 5-foot-7, listed directly behind Blakeney on the depth chart, it appears that Duke is no longer married to the idea of a big target in the slot.
“You have to know your receiver as a quarterback,” Boone said. “You have to know who you’re throwing to. So there’s no excuse to miss a guy like [Smith]. He makes a lot of tough catches and a lot of tough plays because it’s tough to see him.”
The other big difference from the preseason is at the running back position. Senior Juwan Thompson remains atop the depth chart, but will split the starting nod with sophomore Jela Duncan, who was the team’s leading rusher last season. Josh Snead, who was listed at second on Duke’s first preseason depth chart, will split the second-string job with sophomore Shaquille Powell.
But with all four running backs expecting to see carries for the Blue Devils this season, Thompson said he tries not to worry about the depth chart’s order. When Duke takes the field for the first time Saturday, whoever plays the best will receive the most carries.
“We just look at the depth chart as this guy is going to start it off and we’re going to continue from there,” Thompson said. “We’re going to be there with each other throughout and push each other until the end. It’s going to be us three or four rotating and we’re just going to make plays.”