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Alexander done, Duke regroups

Duke not only fell to Connecticut Saturday, but the team lost one of its emotional leaders on and off the field to injury.

Senior captain Phillip Alexander will miss the rest of the season after breaking a bone in his left leg, an injury suffered as Alexander blocked downfield on John Talley’s interception return for a touchdown.

“Looking at it on tape yesterday, I just cringed,” head coach Ted Roof said.

Alexander, who made the adjustment from linebacker to defensive end during his sophomore season, was in the midst of an exceptional year and Roof said that the loss of the team’s best pass rusher would make a big difference on any team.

“Phil has a lot of experience, and he’s a great player. He’s done a lot for us this year and in the past,” linebacker Malcolm Ruff said.

In the Blue Devils opening game against Navy, Alexander recorded 6.5 tackles and a sack for a five-yard loss. He also forced and recovered a fumble as he broke through the Midshipmen’s offensive line to knock away a lateral in the backfield. Before his injury in the first quarter of the Connecticut game, Alexander assisted on two tackles.

“It’s a shame because he’s worked so hard and prepared and also done a good job leading—he’s one of our captains,” Roof said. “Not having Kenny [Stanford] and Philip, two of your captains out, that’s something you don’t ever want to see.”

Stanford did not make the trip to East Hartford because of a shoulder injury. Running back Cedric Dargan is also out after suffering a leg injury at Navy, and both are listed as day-to-day. Stanford and Dargan will likely see action this weekend against Virginia Tech if they can recover in time to practice.

Filling in at defensive end for Alexander for the remainder of the year will be junior Justin Kitchen, who Ruff called a “student of the game.” The Charlotte, N.C., native played well in Alexander’s absence against the Huskies, sacking Dan Orlovsky for a five-yard loss and accounting for 5.5 tackles.

“He’s definitely more than a fill-in,” Roof said. “Justin has made a lot of strides. Justin and I got here together and he was a tall, gangly linebacker and he became a tall, gangly defensive end that started to thicken up and bulk up, and I’ve really been pleased with his attitude and work ethic and his improvement.”

While the defense deals with injuries, questions surrounding the offense, especially the quarterback situation, will linger on throughout the week.

Chris Dapolito was effective in just the second start of his career, throwing for 129 yards on 12 completions, but Roof turned to pocket-passer Mike Schneider on the team’s final drive. Schneider responded with 55 passing yards.

“Both quarterbacks are going to play,” said Roof, who will not alter his gameplan from the start of the season. “As far as what role and who is going to start, I’m not sure about that yet. I’m going to sit down and discuss it here in a little while, but I think that’s going to go on throughout the week and [we will] probably see who practices better.”

Despite his miss on the potential game-winning field goal, Matt Brooks is expected to remain atop the depth chart at place kicker, although backup Alex Feinberg is expected to pressure Brooks, Roof said.

“Competition makes everyone better,” Roof said. “But because a kid makes one mistake, I’m not going to give up on a kid cause he makes one mistake. Heck, we all make mistakes everyday.”

With a number of competitions for various starting positions at stake this week, practices are expected to remain intense as Duke prepares for a Virginia Tech. Preparing to face the hostile environment of Blacksburg and play on television, motivations will hardly be a problem for Duke.

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