The Duke football team will face many challenges this season, both from its own lack of experience and from the talent its opponents will bring to the field. Fortunately for the Blue Devils, their secondary, the most experienced unit on the team, matches up well against the myriad of high-powered passing attacks in the ACC.
With a combined 70 games of action, including 51 starts, co-captain cornerback Kenneth Stanford and safety Alex Green lead a close Duke secondary. Junior safety Brian Greene and sophomore corner John Talley join the two seniors to form a formidable starting group.
“We’ve been together for a while so communication’s not a problem,” Stanford said. “We can look at each other and pretty much know what we’re going to do. We’ve been playing off each other and coming in together and watching film together. Us just playing together for so long is really going to help us out.”
Head coach Ted Roof is counting on that experience to help lead the team.
“These guys have broken a lot of huddles together and that’s really going to help us out,” he said. “You want an experienced secondary because the stakes are so high back there. They’ve been doing a good job with tackling and not giving up the big play.”
Although the starters are veteran players, there is very little depth behind them. The Blue Devils’ second team is composed of one junior and three freshmen. Any injuries could cause problems, especially against the potent passing attacks of Duke’s ACC opponents.
“We have to continue developing more depth, and we have to stay healthy,” Roof said. “Hopefully that will come.”
Stanford is going to be a key player not only for the secondary, but for the entire Blue Devil team. Named Duke’s outstanding defensive back the last two seasons, the 5-foot-9 corner is poised to have another strong year. Chosen as a team captain last week, Stanford is already demonstrating the leadership that earned him the position.
“[Being a captain] places a greater responsibility on me,” Stanford said. “Even if I don’t feel like practicing on the inside, I try to show a good example on the outside, because that kind of thing is contagious. If I’m having fun maybe somebody else will start having fun and then it will catch on to the whole team.”
The entire team will have to adopt that work-hard attitude if the Blue Devils hopes to keep up with its opponents. Whether it is Clemson’s Charlie Whitehurst, Florida State’s Chris Rix or Virginia Tech’s Bryan Randall, the ACC is loaded with experienced quarterbacks who can get the ball downfield in a hurry.
“This is a great league and we’re going to play against great teams with great players,” Roof said. “Hopefully we rise to the level of competition. We’ve got a bar where we set a standard no matter who we’re playing against, so I think we can step up to the challenges.”
Saturday the Blue Devils will face the option-oriented offense of Navy, a prospect that can be just as daunting as a powerful passing attack like Florida State’s. Duke’s cornerbacks and safeties will have to help out on the run but will also have to be aware that a surprise pass could yield a big play.
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“[The secondary] is going to have to be very precise and very exact, very disciplined with their eyes,” Roof said. “They’re going to have a big role in all phases of our defense.”
Duke’s secondary will be tested early and often this season, and its performance will play a large role in determining the team’s success. The right mentality could mean the difference between winning and losing.
“I just want to win,” Stanford said. “Whatever it takes.”