Duke football training camp notes, position battles to watch

One key piece was missing when Duke took the field for its first practice of the 2014 season Monday evening.

Redshirt senior tight end Braxton Deaver, who ranked second on the team with 46 receptions for 600 yards and four touchdowns last season, is not with the team and will not join them until Saturday. Head coach David Cutcliffe was wary not to use the word "suspension" when describing Deaver's situation, but the tight end has not been with the team for the duration of its summer workouts. Deaver's absence is without a doubt a hit to team chemistry, but the fifth-year senior will have plenty of time to get into the groove with roommate and quarterback Anthony Boone during the last two weeks of training camp.

In Deaver's stead, redshirt junior David Reeves took reps with the first team Monday night. Reeves has been an on and off contributor during his first three seasons, but caught a touchdown pass in last year's Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Texas A&M.

Injury notes: Redshirt sophomore tight end Dan Beilinson and freshman cornerback Johnathan Lloyd are both still recovering from offseason surgeries. There is no timetable for their returns to the field. Redshirt junior defensive end Kyler Brown is limited in practice with an ankle injury.

Three position battles to watch:

Training camp is all about position battles, and although most of Duke's core has returned for the 2014 season, here are a few you should keep your eye on.

1. Right tackle: The battle for Perry Simmons' old position on the offensive line will be the biggest of the summer. This is primarily a competition between redshirt sophomores Casey Blaser and Tanner Stone, both of who missed most or all of the 2014 season due to injury. The duo has maintained their health throughout the offseason and appear poised to push each other for Duke's right tackle job. Cutcliffe has mentioned redshirt freshmen Sterling Korona and Gabe Brandner in the mix as well. With three offensive line starters returning in left tackle Takoby Cofield, right guard Laken Tomlinson and center Matt Skura and Lucas Patrick sliding into Dave Harding's old spot at left guard, this is the final piece to solidifying a Blue Devil line that has had success in each of the past two seasons.

2. Wide receiver: Much less of a head-to-head battle, but lots of people vying for time here. The only person with a known position at this point is senior Jamison Crowder, who will return from a record-setting season as Duke's primary offensive weapon. Junior Max McCaffrey, who started alongside Crowder last year, is seeing more time in the slot during offseason workouts, and Cutcliffe has lauded sophomore Ryan Smith for his big-play potential in the slot as well. Redshirt senior Issac Blakeney, who has spent most of his career in the slot, is taking more reps on the outside. At 6-foot-6, Blakeney has significant matchup-problem potential, especially after slimming down from 240 pounds to about 225 after running track for Duke last spring. Sophomore Johnell Barnes is listed behind Crowder on the depth chart but made explosive plays as a freshman and should battle for time as well. Freshman Trevon Lee and redshirt sophomore Anthony Nash will both vie for time but could be on the outside looking in. Ultimately, the battle at wide receiver is going to be about finding where the pieces fit best together.

3. Defensive line: Following the graduation of mainstays Kenny Anunike, Justin Foxx and Sydney Sarmiento, the Blue Devils have major holes to fill on their defensive front. Fifth-year senior Jamal Bruce is Duke's only returning starter on the defensive line at nose guard and junior Carlos Wray, who saw significant playing time a year ago and will slide over to defensive tackle. The interesting battles on the interior will be behind Bruce and Wray, where redshirt sophomores A.J. Wolf and Keilin Rayner and redshirt senior Jamal Wallace and redshirt freshman Mike Ramsay will battle for a spot in Cutcliffe's rotation. Redshirt seniors Dezmond Johnson and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo appear to have the starting spots at defensive end locked down, but it will be interesting to see if strong play from redshirt junior Kyler Brown or senior Jonathan Jones may impact how much playing time they see in the defensive line rotation. Cutcliffe previously expressed his desire to play between eight and 10 players each game on his defensive front.


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