Helton and Reeves ready to step up following injuries

Redshirt junior David Reeves will be one of the players Duke needs to step up this season in light of its recent injuries.
Redshirt junior David Reeves will be one of the players Duke needs to step up this season in light of its recent injuries.

In football, every play has the chance to be your last. One false step or unlucky cut and a player’s season can end in the blink of an eye. Conversely, every other player on the team is just one play away from being thrust into a bigger role.

As training camp drew to a close, Duke lost two fifth-year seniors—middle linebacker Kelby Brown and tight end Braxton Deaver—for the season to ACL injuries in the span of one week. Brown, an All-ACC performer and team captain, was the Blue Devils’ top returning defensive player. Deaver was the team’s second-leading receiver a year ago and a dynamic playmaker.

Losing key starters and vocal leaders on both sides of the ball, Brown and Deaver’s injuries dealt Duke a major blow before the 2014 season even began. Stepping into the spotlight to fill each of their respective roles are Brown and Deaver’s soft-spoken counterparts, David Helton and David Reeves.

“It’s always hard to see one of your boys go down, but after that you know you have to keep the ball rolling,” said Reeves, a redshirt junior. “I just want to embrace that.”

The prospect of missing both Brown and Deaver for an entire season is not one with which Duke is unfamiliar. Both Brown and Deaver missed the 2012 season due to injury as well.

As a redshirt freshman, Reeves played in Deaver’s stead and caught 18 passes for 122 yards and three touchdowns. C.J. France filled in for Brown at linebacker and registered 60 tackles with a forced fumble and an interception.

“It was almost like a deer in the headlights initially,” Reeves said. “I think that this time I’ll be able to take a better approach to the game—see things as they're happening and know how to react to them.”

Helton, a senior, was Brown’s partner in crime playing at weak side linebacker last season, where he led the ACC with 133 tackles. Brown did not hesitate to point this out more than a month before his injury.

“It seems like I got all the glory and David did all the dirty work,” Brown said at July's ACC Kickoff event in Greensboro. “He led the ACC in tackles and barely got any recognition for it. He’s not a guy who needs that.”

Sliding over to middle linebacker, Helton’s challenge will be adjusting to a more vocal role in the defensive playcalling and spending more time covering opposing tight ends, something he did not have to with the reliable Brown at his side.

France, a redshirt senior, is the favorite to take over Helton’s spot on the weak side. Redshirt freshman Chris Holmes, who has impressed Duke’s coaching staff since moving from safety to linebacker but has been limited with a hamstring injury during training camp, could see some time there as well.

At the tight end spot, 6-foot-7 redshirt sophomore Erich Schneider—who has spent time at wide receiver during his collegiate career—and true freshman Davis Koppenhaver could be in the mix as well.

Tactical changes could also come with the injuries to Brown and Deaver. Redshirt junior safety Jeremy Cash will likely spend more time in the box to make up for the loss of Brown’s run support, and Duke’s offense could employ more four- and five-receiver sets, showcasing its depth at wide receiver and filling the void left by Deaver, who often split out into the slot as a receiver.

Both Brown and Deaver have missed multiple seasons due to injuries and would be compelling cases for a rare sixth year of NCAA eligibility, which was utilized by Blue Devil defensive end Kenny Anunike a year ago. The pair of Blue Devils were expected to be well-regarded NFL prospects heading into the year, and would be significant additions to Duke’s 2015 team.

But for now, Duke’s fallen stars are still taking active roles in the team’s bid to repeat as ACC Coastal Division champions. Brown and Deaver are making up for their absence on the field with their presence off of it. Brown was elected the Blue Devils’ fifth team captain this season, and the duo provides valuable leadership in the locker room.

It is guidance Reeves and Helton will need as they step in to fill some big shoes.

“We always have contingency planning,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “It is never ideal, but I think we are more equipped to handle it.”


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