The beat goes on toward Sept. 12.
Another week of practice meant that the Blue Devils were able to continue to build a foundation for the start of the season. With last Saturday’s scrimmage serving as an inflection point in the growth of this iteration of Duke football, the last few days have been an opportunity for the coaching staff to find out how the depth chart will shake out.
Thanks to a relatively clean bill of health throughout the roster, head coach David Cutcliffe has been able to thoroughly evaluate each position group, including the offensive line.
“Coming off the first scrimmage, I think we learned a lot about our team,” Cutcliffe said. “I’ll just start with the offensive side. I thought our front played better. I don’t think there’s any question that right now we’re really working with about 10 people that are competing either for playing time and/or starting. That’s always a good place to start up front, but I do think we’ve made progress. We’re better than we were there a year ago.”
Obviously, all eyes remain on the quarterback battle between Clemson transfer Chase Brice, redshirt sophomore Gunnar Holmberg and redshirt junior Chris Katrenick. Each signal caller brings a unique skill set to the table, making it a challenging decision for Cutcliffe and the rest of the offensive staff.
While limited practice through the spring and summer due to COVID-19 restrictions undoubtedly makes this type of decision even harder, the three QBs were able to make up for some of that with brand-new evaluation methods.
“We had a lot of Zoom meetings with Coach Cutcliffe and [Quarterbacks Coach Zac] Roper,” Holmberg said. “We did a lot of things that resemble a game in a way that you most possibly can online. Whether that’s going through progressions, them calling out plays for us and us just going through it.”
Whoever takes the first snap at quarterback against Notre Dame will need to have chemistry with all of the other skill position players, especially the wide receivers. A balanced mix of veterans and youngsters appears to give the Blue Devils the opportunity to stretch the field early and often.
“I think the receiving core is interesting: a lot of bodies, a lot of people,” Cutcliffe said. “A lot of progress has been made there, [Wide Receivers Coach] Trooper Taylor has done a great job with this group. We’ve got some young people making plays and some older people making plays. [I] thought Damond Philyaw-Johnson made a lot of great plays in the scrimmage.”
On the other side of the ball, the usual names are making their presence felt, especially up front. The defensive line figures to be a strength this season, with a host of names looking to wreak havoc in the trenches.
“Defensively, the people that you would expect up front are showing up,” Cutcliffe said. “Derrick Tangelo, [Victor Dimukeje], Chris Rumph, Drew Jordan—they’re making plays, and it’s very competitive between our offensive front and our defensive front.”
In the back end, building depth is a major priority, as injuries can often derail a stout pass defense as the fall wears on. Cutcliffe was pleased with how the defensive backs have performed to this point.
“The secondary is what you would think,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s deep across the board.... We’ve got guys competing at corner, guys competing at safety. Marquis Waters has kind of been the mainstay right there in the middle, Michael Carter [is] making a lot of plays.”
Amazingly, the season is only two weeks away, and despite all of the talk about a postponement or outright cancellation, Duke is focused solely on the task at hand. The next batch of practices and scrimmages will feature even more chances to build depth and continuity at crucial spots, which will be needed for a grueling ACC slate.
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Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.