Duke Football Midseason Report: Blue Devils Coming Up Average
The Duke Blue Devils had a little bit of hype heading into the 2010 season but nearly half way through the team typically picked to finish last in the league is just that.
Strangely enough Duke wasn't picked to finish last this season after two back-to-back seasons of improvement and growth. Many saw 2010 as a potential break-out year for the Blue Devils who had hoped to earn at least six wins to become bowl eligible.
However, despite the hope and expectations Duke has underachieved in some areas and going through expected growing pains in others and thus have not been able to put it together this season.
Here is how the Blue Devils grade so far.
Quarterback: Grade C+
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Any David Cutcliffe coached squad starts with its quarterback. After two seasons coaching Thad Lewis, Cutcliffe turned the reigns over to redshirt junior Sean Renfree.
Renfree was a respected and somewhat highly regarded prospect coming into college from Arizona.
After sitting out his freshman season as a redshirt under Cutcliffe, he earned the back-up role to Lewis last season and played well in limited time before being injured late in the season.
Back at full strength Renfree has been very good at times and pretty scary at other times. He has had time to throw and shown some toughness and poise but has been through a bit of a slump.
His current touchdown to interception ratio is 10 to 9 which isn't good an will have to get better if Duke is to salvage what is left of the season. He needs to take more time go through his progressions and make better decisions.
Cutcliffe loves him as a worker and he is still young and surely to improve as the season goes on.
Running Backs: Grade C
Brian A. Westerholt/Getty Images
Duke's running game had no where to go but up after last season.
So far they have improved going from the nation's worst running attack to breaking into the top 100. And while they are a long way from Alabama's duo of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, the Blue Devils' Desmond Scott and Josh Snead have held their own.
Snead has proving to be a speedy change of pace back. He is small but shown some toughness running in with the big boys.
Scott the starting back is multi-skilled and shown glimpses of game breaking ability. Duke has yet to be consistent with the game and at times appears to struggle integrating it with the passing attack which has served Duke well under Cutcliffe.
Overall not great numbers, but much improved over last year and with the youth they have it should only get better.
Wide Receivers: Grade B
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Duke's trio of wide receivers including, Donovan Varner, Conner Vernon, and Austin Kelly has once again picked up where they left off.
Depsite a serous case of the drops over the early part of the season the Killer Vs as they are referred to by Duke fans are providing good and dangerous targets for quarterback Sean Renfree.
With Kelly being the only senior, Renfree will have Vaner and Vernon together for at least one more season which may be what it takes to get the Blue Devils back into Bowl contention.
Vaner had more than 1,000 receiving yards in 2009 while Vernon had more than 700. So both have shown their value as targets.
If Renfree can again hit his stride then he certainly has the strongest part of the Duke offense waiting to receive his passes and help the Blue Devils reach pay dirt.
Offensive Line: Grade C+
Duke's offensive line is starting to build strength, size, and experience and it is about time.
What has been routinely a weak link for the Blue Devils has turned out to be a pleasant surprise. While still generally considered undersized-- starting center Bryan Morgan is only about 260 lbs-- the Duke line has opened up more holes for the running game and basically protected Sean Renfree.
Renfree has been sacked seven times so far and that includes a game against a staunch Alabama defense.
So those numbers aren't too terrible. If the line can continue to provide Renfree with time to throw and the running backs hole with which to run, then the Blue Devils offensive line still has a chance to start clicking.
Offensive Play Calling: Grade C-
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
While David Cutcliffe isn't the offensive coordinator he is the offensive mastermind behind the Duke offensive system.
That being said he can't be pleased with how the offense in its most recent game against Maryland got in scoring position four times and only came away with one touchdown.
At times the play calling has been very conservative and has struggled to integrate the running game--almost trying too hard to run the ball and going away from the bread and butter passing game.
The offense clearly has work to be done and if the Blue Devils are to turn the season around they are going to have to score points, but since the Wake Forest game in week two those have been few and far between.
Defensive Line: Grade D
Duke defense has been a weak point all season and it begins with the play up front. The Blue Devils defensive line has struggled to adjust to a new 3-4 oriented scheme in 2010.
New co-defensive coordinators Marion Hobby and Jim Knowles elected to move to the 3-4 to compensate for the lack of depth, and experience up front.
Any time that adjustment is made growing pains can be expected and that is what Duke is seeing. They are struggling to get pressure on the opposing quarterbacks and have shown an inability to stop the running game.
Without pressure the opposing quarterbacks have been picking apart a weak secondary and gaining huge chunks of yardage on the ground before the linebacker, who are typically getting bodies thrown at them, or defensive backs can make the stops.
Veterans like defensive tackle Charlie Hatcher hopefully have used the bye week to learn more and get healthy because it is a long haul the rest of the way.
Linebackers: Grade D+
The Blue Devils feature a lot of youth and inexperience in the line-backing core.
The grade would actually be much higher if the linebackers could get some pressure on the quarterback or start stopping runs in the gaps. So far they haven't had much of a chance.
Abraham Kromah has done a reasonably solid job anchoring the young unit of linebackers but has to do too much chasing and not enough attacking.
The bright side is the unit as a whole is young and will only get better with time and experience. The only problem is will that be this season or will it have to wait for 2011?
Secondary: Grade C-
Brian A. Westerholt/Getty Images
The secondary is the strongest part of the Duke defensive unit and that isn't saying much.
At times they have looked miserable, while at other times they have been at least respectable. Either through overplaying, underplaying, missed assignments or coaching decisions, the secondary has been victimized a lot this season.
That comes as a bit of a surprise considering the anchors of the defense, Chris Rwabukamba, Lee Butler, and Matt Daniels.
Johnny Williams a converted wide receiver has struggled adjusting to corner and Ross Cockrell is a freshman, though he has shown a lot of potential.
All and all not a bad unit but not as good as many thought they might be.
Special Teams: Grade B
The good news is Will Snyderwine has been pretty accurate during 2010 on both PAT (16 for 16) as well as field goal tries (9 of 10).
The bad news at least for Duke as a team is that the offense is relying too heavily on the leg of Snyderwine for points.
Coverage and breakdowns have still occurred and punting has been an issue with starter Kevin Jones being quickly replaced by Alex King.
King has done respectably averaging over 40 yards per punt and he has punted often (20 times in four games).
Once a major liability the special teams play is becoming a strength of the team, unfortunately it may be the strongest thing about them so far this season.
Coaching/ Overall Performance: Grade C-
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
A team is a reflection of its coach and Duke hasn't looked more dissimilar to David Cutcliffe than they have over the four-game losing streak.
At times and seemingly every third quarter they've been uninspired and flat. There have been major breakdowns in communication, and execution and discipline which is not like a Cutcliffe coached team.
It isn't that it is his fault, part of the problem is youth and inexperienced but in a year when many were hoping to see Duke turn a corner they are closer to having taken a step back.
There are certainly positives being seen, but in a society and a sport judged on what are you doing for me know, Duke has fallen short of expected and have been very average.