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Zooobs!

Apparently the New Jersey Nets have signed Duke’s very own Brian Zoubek to a contract. Unfortunately, Zoobs is not guaranteed a contract, rather he signed a “make-good contract”, which is an invitation to training camp. If Zoubek makes the cut in training camp, then he gets a guaranteed contract.

Nonetheless this is exciting news for Blue Devil fans. If anyone told me last year that Zoubek would have the opportunity to make an NBA team, there’s no way I would’ve believed it. Zoubek really? No. Way. In. Hell.

I remember seeing Zoubek for the first time as a freshman at a party. A few of us were in a room when someone whispered excitedly that Zoubek was here. I remember watching wide eyed as this seven foot monstrosity had to bend down just to get through the door. He was the biggest human being I’d ever seen.

Unfortunately Zoubek’s size was never a benefit in his first three years at Duke. He struggled with everything: injuries, fouling, defense, offense, the works.

Even in the beginning of his senior year he still seemed like a deer caught in headlights. But suddenly, everything clicked for the big guy. I don’t remember the game, but all of a sudden Zoubek put together all that he had learned over the past four years: how to be an effective and devastating screener, defensive and offensive rebounding, and assuming his role on the team.

It cannot be discounted that Zoubek was as crucial a part of the team as the trio of Smith, Singler, Scheyer. His rebounding, toughness and leadership allowed the Blue Devils to win the National Championship last year.

So good luck Zoubek. Duke University appreciates all that you gave to us over the last four years. We wish you success in the NBA.

Duke Football: Where A Plan Comes Together

Donovan Varner leads Duke into 2010

When November 1st came at the end of the 2009 season, Duke stood at 5-3 and right in the middle of the ACC Coastal division race.  However, Coach David Cutcliffe’s November losing streak was extended four more games as he fell to 0-9 at Duke in the eleventh month.

Duke is also losing games by 15.7 points per game during their November slide.

So, in order for Duke to finally get that bowl bid they’ve been hunting, for now the sixteenth straight season, they’ve got to win in November.  To do that, you need depth.

The first two years of Cutcliffe’s time at Duke have been spent stockpiling the talent, redshirting it and conditioning it.  Now entering his third season, Cutcliffe has a roster with mostly his recruits to go along with some veterans in key roles.  He has sufficiently added enough depth to contend well into November.

Duke returns nine starters on offense but will have to replace the all time career passing leader in school history, Thad Lewis.   Lewis was a terrific passer whose skills took several steps forward when Cutcliffe, renowned as a quarterback guru, came in for his junior year.  However, Lewis did not possess the natural talents that incumbent starter Sean Renfree does.

Renfree came off the bench to lead Duke past Army last season, causing a brief QB controversy.  However, a few weeks later, Renfree would tear his ACL against Georgia Tech setting his progression back several months.

Renfree, a redshirt sophomore, is a mobile signal caller that has good zip on the ball but is better known for his accuracy.

Fortunately, he is helped by a veteran offensive line that returns 55 of a possible 60 starts from last season.  Bryan Morgan, center, anchors the line along with Kyle Hill, left tackle, and Brian Moore, right guard.  In previous years, the offensive line has been somewhat suspect and caused Thad Lewis to scramble and force throws he might otherwise have delivered into a teammate’s hands.

Most of those hands return.  Requan Boyette, last years starting RB, is gone and, although, he was a fan favorite, he was not the most effective runner.  He is replaced  by  last season’s leading rushers, Jay Hollingsworth, a junior bowling ball, and Desmond Scott, a sophomore scat back from Durham.  Scott will be the likely starter and get most of his carries in wide open packages that give him more room to run.  Hollingsworth will be seen more on 3rd down plays and short yardage situations.  The combo could prove to Duke’s version of Smash & Dash, however, they have a lot of work to do.  Duke ranked 120 out of 120 in the FBS in rushing.  Dead last.

The receiving corp also returns in tact for the most part, Johnny Williams, last years #4 receiver has been converted to corner.  Austin Kelly, Connor Vernon and Donovan Varner, the best trio of receivers in the ACC last season, all return and will make the transition for Renfree much smoother.  Varner, a 5’9″ junior slot receiver, was recently named 1st Team All ACC this preseason.

The Blue Devils also return big targets Brett Huffman and Brandon King, both seniors, at tight end as well as Danny Parker.  These three accounted for over 360 yards receiving and 6 touchdowns.

However, as great as the Duke passing game was last year (9th in the FBS), expect the Blue Devils to focus more on the running game and utilizing the tight ends more.

Defensively, Duke is looking at one word: chaos.  After defensive linemen John Drew and Brandon Putnam were involved in an on campus gun incident last fall and their subsequent dismissal from the team, Coach Marion Hobby finds his defense in chaos.  The six returning starters will help but the starters lost were crucial lynchpins.

This year, Duke will be switching defensive schemes to put more speed on the field.  Expect to see more 3-4 and even a little 3-3-5 blitz packages to maximize their strengths.

Redshirt seniors, Patrick Egboh and Wesley Oglesby hold down the defensive end positions and will play the bulk of the snaps, however, watch out for redshirt freshmen Justin Foxx and Sydney Sarmiento as well as converted tight end Kenny Anunike.

Charlie Hatcher returns at nose guard and will play almost all of the snaps at NG due to little experience behind him.

Replacing Vince Oghobaase and Ayanga Okpokowuruk will not be easy as the two were two of the better defensive linemen to come through the program in years.  Duke is hoping the new schemes will help cover these losses.

With the new four linebacker scheme, Duke is replacing Vincent Rey with as much speed and tackling as they can put on the field.

Damian Thornton packs the middle again but he’s joined by first year starter Kevin Rojas, a redshirt frosh who has really excelled in workouts and spring practice.  If Rojas is not in, look for Eriks Reks or Austin Gamble, an accomplished All ACC discuss hurler, to fill in.

On the outside, Abraham Kromah and Adam Banks are the likely starters but look out for redshirt freshman August Campbell.  Campbell is a physical specimen that has only played organized football for a few years.  He’s an athletic freak that hits like a wreaking ball. Kromah provides some experience but the youth at the linebacker spots might be more talented than the upperclassmen.

In years past, the Duke defensive backfield had been small and poor in coverage. This years squad is fast and attacks the ball.  Former receiver Johnny Williams converts to corner.   Returning starters Chris Rwabukamba, Lee Butler and Matt Daniels command a talented group with many young guns pushing for playing time.  Watch out for Walt Canty, Anthony Young-Wiseman and Ross Cockrell to play vital roles as Duke hopes to lock down the passing lanes.

It’s safe to say that this year’s Duke Blue Devil football team is the fastest in years, sporting lots of speed at every position.  David Cutcliffe said he wanted to build the fastest team in the ACC and he’s getting close.  Now, we need to see if he can get these players to run to a few November wins.

Freshmen To Watch

Josh Snead – RB – I love this kid because A) he grew up in my hometown and B) he’s a speed demon.  Snead scored 27 touchdowns on the ground last year and returned 3 kicks for scores.  He’s a playmaker, simple as that.

Cooper Helfet – TE – A big JUCO recruit that stands 6’4″ 235 but has hands and wheels to make him a viable redzone target.

Brandon Connette – QB – Connette was terrific in spring practice after enrolling early and will be the #2 on the depth chart.  If Renfree goes down, Connette has shown the skills to run the offense, we’ll see if he has the poise.

A Deep In Look At This Year’s Heisman Race

Christian Ponder

A couple of recent discussions I’ve had regarding this year’s Heisman race compelled me to write this post. I gladly researched what this year’s race will look like, and this article should definitely clarify my stance on the race this year, and make a good case for who I think should win.

Being a Seminole fan, following the team last year and seeing how much potential and skills Christian Ponder has, I think he should win the Heisman, and has a good chance at it, too. There is definitely a good number of people out there that disagree with me, but running down the line of this year’s Heisman contenders, Ponder has to be one of the strongest candidates out there.

I found two very good lists out there of Heisman contenders for this upcoming 2010 season. One was over at CollegeFootballNews.com, and the other was over at LibrarianChat.com. I’ll take a look at the one at CFN, as well as use some quotes from the LibrarianChat one.

Pete Flutak, who wrote the article at CFN, listed his Top 21 candidates. Ponder dropped in at 14, so I’ll analyze the first 13 candidates he listed in order. Continue reading

Virginia Football: 98 voters can’t be wrong, can they?

Marc Verica will begin the year under center

Well the votes are in, and around Hooville, if the 3-9 season still seems like a bad dream, then the 126 votes that the Cavaliers received  on ACC Media Day seems like a nightmare.  Immediately, the boards were buzzing with the sounds of “it’s just preseason” and “what do these clowns know”, and “when is soccer season again?”  And while I put as much stock in ACC preseason votes as I put in my old AIG portfolio, I do believe there is some truth behind the numbers.

And why not? Outside of 2006, when the voters picked Wake Forrest last in the Atlantic Division and then the Demon Deacons ended up winning the ACC Championship, there really hasn’t been any glaring errors.  Now that’s not to say that teams won’t over-preform or under-preform; that is the best part of watching football.  The ACC preseason vote is just a jumping off point for discussion based on past performance and future expectations.

So why was Virginia picked last?  Well several obvious reasons:

  1. Past Performance. When you go 3-9 the season before with a loss to William & Mary, there just isn’t a lot going for you.  Groh left the offensive in shambles and not very well stocked.  With London coming in he is converting the offensive back to the pro style that worked while he was at UVa in 2002 and 2007, but that might be a few years out.
  2. The Afore Mentioned Coaching Change. Groh out and London in.  Short of Bill Belichick coming in, you will always take a hit with reporters your first season.
  3. Quarterback. There is a very short list of quarterbacks at UVa with playing experience that will take the field on game day.  They are Marc Verica and Shawn Moore.  Unfortunately, Moore used all his eligibility up in the early 1990s so he’s out.  So it is now Verica’s team, and while he has a good arm and will throw some touchdowns, he throws more interceptions.  Also there is still no clearcut #2 behind him.  Metheny has the edge, but Strauss could be another option if needed.
  4. Running Back. Another interesting battle this off season will be who starts in the back field.  A lot of choices from players who either show a lot of promise or who have not yet shown their potential.  Jones (So.) and Panye (Sr.) will battle until Wallace (RFr.) gets healthy and Parks (Fr.) gets to camp.  Just need one.
  5. The Switch to the 4-3. When Groh left, the 3-4 defensive alignment went as well.  And while most people around Charlottesville like the change,  it’s hard to adjust the first couple of years as you don’t have as many defensive linemen on your roster.  A lot of outside linebackers are converting to down linemen, and that is significant change.

That will pretty much do it for why they are last.  But as I am an alum of Virginia, I am contractually obligated to say a few good things about the upcoming season.  So here are a few reasons why they could be better than advertised.

  1. Secondary. The one good thing about Groh was that every talented ATH he recruited became a either a CB or S.  Ras-I Dowling is a Top-20 NFL Draft pick and the rest of the secondary is fast and tall, and have been playing together for 2 years.  Depth is not an issue either.
  2. WRs and the return of the TE. Well while the Cavs aren’t stocked, they will have more options to throw to this year than in years past.  Smith, Burd, Inman, and Green will definitely bring some speed to the vertical game.  Also bringing back the TE as a passing option (and in general) will be something that we have missed since the days of Heath Miller, Chris Luzar, Patrick Estes, and Billy Baber (all of who went on to the NFL).  Senior Joe Torchia will anchor this position.
  3. O-Line. The starting five is an upperclassman laden group.  Add Morgan Moses, who was a Top-5 national recruit from 2008, and they should give Verica a little more time in the pocket.
  4. Linebackers. While most of the OLB will be DEs in the 4-3, there is still plenty of young talent that saw the field a lot last year (they were not the reason for the 3-9 season, see: Offense).
  5. Coaching Change. Although the results might not show up this year, the culture has changed in the past months since he was hired, from changing the uniform to moving practices off grounds.  But the kids know who their coach is going to be next year and the year after that, and that has them motivated.

Overall it is not going to be the Hoos year. . .again.  But any signs of improvement under London can quickly turn the tide in Charlottesville.

–  Column courtesy of LambethField.com

DEMON DEACS: Last Man Standing

Skylar Jones

The quarterback situation will be very interesting during summer camp at Wake Forest. The Deacs would like to have a quarterback who has durability, good judgement, accuracy, speed, and a strong arm. However, from what I’ve observed during the spring scrimmage and several practices, I am not too sure that all those attributes lie in one person.

During the beginning of the spring , I saw the QB situation as a two-man competition between Skylar Jones and Ted Stachitas. Skylar was fast and very elusive whereas Ted was fast with great pocket presence. Skylar emerged as the leader because he was the last man standing. However, as the summer approaches the Deacs are still searching for a quarterback and the competition is wide open. Anyone of the following QB’s could be under center in August:

Tanner Price: (A true freshman with a strong arm) He has a lot of zip to his ball. He throws a ball with a nice spiral, but he gets rid of the ball too early.

Patrick Thompson: (A grey-shirt freshman with good size) He may have the strongest arm of all the qb’s, but he needs the most work. He holds the ball too long and has the tendency to throw uncatchable balls.

Brendan Cross: (Red-shirt freshman with a great pedigree) He is a true leader. He provides a spark to his team that is an intangible that is hard to measure. He can run and he has a strong arm too, but he is inconsistent with his throws (some spirals and some lame ducks; some on target and some way off target).

Ted Stachitas: (Red-shirt Sophomore from Nease,  FL) He has a perfect blend of athleticism and leadership qualities; he  has most of the traits that one looks for in a quarterback,  but he has been hampered by injuries.

Skylar Jones: (Red-shirt junior who runs a 4.30 40yd. dash) He is the fastest qb on the team and may be the most durable. He has a decent arm, and he is working on his finesse throws. However, he has the tendency to rely on his legs rather than his arm which may be an asset in Grobe’s Wing-T misdirection offense.

When the dust settles at Wake one of these guys will be the last man standing.

Duke Basketball Outlook: Five Keys To A Fifth Championship In Durham

The college football season is just a short time away, and many fans are anxious to see how their individual teams have developed over the off-season.

New recruits, well-known coaches, and even proven veterans are all prepared to show the country how much progress they’ve made when the season begins in September.

Although college basketball won’t officially begin until November, two months into the football season, Duke fans have a lot to be excited about before the season even tips off.

For starters, highly-touted recruit Kyrie Irving will become the new floor general for the Blue Devils next season after last year’s point guard and second team All-American pick Jon Scheyer graduated from the university.

Duke fans will also get the see Liberty transfer Seth Curry in action for the first time. Seth, the brother of Golden State Warriors player Stephen Curry, led all freshmen in scoring two years ago at 20.2 points per game but had to sit-out last season per transfer rules.

The returns of both Kyle Singler (17.7 points per game) and Nolan Smith (17.2 points per game) will also give the Cameron Crazies something to cheer about as the beginning of the season draws nearer.

Singler, the 2010 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, led Duke to victory in the National Championship game against Butler and decided to stay in school for his senior season instead of jumping to the NBA.

Singler’s decision to stay helped make Smith’s that much easier: Nolan decided that playing at Duke for his senior year and trying to help the Blue Devil’s repeat was more important to him at the time than trying to make it in the NBA as a junior.

Mason and Miles Plumlee, Andre Dawkins, Ryan Kelly, and freshman Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston round out the remaining players on a loaded Blue Devil team that will look to once again lift the national championship trophy in March.

The 2010-2011 Duke team seems destined to repeat, with the likes of Smith and Singler returning and newcomers Irving and Curry looking to contribute from day one, but what are the five keys to a fifth title for Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils?   

Continue reading