DURHAM—While the overall theme of Duke’s preseason camp is “make plays that win games,” the defense has added another wrinkle to that idea.
“We’re selling to them the idea of being our homeland security,” third-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. “We’re here to protect our end zone. We know as a defense that Duke football will not be great unless we have a defense that steps up and takes a lot of pride in not letting people score. People are going to make plays, but we need to keep our end zone secure.”
Last year’s Blue Devils were ranked 11 out of 12 ACC teams in both scoring and total defense, giving up an average of 425 yards and 31.2 points per game, respectively. This year’s group, which returns eight starters and converted wide receiver Brandon Braxton at safety, is focused improving on third down in particular after allowing opponents to convert and receive a new set of downs 43 percent of the time.
The unit, though, is poised to receive a big boost in that area with the return of defensive end Kenny Anunike, The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Anunike led the ACC with four sacks last year at the time of his season-ending injury in week four. Knowles estimated Anunike is at about 90 percent after missing the entire spring.
“He’s that psycho guy you need coming off the edge,” Knowles said. “In today’s game, you watch any football, the things that can change the game from a defensive perspective are the guys up front that can really attack to quarterback.”
As far as new faces, Knowles mentioned three freshmen with the caveat that it's too early to tell if any of them will have an impact this season: safety Corbin McCarthy (5-foot-10, 200 pounds), defensive lineman Carlos Wray (6-foot-2, 280 pounds) and linbacker Deion Williams (6-foot, 230 pounds). Williams and Wray were both ranked as 3-star recruits by Rivals, and Williams was considered the 30th-best inside linebacker prospect in the country.
*On the other side of the ball, quarterback Sean Renfree was one of 29 quarterbacks named To Johnny Unitas Award Watch List. Candidates must be at least a four-year junior or senior and on schedule to graduate with their class (Renfree, a redshirt senior, graduated in 2011 and is persuing a masters degree) and are judged on character, citizenship, scholastic achievement, leadership qualities, and athletic accomplishments.
Other ACC quarterbacks on the list include Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas, NC State’s Mike Glennon and UNC’s Bryn Renner.