Ross Cockrell is the ACC's active leader in interceptions and second in pass break-ups. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY
With football season just around the corner (practice starts Aug. 5), it’s time to turn some focus to the gridiron and what lies ahead for the 2013 Blue Devils. There are two major goals that need to be checked off the list to further separate Duke’s present and future from it’s disastrous past: clinch the program’s first winning season since 1994 and make back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time…ever.
To do that, Duke will need some players to step into new roles and others to take on larger ones. With that in mind, here’s a look at the 10 most important players for the upcoming season. Be sure to check back daily for the unveiling of the full list.
No. 3: cornerback Ross Cockrell
Age: redshirt senior
Last year’s stats: 13 starts, 71 total tackles, five interceptions, 13 pass breakups
If there is one player Duke can ill afford to lose on defense, it’s Ross Cockrell. The lone returning starter in Duke’s five-man secondary (remember the 4-2-5 base), Cockrell is also the ACC’s active leader in career interceptions, with nine. His 29 total pass break-ups rank second on the ACC’s active list as well.
Cockrell has started 36 consecutive games, matching the longest active streak among cornerbacks nationwide (tied with Purdue’s Richardo Allen). He can line up at all five secondary positions as well. That durability is significant, especially on a team prone to widespread injuries in the secondary.
Listing stats isn’t the best way to understand what Cockrell means to the Blue Devils. He was voted a team captain as a junior, and the coaching staff is counting on him to mentor the young, inexperienced players that will be manning the secondary with him this year. This year, he shaved his long locks and is instead sporting a crew cut. A more business-like look, he said.
“He’s a vet in the game, as we like to say,” quarterback Anthony Boone said about Cockrell. “He’s become very vocal, he’s become a leader when it comes to defense. It’s just one of those things where everybody knows he’s made a lot of plays in a lot of big games, and we can rely on him on and off the field.
“He’s a competitor. He’s one of those guys, he gets hit in the mouth, he’s going to get back up and try to hit you in the mouth with all he has. I love that about him. He might get beat, and he’ll come right back up and talk trash to people, or something like that. He might be beat, and the quarterback overthrows him, and you’ll see him, he’ll talk trash, ‘yeah, I’m right there,’ even though he’s not. I guess he psyches himself up. He’s a competitor. That’s all I can say about Ross. He loves to compete.”
With a repeat of last year’s performance, Cockrell will be taking his competitiveness to the NFL and could be the first defensive player drafted from Duke since Chris Combs went to the Steelers in 2000.
But first, there’s a Duke defense that needs an anchor.
No. 10: safety Jeremy Cash
No. 9: center Matt Skura
No. 8: punter Will Monday
No. 7: kicker Ross Martin
No. 6: defensive end Kenny Anunike
No. 5: QB/RB/WR/TE Brandon Connette
No. 4: right guard Laken Tomlinson