Duke’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme has been very much a work in progress and the one thing that I’ve never personally loved about it is the stress it put on the linebackers.
In a standard 4-3 scheme a defense has three linebackers (two outside, one inside or middle) but in Duke’s scheme there are only two which makes it harder to cover the middle of the field in pass coverage as well as stop the run up the middle, an area Duke struggled with last season.
Granted the Blue Devils usually have one safety play as a pseudo linebacker, however, a safety is a defensive back and those guys first inclination is to play pass. Given Duke’s injuries last season at the linebacker position as well as in the defensive backfield, the strain was evident.
Heading into the 2013 season the linebacking corp looks healthier and hopefully is in a position to fill some of those holes and make Duke’s defensive unit a much more formidable one, especially against the run.
The group is anchored by redshirt junior Kelby Brown who missed all of the 2012 season following surgery in the spring of last year for a torn ACL. It was the second time Brown has torn that ligament and though it was early in the spring he was never in a position to come back last year.
Now that he is back, Duke is hoping that he can continue to produce as well as stay healthy. In his two seasons he has recorded 128 tackles (51 solo) and started 17 out of 19 games. Kelby Brown will likely be a starter and could possibly be playing some beside his younger brother Kyler who is also projected as a possible starter at linebacker.
Kyler recorded about 50 tackles last season as he saw a lot of action in his bother’s absence including a high of 14 tackles against Georgia Tech late last season.
With only two linebackers on the field at a time expect a lot of competition for playing time. With some extra depth and experience this season David Cutcliffe and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles will likely be doing a lot of rotations to keep guys fresh and healthy.
Aside from the Brown brothers, Duke will have CJ France, David Helton and Deion Williams who all have game experience from last season.
Helton and France saw a bulk of the game action. Helton, a junior, had 54 tackles last season despite missing the Wake Forest game with a head injury. At 240 pounds he is a bit slight for a linebacker but is tough and aggressive and with another year under his belt he should be stronger.
France, also a junior, recorded 56 tackles last season and will likely be part of the heavy rotation at linebacker. Williams saw playing time in only one game last year but could end up competing for time as a reserve linebacker this season.
Another name that if healthy could see some time is true freshman Dominic McDonald. McDonald missed the spring practice after enrolling in January following his early graduation from high school. He suffered a torn medial meniscus in his right knee. Cutcliffe expressed some disappointment as the coaching staff was hoping to get a look at him.
If healthy he is a name that could end up being called into action, however, it remains to be seen how much considering his development will have been somewhat stunted by his having missed the spring practice which would have provided him with valuable experience.
Overall the linebacking corp is experienced but the number of injuries this group has sustained in their careers should make fans a little weary of how durable they are. If the injuries that have plagued them in the past can be avoided this is a corps that could help the Duke defense be better in 2013.
Projected starters: Kelby Brown, CJ France
Key Reserves: David Helton, Kyler Brown, Deion Williams, Dominic McDonald
More Position Breakdowns:
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