Photo: Mark Gilbert (R) and Jeremy McDuffie
DURHAM -- Quarterbacks facing Duke this year will step to the line looking to locate All-ACC cornerback Mark Gilbert. Then they’ll l search the other side for the corner that the scouting reports consider the weaker link.
If they don’t, Gilbert may pick off a pass as he did in the Blue Devils’ first fall camp scrimmage Saturday night at Wallace Wade Stadium. Gilbert is an All-American candidate that added a tackle for a loss. He had the most votes (79) among cornerbacks on the 2018 preseason All-ACC team over the other preseason pick, Miami’s Michael Jackson (69).
Whoever the “other guy” corner is, they can expect to see more balls thrown their way. That’s fine with redshirt freshman Josh Blackwell, a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder, who had two pass breakups in the scrimmage. A true cornerback has to have the mentality to take on an inevitable challenge.
“It’s a chance to make my name,” Blackwell said. “Mark had a great year, so I know they’re going to try the opposite side. I’ve got to be able to make plays.”
Blackwell and sophomore Michael Carter II are competing with sophomore Myles Hudzick for the starting job. Hudzick emerged from spring drills listed No. 1 on the depth chart. He also was voted one of the three most improved players in the spring along with linebacker Koby Quansah and safety Marquis Waters.
In fact, it’s the confidence Duke head coach David Cutcliffe has in his stable of the safety thoroughbreds that gave rise to the idea of moving Carter II from safety to cornerback.
“I love the competition,” Cutcliffe said. “Michael Carter is going to be playing somewhere for us; Josh Blackwell is going to play somewhere for us.”
Of Duke’s eight returning starters on defense, two are safeties in the Blue Devils’ 4-2-5 scheme: Jeremy McDuffie and Jordan Hayes.
McDuffie is coming back from a knee injury suffered in the season's 11th game. Cutcliffe said he’s fully recovered. He’s going 100 percent in fall camp, although they limit his reps.
But in the two games he missed last year, including the Quick Lanes Bowl win over Northern Illinois in Detroit, Marquis Waters turned in strong performances. McDuffie went down in the Georgia Tech game and Waters finished with nine tackles.
“We’ve got a lot of safeties that can earn playing time,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve done a good job of recruiting in that area.”
Blackwell, who is from Buford, Ga., says he’ll be ready if it’s in a starting role or in backup snaps.
“Going into this year I know what to expect instead of going into the year blind,” he said. “I’m more comfortable coming into this year.”
The 2017 fall camp that led to his redshirt year was more of an eye-opener than he expected..
“Coming from high school the speed of the game is much different -- especially for my position. Now I’m more comfortable with the routes, the coverage and the speed. My redshirt year I got exposed; it was trial by fire. This year you realize it’s time to make a move on the depth chart.”
Hudzick (5-10, 170) and Blackwell are similar-sized players, but the additional weight Carter (5-10, 180) carries may come in valuable against Army’s triple-option in the season opener, a Friday night game on Aug. 31 at Wallace Wade Stadium.
In Phil Steele’s Pass Defense Rankings, Duke was rated No. 27 in the nation last season. He predicts in his 2018 annual a slight improvement, assuming safety McDuffie is recovered from his knee injury suffered last in 2017.
How much of a drop will have a lot to do with “the other corner.”
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In other scrimmage stats:
--- Freshman wide receiver Jake Bobo (four catches, 93 yards) and redshirt running back Marvin Hubbard III (16 carries, 75 yards) were two of the stars of the night. Deon Jackson also carried 13 times for 80 yards as Duke gave most of the carries to younger backs rather than exposing returning starter Brittain Brown to contact.
"Jake Bobo and Marvin Hubbard left a mark on the field," Cutcliffe said. "I promise you their teammates noticed it."
--- Daniel Jones' three touchdown passes were to wide receiver T.J. Rahming (17 yards), wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd (19) and tight end Noah Gray (2). Jones was 12-of-20 for 179 yards.
--- Linebacker Ben Humphreys had two tackles for losses.
--- Placekickers Collin Wareham and Austin Parker connected on all nine field goals.
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