Daniel Lacy, Correspondent
DURHAM, N.C. – Coming off a disappointing 4-8 (1-7 ACC) season, the team’s first losing campaign since 2012, the Duke Blue Devils are looking to bounce back in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Coastal Division.
However, after losing six defensive starters from the 2016 season, including three in the secondary, this will not be an easy road for the Blue Devils.
That’s the reasoning behind a projected sixth-place finish according to the conference’s recently released preseason poll.
Despite losing some key pieces, head coach David Cutcliffe believes the Blue Devils have a lot of depth coming into the 2017 season.
“We have a squad that has the most depth that we’ve had,” Cutcliffe said during the ACC Kickoff held at the Westin Charlotte last week.
“We do have some areas of concern that we’ve got to continue to work with, as most teams do, but we’re excited about the opportunity this team has.”
Additionally, redshirt senior Bryon Fields Jr. is confident in the pieces the team has in place among the defensive backs.
“So the secondary we have I would venture to say that it’s even more talented than the guys we had, the group I came in with,” Fields said.
“We have a lot of depth back there in the secondary, a lot of talent, lot of young guys that are hungry to come in that have been sitting in the ranks waiting, working really hard this offseason. They’ve really embraced it and they’ve really matured a lot, so I’m excited to see what they’re going to come out and do this season.”
Fields is one of two redshirt seniors on the defense set to start and is keen on stepping up as a leader for his teammates.
“I’ve just tried to be more vocal,” Fields said.
“This is going on my fifth year, so I’ve seen a lot, I’ve played against a lot of different teams, I’ve been through injuries. So there isn’t a whole lot of things younger guys could go through that I haven’t already gone through… I’ve just tried to share what I know and set an example the best I can.”
Duke is looking to minimize big plays by opposing teams, and Fields says that can be done by simplifying plays and schemes.
“We go a couple calls at a time to make sure guys get a deep understanding of what we do,” Fields said.
“A lot of times, mistakes come from trying to do too much, overthinking. But I think we’ve cut down on that and we’ll see guys make a lot more plays this year.”
Fields mentioned junior Jeremy McDuffie, redshirt sophomores Jordan Hayes and Brandon Feamster, and sophomores Dylan Singleton and Mark Gilbert as some of the younger guys to keep an eye on as the break out into bigger roles in the secondary.
“Those guys have really matured a lot,” Fields said.
“They were young, and thankfully they got some great experience last season, but those guys have really worked extremely hard. They’ve really embraced their roles on the team, stepping into starter roles and stepping into roles as leaders on the defense, and I’m really excited to see how they contribute this season.”
McDuffie is set to start a switch to safety after spending the majority of his career at cornerback, while Feamster is making the transition from safety to corner.
Fields is confident in their progress.
“Moving from safety to corner is tougher than moving from corner to safety because you learn some things at safety that don’t necessarily translate to corner,” Fields said.
“So it’s a lot of new things for Jeremy as he brings his corner skills to safety and has been able to be more successful early and Feamster is really embracing it. He’s working really hard. He’s a big, strong athlete who moves well and I definitely think he’ll be an asset there.”
Feamster is slated to start opposite Fields, while senior Alonzo Saxton is listed as a starter at the third safety spot on the team’s preseason depth chart.
Much of the Blue Devils secondary is inexperienced, but the team is buying into a new mentality and seeking to capitalize on the tenacity of players stepping into new roles to reap productive results.