Duke football is a study in roster management

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David Cutcliffe - Duke Blue Devils Football Coach -  Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
Duke Blue Devils Football Coach – David Cutcliffe – Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

DURHAM, N.C. – Duke Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe already had a major injury to report earlier in the week on Tuesday, announcing that projected starting offensive tackle Tanner Stone would be out for the season with an ankle injury sustained during a team scrimmage on Monday.

Cutcliffe’s goal for the season coming out of preseason camp is to have ’72 bodies to travel with’, as he put it, and after scrimmaging on a hot day, putting the team through a 100-plus snap scrimmage, he felt good about what he saw.

“We closed in on that,” he said.

“We learned more about ourselves.”

Even with Stone’s injury, in getting the team roster to that ‘magic’ number to find the best fit for every position, last year’s Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Coach of the Year, along with his staff, have been making hard and calculated decisions on filling a playing roster that may include as few as five, and as many as 10, freshmen.

Just a day later, it seemed that the higher, rather than the lower, number would be what the Blue Devils coaching staff would need to heavily consider.

At the same time they announced on Wednesday that Stone had undergone surgery on his ankle, the team also announced that another offensive tackle, Casey Blaser, who was injured in practice on Tuesday, would undergo surgery on a broken right hand on Thursday.

Down two tackles in two days, Cutcliffe and his staff were forced to make a significant adjustment by transitioning redshirt sophomore Sam Marshall, who appeared in seven games last season at defensive tackle, from the defensive front to the offensive tackle position.

Even with the personnel situation on the offensive line incurring major obstacles as the season-opener approaches, Cutcliffe feels confident in his offensive skill position player depth as well as with his defense, particularly in the secondary.

As the Blue Devils head into their second scrimmage of the week on Friday, the hope is that they can stay healthy while maintaining the ‘lively and physical’ pace of play that they’ve been directed to exhibit during practices and scrimmages by the coaching staff.

“We have no choice, that’s just the nature of what we do,” Cutcliffe said when speaking of incurring injuries.

The Duke coach and his staff expect to decide the team’s final roster by the latter part of next week as it will then focus on putting the final preparations into kicking off against cross-city rival, the NC Central Eagles, in their home-opener at Wallace Wade Stadium on Sat. Aug. 31.