October 25, 2006
DURHAM -- Duke football coach Ted Roof made an interesting -- and perhaps significant -- move after the Florida State loss, a move that may redefine the course of his struggling program.
Duke's top two tight ends were injured against the Seminoles. When junior Nick Stefanow and freshman Brandon King were forced out of action, Roof used fullback Tielor Robinson as an emergency replacement. At practice the next week, he moved redshirt freshman defensive tackle Norman Gee, who started the season at tight end, back to fill the void.
Gee started against Miami and went most of the way against the Hurricanes, with Stefanow seeing limited action.
The most significant part of Roof's machinations? True freshmen William Ball and Brett Huffman have been on the tight end depth chart since the first game. Both have considerable potential, and either could help fill the void created by the Stefanow-King injuries.
In the past, Roof has not hesitated to throw true freshmen into the fray. He used 15 first-year players in 2004 and 14 a year ago. So far this season, he's used 10, including the injured King, but that might be it.
"At this point in the year, to burn a kid's year with guys that we think are going to be really good players, that's not something we're going to do," Roof said. "We're going to make decisions for what is best for the program, not just through this year."
That has not been the case at Duke in recent years. When you look at the few quality players on the roster, it's hard to find many on a five-year track.
Senior cornerback John Talley, easily the best player on the roster, was used as a true freshman and will finish his eligibility this season after four years. Senior Casey Camero, senior Jeramy Edwards, junior Ronnie Drummer, junior Matt Rumsey (the team's best offensive lineman), junior Jomar Wright, sophomore Eron Riley, sophomore Marcus Jones, sophomore Michael Tauiliili, freshman Thaddeus Lewis ... the list of non-redshirted players goes on and on.
The few exceptions to this rule were forced on Roof by circumstances beyond his control. Injuries forced him to hold out Vince Oghobaase, Ayanga Okpokowuruk and Ryan Radloff last season. The academic suspension that sidelined Zack Asack is essentially giving him a redshirt year.
Roof sounds as if he's planning to change his approach and begin redshirting more frequently.
"College football is a five-year game at most institutions," he said. "For us, the fifth-year seniors have their plan. All of them are playing the best football of their lives, and I don't think that's a coincidence."
While the refusal to use two promising freshman tight ends is the first manifestation of that plan, the key impact of Roof's decision could be felt on the offensive line. Obviously, the poor play of the offensive front has been a nightmare for the Blue Devils this season. Roof believes that the answer to that problem lies in the group he recruited last season.
"In two years, I think we're going to have a very good offensive line," Roof said. "Next year, would it be better if those guys played 10-12 snaps a game this year? Yeah, but when you look five years down the road, you have to believe it's not worth trading that fifth season for a little immediate help."
PAULUS INJURY CREATED FIRESTORM
The foot injury that has sidelined Duke point guard Greg Paulus for several weeks of preseason workouts created a firestorm of misinformation on the internet and even on legitimate news sites, which sometimes seemed to be getting their news off message boards.
The first reports suggested that Paulus had broken his foot and had undergone (or would undergo) surgery that would sideline him for (pick one, depending on the site) four, six or eight weeks. One popular Duke website posted the six-week figure, while another ran a generic photo of an x-ray of a broken foot that many readers took as the actual x-ray of Paulus' injury. ESPN reported that Paulus would undergo surgery -- continually running the news on the crawl during Monday night's NFL game -- a good five hours after Duke had reported that Paulus would not undergo surgery.
What's really going on?
Paulus injured his left foot while making a cut near the end of the team's second official workout. While Duke won't reveal the exact nature of the injury, several websites confidently reported that he had broken the fifth (outer) metatarsal bone. Amateur physicians promptly compared the problem to foot injuries that sidelined Duke's Bobby Hurley, Elton Brand and Carlos Boozer for various lengths of time and the one that cost UNC's Sean May the last two months of his freshman season.
The problem is that while all of those players suffered similar injuries, they weren't exactly the same, which explains the wide variations in recovery time. While Duke merely listed Paulus as "out indefinitely," sources close to the team predicted closer to a three- or four-week recovery time than the six- or eight-week figure originally reported.
Of course, that's still cause for concern. Duke needs a healthy and effective Paulus to contend in the ACC. If he doesn't recover quickly and completely, it could have long-term repercussions for the team. On the other hand, a short absence actually might help the Devils by giving freshman Jon Scheyer and sophomore Martynas Pocius a chance to expand their playmaking skills -- skills that might come in handy even after Paulus returns.
THREE CAPTAINS SYMBOLIZE YOUTH
Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski announced a trio of captains for the upcoming season: Paulus, DeMarcus Nelson and Josh McRoberts.
In one respect, the selections were not surprising. Those three players represent the only three guys on the roster with any appreciable experience.
What is surprising is to note their classes -- a junior and two sophomores. While quite a few juniors have performed as captains under Krzyzewski, Duke has never before had a sophomore captain in its 102 years of basketball, and now it has two sophomore captains in the same season!
The selections of Paulus and McRoberts merely emphasized just how young this Duke team will be in 2006-07.
The only senior on the roster is walk-on Joe Pagliuca, who won't play. Nelson is the only junior. There are five recruited sophomores, including David McClure, who was originally in Nelson's class but sat out last year with knee problems. Then there are four freshmen.
Beyond the three players named to share the captaincy, Krzyzewski will have exactly 426 minutes of playing experience on the roster. Most of that is split between McClure, who was the team's ninth man (in terms of minutes played) in 2004-05, and Pocius, who was eighth in minutes played a year ago.