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August 6, 2012

Five To Ponder: Duke

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HokieHaven.com will be catching up with the beat writers from each of Virginia Tech's opposing teams' Rivals.com network sites. For teams without a Rivals site, we'll be speaking with the team's daily newspaper. Fifth in our series, we look at the Hokies' homecoming game, Oct. 13 vs. Duke, with DevilsIllustrated.com publisher Brian McLawhorn.

1. Which loss, player or coach, from last season will be the toughest for Duke to replace?

McLawhorn: Without a doubt, it's Matt Daniels on the defensive side of the ball. He's a guy that, I can't remember the exact number, but he was one of the top guys in pass breakups in the country last year. I wanna say he had 13 or 14. At one point, he led the nation in pass breakups.

But also, his run support, because his title was safety but he kinda played a 'bandit' position, a hybrid linebacker/safety/pass rusher guy. He was just that versatile a guy that they could play in the run and pass.

They don't really have that guy this year. They're basically having to tweak that a little bit and not have a guy who can be quite the force against the run.

They're running a 4-2-5 defense and coach David Cutcliffe said today that there's just not a replacement for Daniels. There's just no replacement for him and his absence changes how they have to play on defense.

2. Which newcomers should make the biggest impact?

McLawhorn: It's a pretty veteran group. One guy potentially, he's kind of in a backup role right now, but he showed well in the spring. He's a redshirt freshman as an offensive lineman, Lucas Patrick. He's an offensive guard and Cutcliffe has been high on him. I think he's a guy who could potentially win a starting position coming in.

Another guy, he's actually been there. He'll be a sophomore this season but this will be his first real opportunity to get some playing time, tight end Braxton Deaver. He played behind Cooper last year, who had some pretty strong numbers.

This is his first opportunity to come play. His role kinda got increased a little bit with Blair Holiday's injury that ended his football career. They'll have to have someone else catch the football and Braxton has been a guy the Duke staff really feels like could play.

He maybe got in the game a couple of times last year and did some special teams work, but in terms of his presence on the team, he's pretty much a newcomer.

3. What, if anything, will change in playcalling, schemes, etc. this season?

McLawhorn: I think you're gonna see similar things like in the past. (Cutcliffe) doesn't really deviate too much from his offensive approach from an overall standpoint.

What you will see is something he's done a little in the past. His big thing for this year is making sure he has his best players on the field, no matter what position. If there's a No. 2 quarterback, but 12th best player on offense, he's gonna put him on the field.

He's got two quarterbacks who can do that and he's gonna play them at wide receiver, tight end, running back. That's probably the one thing you'll see a lot of different things from last year.

There will be a lot of guys playing multiple positions, on offense in particular and he's not gonna be afraid to do some out of the box things, especially in the passing game. There's even cases where it's not out of the question to have three quarterbacks on the field at one time. You'll see some innovation there.

Defensively, there's no real difference in schemes. This will be their second year in the 4-2-5, so you may see some wrinkles here and there with a year of experience. But you'll see mostly the same as last year. Their hope is to have a little more presence in being able to rush the passer and be able to put some blitz packages in.

4. Were there any surprises during the spring and do you anticipate any more?

McLawhorn: Unfortunately the biggest surprise was Blair Holiday. His career is done after a jet ski accident on July 4 and he was in a coma for about three weeks. He actually just came out of it recently and just got transferred to Atlanta for a rehab facility. He was a wide receiver and would have potentially been a go-to guy.

Brandon Braxton was moved from wide receiver to safety. They could play him at strong or free safety in that 4-2-5. He really impressed in the spring and has shown potential to maybe be a guy that can start in the defensive backfield. He's a guy who definitely made a name for himself in the spring.

Another guy, recently injured and not sure how long he'll be out, but Jamal Bruce, who's playing on the defensive line. He had a big time spring and had the coaches excited about what he can do.

Also, there's the return of Kenny Anunike at defensive end. He did not practice in the spring, but he had several knee surgeries. They thought his career was done last year but he bounced back and had four sacks in the first three games before he got injured. He led the ACC at that period and he'll be a huge impact guy they didn't have last year as long as he can stay healthy.

5. What are realistic expectations for Duke this season?

McLawhorn: It's always tough. This Duke team is better than it was last year but the rest of the ACC is too.

I think how they start the season will determine what's realistic for them. If they lose that first game, against Florida International like they did Richmond last year, it could really carry over and impact guys.

If they win that game, they'll have a tough second game against Stanford, but you could say there's a possibility they could go to a bowl game. They could hit that magic number of wins, but realistically it's gonna be difficult to do because the ACC has gotten better. They can get close, maybe a game away and that's the realistic notion.

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