Duke Preseason Camp: The Good and the Not So Good

What's worked and what needs work as August ends
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Duke finished its last week of August in preseason camp. Here’s a look at the good news from the week, and the news that’s not so good.

The good:

Damond Philyaw-Johnson and the receivers: Philyaw-Johnson tied an NCAA record with two return touchdowns in one game last season, against Wake Forest. He entered the year as an All-American candidate at that spot. He’s been showing throughout fall camp that he’s not just a special teamer, however.

“We’ve got young guys making plays, older guys making plays,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “I thought Damond Philyaw-Johnson made a lot of great plays in the scrimmage.”

Rocky Shelton settles the linebacker spot: Duke was thin at linebacker, and then got even thinner when Brandon Hill, penciled in as a starter, opted out due to concern over COVID-19. The Blue Devils appear to have identified Hill’s replacement in the starting lineup in redshirt sophomore Rocky Shelton.

“I tell ya, Rocky Shelton has been really outstanding,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve got a lot of young people working and making a lot of progress there.”

Scholarships for special teamers: Duke also suffered an opt out loss at long snapper, when Ben Wyatt decided to sit out the season. John Taylor was expected to replace him, and he’s filled in well in preseason. So well, in fact, that he was recently rewarded with a scholarship, along with (former) walk-on punter Jackson Hubbard.

“They earned that,” Cutcliffe said. “Nobody’s given them a thing.”

The not so good:

Injury bug at running back: Duke was down to three scholarship running backs, and one of them—Mateo Durant—missed time due to injury. Cutcliffe said he was “a little banged up,” but he’s returned to the field already.

Injury bug at kicker: Duke needs to find a new kicker for this season, and the top candidate, Charlie Ham, missed time. Cutcliffe said he was “a little tight—muscles—so we’ve been a little careful with him.

Injury bug in secondary: Cutcliffe said that Mark Gilbert and Lummie Young were both “a little banged up.” Especially with Gilbert, who has missed almost all of the last two years as he battled to get back onto the field, injury talk put hearts in the throats of Duke fans. But there appears to be no reason to panic. Cutcliffe clarified that both injuries were “upper body” and nothing that would cause them to miss time.