Duke moves on without its playmaker

How the team replaces DeVon Edwards on the field and in the huddle

Matt Cashore—X02835
Sep 24

From depth charts to injury reports, football coaches are loathe to release any information about their team, for fear that an opponent may be able to use it to gain an advantage.There are times, however, when gamesmanship takes a back seat to emotion.”We’re going to confirm it tomorrow,” Coach David Cutcliffe said, after his DeVon Edwards left the visiting locker room on crutches, “but it’s probably going to be ligaments. It’s heartbreaking. We won’t confirm it until tomorrow, but I’ve learned those guys are pretty good with the exams they do on the field and in the locker room.””His mom’s here. I hugged her going in at halftime,” Cutcliffe continued.The senior defensive back and All-American kick returner’s 21-yard kick return against Notre Dame moved him past C.J. Spiller, into eighth place on the ACC’s all-time yardage list. After being tackled, Edwards stayed down, in pain.He was helped to the sideline and, after a quick evaluation, he limped back to the locker room, leaning on two managers. The MCL and ACL injury would end his season, and most likely his college career. With senior quarterback Thomas Sirk already out with a preseason Achilles injury, Duke has now lost two of its senior captains.”I’ll say this, because I’m emotional,” Cutcliffe said in his postgame press conference. “Thomas Sirk and DeVon Edwards are two as good a people—I’m not talking young men or players. I’m not categorizing them. They’re two as good a people as I’ve ever known in my life. I’m proud they’re in my life. That’s how I feel.”As expected, on Sunday, the news came down. Edwards tore his left anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. Surgery would be performed “at a later date.””He’s in rehab to repair his MCL,” Cutcliffe explained. “When that’s rehabbed, then he’ll have surgery to repair the ACL at a later date.”The official diagnosis painted a bleak picture. “Edwards’ career ends,” read the headline on the release from Duke.”I feel bad that I won’t be able to finish out with him in his last year,” said an emotional Ben Humphreys. “Playing with him for two years was one of best experiences in my life. He’s going to be missed. That’s a playmaker. His career is not over. That’s an NFL guy that I got to play with for two years.”The injury took much of the joy out of the comeback win over Notre Dame, but, just as Cutcliffe cautions his players not to dwell on a win for too long, by Sunday night, the team was ready to move on without Edwards.He’ll be tough to replace on special teams. Edwards was one kickoff return touchdown away from setting the NCAA career record. However, running back Shaun Wilson appears to be a good choice to fill Edwards’ shoes. Wilson returned the first kick after Edwards went down, going 96 yards for a game-changing touchdown.On defense, the team was preparing for a catastrophic injury long before Edwards was tackled.”(Safeties coach) Matt Guerrieri is a great teacher,” Cutcliffe said. “He cross teaches a lot of those things. The safeties—remember, they’re in all the same meetings. They’re all hearing the same coaching. That’s how we conduct our meetings. The safeties meet, because that is a critical interior part, and coach (Derek) Jones has got the corners, and then they’ll all meet together some. Then they meet the backers some, because all of that ties into communication.”The cross training means that safety, corner and linebacker are all fluid positions, giving Duke plenty of candidates, all of whom know the position, to fill Edwards’ role.”We’re working different combinations,” Cutcliffe said. “We haven’t made a decision. We’re fortunate to have some good football players at safety and more depth than we’ve had. We’re just trying to look at the different variables and evaluate what we’re doing at the corner and safety right now, as we move forward.”Still, even with all the depth, Duke will be far less experienced at the spot.”We’re going to have to have guys step up,” linebacker Humphreys said. “Jordan Hayes is going to have to step up. Deondre (Singleton), Alonzo Saxton. Young guys are going to have to play. He’s a big puzzle piece that a lot of little puzzle pieces are going to have to fill in to do what we want to do.”While the defense was able to quickly recover from Edwards’ loss in South Bend, the players and coaches expect some growing pains as the backups get more time.”There were some things that happened (against Notre Dame) that we didn’t get hurt with, that you didn’t see,” Cutcliffe said. “When you suddenly have a different corner working with a different safety, it’s always going to be unique, and that’s why practice is so important. Practice Sunday was important. It was the first practice we’d had without DeVon. We had some good teamwork, Sunday night.”The veterans are still getting used to playing with the newcomers.”I know with DeVon, a lot of times, it was a lot of unspoken things between us that we just understood,” cornerback Bryon Fields said. “Now, it’s going to have to be more literal communication between the safeties and the corners, until we get more confidence back there.”Edwards also leaves a void in leadership, but Duke’s captain isn’t going anywhere.”He’s just such a huge leader on the team,” quarterback Daniel Jones said. “We all look up to him. He’s not going to be on the field with us anymore, but that same voice and presence in the locker room that we all value so much and need on this team—that’s not going to go away, knowing the type of guy he is.”What type of person is that? Cutcliffe credited Edwards with pushing the team to get past back-to-back losses to focus on Notre Dame in the days leading up to the game.”Last Sunday to last Tuesday shows how DeVon responded as a captain,” Cutcliffe said. “He was the one standing in front of our team on Sunday. When they hit the field on Tuesday, it was like I was coaching a different team.”Duke will move forward, without their playmaker, but little else will be different.”We aren’t going change our philosophy at all,” Humphreys said. “We’re going to keep attacking and keep on doing what we’re doing.””I expect us to be the kind of program that, when adversity hits you, you’re at your best,” Cutcliffe said.