Author Archives: Will Flaherty

Tauiliili Heads Home In NFL Draft Quest

Duke linebacker Mike Tauiliili is turning heads in his hometown as he participates in practices at the training facility for the NFL’s Houston Texans in preparation for this weekend’s East-West Shrine Game. The Walter Camp All-American is looking to become the first Duke football player selected in the NFL Draft since tackle Drew Stojny was selected in the 7th Round by the New York Giants in 2004, and a successful week of practices in front of numerous NFL scouts could give Tauiliili’s draft stock a critical boost.

Sporting News Today’s Russ Lande has a scouting report from Houston on how Tauiliili has graded out so far:

He shows quick feet, explosiveness and the ability to change directions easily. He looks good in space and should test well in personal workouts. He does not look instinctive and is often late in finding the ball.

Additionally, HoustonTexans.com has an article on the Shrine Bowl experience so far of Tauiliili and other local Houston area players. In the article, Tauiliili discusses his excitement about playing in front of family and friends as well as how he hopes to prove through the pre-draft process that his relatively small 5-foot-11 height should not be considered by NFL teams as a disadvantage.

Although there are still three-plus months to go before the draft and the all important evaluation phase of combines and team pro days is still to come, in what round do you think Tauiliili will be drafted?

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Cutcliffe Era Kicks Off Monday With First Practice

Thaddeus Lewis (9), Mike Cappetto (14), Zach Asack (13) and Sean Renfree (15) will kick off their 2008 campaigns when Duke opens football practice Monday morning.

Thaddeus Lewis (9), Mike Cappetto (14), Zach Asack (13) and Sean Renfree (15) will kick off their 2008 campaigns when Duke opens football practice Monday. Photo Credit: GoDuke.com

For months, David Cutcliffe has told everyone how his Duke team might not be the most talented in the ACC, but that they’d fight to be the hardest-working squad in the conference. Great success in off season conditioning has seen the Blue Devils drop over 400 pounds collectively, but football is neither a track meet nor a weightlifting contest. You’ve got to put the pads on to see how much progress has truly been made, something that Cutcliffe says will likely keep him sleepless the night before Duke’s first practice Monday morning.

With expectations for the Blue Devils as high as they’ve been in recent memory, here are three things to look for as the team prepares for its Aug. 30th opener against James Madison:

  • Quarterback Play: Incumbent junior QB Thaddeus Lewis seems to have a firm grasp on the starting job after a strong 2007 campaign (2430 yds with 21 TD/10 INT). With nearly two full seasons under his belt as a starting ACC quarterback, Lewis has shown steady signs of improvement and has great chemistry with wide recievers that he has worked with for the past two seasons as Duke’s primary starter. The addition of quarterback guru Cutcliffe into the mix should only benefit Lewis’ development. But don’t be surprised if senior QB Zack Asack sees playing time as well. Asack is a great athlete who runs well with the ball, and Cutcliffe has even hinted that he’ll devise plays featuring both signal callers on the field simultaneously. Also, top recruit Sean Renfree could make an impact during practice. The Arizona prep product and Elite 11 quarterback signed with Duke largely to learn under the direction of Cutcliffe and is a capable dual-threat at the position.
  • Special Teams: From his introductory press conference last December, Cutcliffe emphasized that his number one priority would be excellence in the kicking game. Field Goal woes torpedoed the Blue Devils in countless games over the past few seasons, and throughout spring practice and the summer Cutcliffe expressed his disappointment in the progress of his specialists. His tune hasn’t been different in August, as Duke’s kicking game is still not up to Cutcliffe’s standards. Joe Surgan led off the 2007 season as the starting kicker but hit only 1 of 5 FG attempts last season, leading him to lose the job to converted punter Nick Maggio 4 games into the season. But Maggio was not much better as he posted a 2-for-5 FG record, including a critical miss in the season-ending OT loss to UNC.  Surgan and Maggio, along with incoming K Paul Asack (brother of Zack), are all vying for the starting spot this year in what might be better termed as a pillow fight than a position battle. But one player to keep an eye on is a darkhorse candidate—freshman walk-on Jeffery Ijjas. If the unusual surname sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Ijjas is the younger brother of recently graduated University of Florida kicker Joey Ijjas.
  • Who will step up in the secondary?: On the defensive side of the ball, Duke’s defensive line is anchored by All-American candidate DT Vince Oghobasse, while the team’s linebacking corps boasts a pair of outstanding backers in Vincent Rey and Mike Tauililli. The Blue Devil secondary, however, has the most question marks of the unit. 2007 interception  co-leader CB Leon Wright (3 INT) is back, but a large void has been left by the graduation of S Chris Davis. Incumbent SS Adrian Aye-Darko is a likely starter along with Wright, but the other two positions appear to be up for grabs. One name to keep an eye on is CB Randez James, who enrolled a semester early last winter. A 5-11 prep product of Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, James has blazing speed and was arguably the top catch in Duke’s incoming class, along with Renfree.

-by Will Flaherty

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Ted Roof Update

ESPN.com’s Big 10 blogger Adam Rittenberg has a two part interview up with former Duke head football coach Ted Roof, who took over as Minnesota’s defensive coordinator in March. Roof was a well-regarded defensive coach at Georgia Tech before serving first as a coordinator and then a head coach at Duke. Blue Devil fans know all too well about Roof’s abysmal 6-45 record over four and a half seasons at the helm, which led to his dismissal last November 26.

The challenges Roof will face at Minnesota don’t seem to be all that much easier than those he encountered when he took over for fired Duke coach Carl Franks seven games into the 2004 season. The Golden Gophers gave up more yards per game (518.7) than any team in the nation in 2007 and surrendered more than 40 points in 6 of their 12 games. Roof discusses the difficulties ahead for him in Part 1 and Part 2 of the blog interview.

-by Will Flaherty

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No Top-25 Vote This Year From Spurrier

Like expecting for the sky to be blue and grass to grow green, Duke football fans seemingly could depend on former coach Steve Spurrier cracking open a window to the hallowed halls of college football’s top 25 each August. Out of respect for the university that gave him his first head coaching gig in college, the Ol’ Ball Coach has year after year given his 25th and final vote on the first coaches’ poll to Duke, even when the team has posted dreadful results in the win/loss column.

But in an apparent capitulation to past criticism from the leadership of the American Football Coaches Association and the editorial staff of USA Today, Spurrier appears to have abandoned his customary practice of including the Blue Devils at the bottom his preseason Coaches’ Poll ballot. Duke did not appear in the “Others Receiving Votes” section of the 2008 USA Today/AFCA Preseason Top 25, which was released today. Although only 61 of Division I-A’s 120 coaches are members of this season’s voting panel, Spurrier is listed amongst the group as a voter for the 2008 season.

Although he gave votes to Duke teams in 2005, 2006 and 2007 that combined for a woeful 2-33 record, this year’s Blue Devil team may be by comparison much more deserving of a preseason vote, as new head coach David Cutcliffe could potentially double that cumulative win total. Although they may not have the slot in the top-25 basement like they did before, Spurrier’s outspoken affinity for Duke would make it likely that he’d be amongst the first coaches to usher a deserving Blue Devil team back into the rankings.

-by Will Flaherty

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Rowbury Qualifies for Beijing

Recent Duke graduate Shannon Rowbury took first place in Sunday’s 1,500-meter finals at the Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore., securing a berth on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team. Rowbury finished with a time of 4:05.48, ahead of fellow Olympic qualifiers Erin Donohue (4:08.20) and Christin Wurth (4:08.48).

A 2007 Duke graduate, Rowbury won the school’s only female individual national title when she claimed first place in the mile at the 2007 NCAA Indoor Championships. Shortly after her win at the NCAAs, however, Rowbury discovered that a persistent pain in her left hip was a stress fracture, leading to a 3 month period of rest and rehabilitation. Despite the time away from the track, Rowbury was able to rediscover her form after the injury, and she entered the 2008 Olympic Trials on a groundswell of positive momentum after a strong 2008 outdoor season that included a 4.01.61 finish in the 1500 meters at the adidas Track Classic, the fifth-best time ever by an American in the event.

For more on Rowbury and her career at Duke, check out The Chronicle’s mini-profile of Rowbury in the send-home summer issue, which goes online Wednesday.

-by Will Flaherty

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Nolan Smith Discusses Jennings’ Potential EuroTrip

With the 2008 NBA draft only a few days away, there has been plenty of talk about the NBA’s draft eligibility age requirements. The league’s current rule requires players to be one year removed from high school graduation and at least age 19 in the calendar year of the draft to be eligible for selection. The latest news regarding the implications of this rule, however, seems to indicate that the newest path to the pros for top high school players might involve a passport rather than textbooks and a one-year campus stay.

Brandon Jennings, a 6-foot-2 point guard out of Oak Hill Academy who is ranked as the No. 1 player in the nation by scout.com, is considering eschewing his commitment to play at Arizona next season and instead spend a season playing professionally in Europe in preparation for entry into the 2009 NBA Draft. According to Andy Katz’s report on ESPN.com, Jennings has had difficulty securing a standardized test score that will qualify him for admission to Arizona and is seriously exploring the possibility of a season in Europe.

Duke sophomore guard Nolan Smith played with Jennings for a season at Oak Hill, and when asked Monday if he had spoken to his former teammate about his future, Smith seemed to indicate that Jennings might not be bluffing on his plans to take his game abroad.

“I did talk to him last night after someone mentioned it to me,” said Smith, who will accompany best friend Michael Beasley in the green room of the NBA Draft Thursday night. “It is a possibility that he’ll go to Europe and stay over there for a year. He seemed excited about it. That’s a good experience, but I told him that he was going to miss the college life, but he can always go to a college campus and enjoy that every now and then. Europe would be cool.

“But definitely, he has to do what he has to do.”

–by Will Flaherty

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Ex-Duke Gridder Fowler Suspended for PEDs

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen is reporting that former Duke and current Tennessee Titans linebacker Ryan Fowler has been notified by the NFL that he is facing a suspension due to a violation of the league’s Performance Enhancing Drugs policy. Although Fowler’s lawyer has emphatically stated that his client has never failed a drug or steroid test, the NFL said in a letter to Fowler that it “had ‘credible information’ Fowler ‘purchased, used or supplied’ performance enhancing drugs.”

Fowler graduated from Duke in 2004 after serving as a senior captain during the 2003 season. Fowler went undrafted in the 2004 draft but caught on with the Dallas Cowboys as a special teams player before earning additional playing time with the Cowboys in subsequent seasons. The Titans signed Fowler in 2007 as a restricted free agent.

If Fowler is suspended even with the lack of a positive drug test, it would seem that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is following the pattern of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, who suspended Kansas City’s Jose Guillen and Baltimore’s Jay Gibbons in December 2007 on similar grounds. Significant circumstantial evidence about both player’s PED use had been released in media reports, and Selig imposed his suspension in the absence of either player testing positive for PEDs. However, an early April agreement between the MLB and the MLB Players Association that strengthened the MLB drug testing program provided an amnesty clause that absolved the Guillen and Gibbons suspensions. A legal challenge or similar compromise could be likely down the road for Fowler.

—by Will Flaherty

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