DURHAM, N.C. – Bryon Fields needed one practice in full pads to shake up Duke’s depth chart.
Blue Devil coach David Cutcliffe stopped short of announcing changes to the preseason depth chart, but it’s not a stretch to think the gears are turning in the next defensive coaches meeting.
“Bryon Fields has gotten off to a really good start,” said Cutcliffe following a situational scrimmage Saturday night at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Fields started all 13 games as a sophomore in 2014 at cornerback, but he missed the 2015 season with a torn ACL knee ligament. Last year the Blue Devils forged ahead with Breon Borders starting 13 games at one cornerback spot, but Fields’ position was filled by three players until DeVon Edwards was shifted from safety for the last two games.
The Blue Devils entered fall camp with a depth chart that listed Borders in his familiar role. Edwards asked to continue at corner. Fields was listed as a backup to Borders.
Maybe Fields — a 5-foot-11, 180-pound redshirt junior — is ready to pick up where he left off after all. That would allow Edwards to shift back to roving safety.
“I’ll play where they put me,” Fields said. “I’ve known DeVon at safety and me at corner since my freshman year. He’s comfortable at the rover and I’m comfortable at corner. We communicate well on the field and off the field.”
Duke’s Saturday practice was Fields’ first in full pads since the 2015 fall camp. He was limited to 7-on-7 drills in spring football without contact. The Blue Devils were in shorts until Saturday’s first contact practice.
“It’s about trusting my rehab,” Fields said. “It’s a long rehab process. The trainers put in a lot of work to strengthen my legs. I have confidence in what I’m doing out here. I’ve been here for a while, so I know what’s going on. I’m not guessing. I’m confident in my movements. I’m able to use my experience to help me through.”
Duke’s secondary lost All-American safety Jeremy Cash to graduation, but they Blue Devils are still loaded with experience. Seven defensive backs in the 4-2-5 scheme have started games. With Edwards at safety, the three safeties with starting experience are junior Philip Carter, senior Corbin McCarthy and senior Deondre Singleton.
Cutcliffe commented on the defense being ahead of the offense in Saturday’s situational scrimmage. The defense forced a number of turnovers, although starting quarterback Thomas Sirk was held out of the 11-on-11 contact.
“With the experience we have, we know when we can take risks,” Fields said. “We know when can jump a route and the other guy is going to cover for us. That’s how you make those plays. A lot of it is pre-snap anticipation instead of just athleticism. Our experience should help us create more turnovers.”
Duke’s pass defense needs to improve relative to last season. The Blue Devils started the year strongly, but they were burned for increasingly higher yardage totals as the season progressed. They were 12th in the ACC allowing 240.9 yards a game. They were tied for seventh in interceptions with 11.
One criticism from football analysts was that members of the secondary were trying to do too much. Fields said everyone in the unit has heard the critics. The starters and backups call themselves a coalition.
“That’s about trusting each other,” he said. “We’ve got a good connection on and off the field. Not just the starters, but the whole coalition. We have a good relationship. If we focus on our job, everything takes care of itself.”
There are two more weeks of workouts before preparation for the season opener against North Carolina Central on Sep. 3 at Wallace Wade Stadium, but don’t write down the secondary depth chart in ink just yet.
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