Duke’s defenders are well aware of where they ranked nationally in the NCAA’s major statistical categories -- among the worst. In particular, the Blue Devils have struggled up front, and ranked No. 109 in tackles for loss, and No. 113 in sacks. Redshirt senior nose guard Charlie Hatcher said in an interview today that the defense is making progress this spring, despite being under the direction of its third coordinator in as many seasons. Jim Knowles has taken over the defense this year, and Rick Petri was hired to coach the defensive line.
Duke returned to spring ball this week after its spring break. Here's what Hatcher had to say about the state of the defense:
How are things going under Rick Petri?
Charlie Hatcher: Rick Petri is doing a great job. He’s bringing in a lot of new fundamentals for us that are different from what we’re used to. It’s breaking old habits, which is pretty difficult for an old guy, but it’s going really well.
New techniques? Can you give me any specific examples?
CH: Before we were doing a lot of ripping off of blocks. We’ve changed that now to doing more swipes and two-gapping.
Do you like the new changes?
CH: I do like them, I think they’re going to help a lot for making more plays and put us in better positions. I’m not liking how difficult it is to break the old habits.
Why do you think you guys have struggled so much in the stats everyone seems to key in on, in terms of getting pressure on quarterbacks?
CH: I’m not really sure. We’ve always had a great D-line coach, we’ve always had great schemes coming in. We just haven’t executed up front as players in the front seven. A bust here, a bust there on blitzes that you can’t bust on, because that’s how big plays happen for the offense. Just minimizing busts would help us a lot when we’re pressuring quarterbacks. They’re putting a lot of focus on that this year. We’re doing a lot of blitz pick-up periods and we’re doing a lot of working on getting to the quarterback and being violent upfield.
How big of a deal has the revolving door been at coordinator?
CH: It’s always difficult to adapt to a new coach, but coach Cut does a great job of bringing in new guys who have the same drive and same vision. It’s always the same type of people. Coach Cut prides himself on having a great staff and great family environment, and he really does a good job of that with all of the new defensive guys we’ve been getting in over the past several years.
How determined are you guys as a D-line or the front seven to improve those numbers, and how much do they bother you, or do you not pay attention to the stats?
CH: Oh, we pay attention to the stats. We talked about that on Day 1. That’s one of our main goals, obviously. Improving those results in wins directly. If we can get to the quarterback more, and get off the field more, you’re going to end up with our offense, which has done really well, to have more time on the field and score more points.
How much progress do you feel like you guys have made so far this spring?
CH: I feel we’ve made leaps and bounds. We came in with a lot of talented guys but not a lot of experience. They’re still learning, but when they know what they’re doing, it’s amazing what they can do because of how athletic they are and how talented they are physically.
How much better do you guys think you can be as a defense this year?
CH: We believe we can push into one of the top defenses in the ACC and that’s our goal, that’s what we’re working on.
Do you feel like expectations should be higher from the outside looking in because it’s Cutcliffe’s fourth season?
CH: Expectations should be higher. We’re putting the expectations on ourselves to be higher. We’re doing a lot, working a lot harder in practice, which is shocking to me, being here for three years with coach Cut already. I didn’t think it could get any harder, but we really stepped it up. We’ve really focused on our own expectations, but with that being said, expectations should rise for us once people see what we’ve been doing and how hard we’re working.