Duke Blue Devils linebacker David Helton shifted over to middle linebacker following the season-ending injury to starter Kelby Brown. How has he adjusted to the new role, and what is he doing to be a more vocal leader? I had a chance to ask Helton before Duke opens the season Saturday against Elon.
Where is the biggest shift in your responsibility?
Helton: Mike (middle linebacker) is definitely more vocal. You make the calls. You have to make certain formation checks that the Will (weakside linebacker) wouldn't have to do at times. You want the Will to be able to help but with the Will being in coverage a little bit more, you rely on the Mike, because the Mike will be in the box a lot to be able to make the formation checks and make the calls for the secondary at times and most times for the front.
How comfortable are you with doing that?
DH: I'm feeling really good about it. The first few days, it was a little new but now I'm starting to get much more comfortable. Kelby's coming back and we're going to hang out and talk like we did before and I'll be able to have him as coach as well, which will be great. The fact I've been in this defense since my freshman year has been extremely beneficial and has made this transition a lot easier.
You and Kelby had great on-field chemistry. How do you go about building that with C.J. France and the other linebackers now?
DH: Fortunately, our linebacker group is extremely tight knit. Kelby and I were taking most of the reps for the most part for the whole year, but we were always meeting with everyone. All of us were meeting and talking through things. This transition isn't as drastic as it might seem. Me and Kelby have a great chemistry, and we'll continue that. Even though he's hurt, he's not gone. He'll still be working with us and that will be great for all of us. The transition will be extremely smooth.
Kelby has been described as the “heart and soul” of the defense. Now as the middle linebacker, you will have to take on more leadership responsibilities. How do you plan on taking on that new role?
DH: Kelby is an absolute leader on this team. The thing is, as the heart and soul, that doesn't necessarily mean you have to be out there. If he's over there with us on the sideline, it's incredible as far as him being able to lift us up when we need that. He's still that person. It's not as if he's gone. As far as on the field, I definitely will have a growing leadership role throughout the year. I hope to do that. All of us lead in different ways, and I hope to find my way of leading this defense.
What is your leadership style?
DH: I am a growing vocal leader, but I'm definitely more of a one-on-one type of leader. I'm not incredibly vocal when maybe at times I should be or maybe at times I don't need to be. But I'm definitely growing in my vocal role. I've felt like with Kelby out, I need to step more into a vocal role. A lot of my teammates would characterize me as silent, lead by example, but I'll also meet with a bunch of guys in the film room and work with them.
So you're not the guy getting up on the table yelling at your teammates to get them pumped?
DH: As of right now, I'm no Ray Lewis.
You guys have dealt with a few setbacks this fall. Not only is Kelby out, but so is tight end Braxton Deaver. How have you guys dealt with the injuries to two starters?
DH: That's how football is and we realize that there's no choice: you either move on or you don't. When we're faced with adversity, we have to be the people who move on. You can't dwell on what's happened to us. We're adjusting on both sides of the ball to these losses. At this point, I'm really excited for our defense. We have probably the most athletic defense I've been able to be a part of since I've been here.