ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #19, Ross Cockrell

Duke’s Ross Cockrell is #19 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Duke’s Ross Cockrell is #19 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

One week until college football kicks off! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 19, Ross Cockrell, CB/Duke (Last Season: 18)

Life was rough for Ross Cockrell for the second half of 2012. After leading the Blue Devils’ resurgent defense to a very strong start, everything just kind of fell apart all at once. The pass-rush vanished, teams were throwing on Duke seemingly at will, and then Cockrell had to miss the bowl game due to injury. In short, it was not at all what he had in mind for his team’s and his own coming out party on the football field. But with a new season comes another chance for him to prove himself. Given the personnel changes for the already iffy defensive unit though, can he still stand out?

So far, he’s not just on track to do so, but he’s also investing in making his teammates better as well. He recently spoke with the Duke athletic department about how he’s taking an invested interest in the team’s young defensive backs — something that could pay huge dividends down the stretch. He’s also assumed a coaching-type role for the entire team, and most importantly, himself. Being around the program as long as he has, it’s all finally coming together for Cockrell, who can now look at things with better perspective and keep a clear head on the field. It’s that type of focus that usually leads to big seasons, though it also takes plenty of talent as well.

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ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: Duke Blue Devils

Duke's Now Established They Can Make the Postseason; But Can They Stay There?

Duke’s Now Established They Can Make the Postseason; But Can They Get Back There?

Team: Duke Blue Devils

2012 W-L: 6-7 (3-5)

Head Coach: David Cutcliffe (21-40; sixth season)

Returning Starters: 11 (6 Offense, 5 Defense)

The monkey’s off their back, so to speak. Finally, after 18 seasons, the Duke Blue Devils returned to the postseason. And they could’ve had a winning season too, if not for some poor luck at the end of the Belk Bowl. But now the real work begins. It’s not all that difficult to win six games at the FBS level if you know how to schedule correctly. Doing so consistently, however, is the bigger challenge. David Cutcliffe has done a great job managing one of the toughest BCS jobs there is, and now he’s tasked with continuing that trend.

Of course, it would be easier to do so if he still had a couple of his program’s most important players: QB Sean Renfree and the ACC’s all-time leading receiver, Conner Vernon. Both graduated after last year, which means all new blood on the offensive end for a team that’s actually become quite proficient at picking up yardage through the air, finishing 31st in the country with over 289 yards per game. And surprisingly, that may not be a bad thing. In limited action last year, newly-minted starter Anthony Boone threw for 531 yards and five scores on 95 attempts, while adding two rushing touchdowns as well. While Renfree may have had the stronger arm of the two last year, Boone’s much more mobile and just may be able to take a bit more punishment than his predecessor could. Given the offensive line’s overall lack of size, it’s an essential trait for any Duke quarterback, but especially Boone, who’s just 6’0″.

At the skill positions, Boone will have additional help, but one less elite target to go to. Jamison Crowder nearly matched Vernon’s productivity last year, so there’s little concern about what he can do in the open field. But beyond him, there’s uncertainty. Isaac Blakeney and David Reeves both showed some glimmers of big-play ability last year, and will now have to step into much more prominent roles with Vernon and Desmond Scott now departed. Even if the passing game picks up where it left off though, there’s still the question of the running game. Last year’s was among the worst in the country, ranking 100th overall while completely vanishing from view for weeks on end. And yet, everybody’s back. So can we expect improvement? I actually think so. Jela Duncan, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson failed to receive enough carries to truly establish success last year. That’s likely to change with a more green quarterback at the helm, especially one who’s more prone to carry the football himself. They won’t be stars, but there’s no reason to believe Duke can’t figure out a way to move the ball more effectively than last year’s effort. Even if it’s just by adding 5-10 carries per game.

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ACC Announces Student-Athlete Attendees for 2013 ACC Football Kickoff

Clemson Quarterback Tajh Boyd is One of 28 Players Attending the ACC Football Kickoff

Clemson Quarterback Tajh Boyd is One of 28 Players Attending the ACC Football Kickoff

The ACC has announced the list of football student-athlete attendees for the ACC Football Kickoff today. A fancy way of saying “Media Days,” the event will take place on July 21 and 22 at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro, N.C. Each schools’ coaches will be in attendance, as will two representatives per team.

The list:

Boston College: QB Chase Rettig (Sr.), LB Steele Divitto (Sr.)

Clemson: QB Tajh Boyd (Sr.), LB Spencer Shuey (Sr.)

Duke: QB Anthony Boone (Jr.), CB Ross Cockrell (Sr.)

Florida State: WR Rashad Greene (Jr.), CB Lamarcus Joyner (Sr.)

Georgia Tech: OT Will Jackson (Sr.), DE Jeremiah Attoachu (Sr.)

Maryland: QB C.J. Brown (Sr.), CB Dexter McDougle (Sr.)

Miami: QB Stephen Morris (Sr.), DE Shayon Green (Sr.)

North Carolina: QB Bryn Renner (Sr.), DE Kareem Martin (Sr.)

N.C. State: WR Rashard Smith (Sr.), CB Dantae Johnson (Sr.)

Pittsburgh: WR Devin Street (Sr.), DT Aaron Donald (Sr.)

Syracuse: C Macky MacPherson (Sr.), DT Jay Bromley (Sr.)

Virginia: OT Morgan Moses (Sr.), DE Jake Snyder (Sr.)

Virginia Tech: QB Logan Thomas (Sr.), LB Jack Tyler (Sr.)

Wake Forest: WR Michael Campanaro (Sr.), LB Justin Jackson (Sr.)

Some additional thoughts:

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Phil Steele’s 2013 Preseason All-ACC Team

Clemson QB Tajh Boyd Headlines Phil Steele's Preseason All-ACC Team

Clemson QB Tajh Boyd Headlines Phil Steele’s Preseason All-ACC Team

As part of Phil Steele’s extensive 2013 season preview activities, today he released his picks for the All-ACC team. Not an overwhelming number of surprises to be found, but that said, there’s certainly some switches partisan fans might make here and there between first- and second-teams or third- and fourth-teams. Most notably, I’d probably move up UNC‘s Bryn Renner to the second team, while moving Virginia Tech‘s Logan Thomas down to the third — but the difference is negligible, really.

We won’t lay out the entire list for you here, but below we’ve included the first-team offense and defense, plus a school-by-school count of all players included on all four teams compiled by Steele. Regarding the latter, Florida State led the way with 19 players out of the 112 named, while Maryland had the least, with just three.

First Team All-ACC: Offense

QB: Tajh Boyd, Clemson

RB: Duke Johnson, Miami

RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State

WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State

WR: Stefon Diggs, Maryland

TE: Eric Ebron, North Carolina

C: Bryan Stork, Florida State

OG: Tre’ Jackson, Florida State

OG: Brandon Linder, Miami

OT: Morgan Moses, Virginia

OT: James Hurst, North Carolina

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ACC Football Standout Senior 2013: Duke

Amidst Tons of Youth, Duke Will Be Relying Heavily on Senior Ross Cockrell in 2013

Amidst Tons of Youth, Duke Will Be Relying Heavily on Senior Ross Cockrell in 2013

As schools’ academic years are wrapping up, last season’s juniors are about to become this season’s seniors, and with that comes extra responsibility and expectations. In the ACC, while there were plenty of players selected in the NFL Draft, the conference still returns a strong group of seniors — many of whom are set to make a strong impact in their final seasons of eligibility.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his respective squad, and why he’s so important. Think we should’ve featured another player, though? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.

Duke Blue Devils: Ross Cockrell, CB

Duke’s resurgence through the first seven or eight weeks of the 2012 season was largely credited to the Blue Devils’ high-powered offense, but it was the defense that really made a huge difference. On the strength of Cockrell, in particular, Duke’s D was shutting down passing games and held all but two of their first eight opponents to 30 points or less. It was not a phenomenal effort by most program’s standards, but for Duke, it was a clear step in the right direction. The wheels would fall off in the second half of the season, to the tune of five straight losses and five straight opponents scoring 42 or more, which is why defense (and Cockrell in particular) is such an important factor going into 2013.

As a junior, Cockrell appeared to have “broken out” so to speak, becoming a force in short coverage, with gradual improvement defending the long pass. At the halfway point, he was averaging more than one defended pass per game, with four picks and a decent amount of tackles (34) for a cornerback. And then everything dropped off. Against the ACC’s best receivers the rest of the way, he’d defend just three more passes, and catch just one more interception. Obviously, the team’s drop-off isn’t entirely his fault, but now, as a team leader, the buck must stop at him. As head coach David Cutcliffe told the Duke Chronicle last month:

“Ross Cockrell is where everything starts. Right now, if we can stay healthy our starting three safeties are Dwayne Norman, Jeremy Cash and Corbin McCarthy. I really like the looks of that…. We can be more athletic than we have been in the secondary.”

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ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: Duke Blue Devils

Anthony Boone Looks Prepared to Lead Duke at Quarterback This Spring

Anthony Boone Looks Prepared to Lead Duke at Quarterback This Spring

As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.

Team: Duke Blue Devils

Spring Practice Start Date: March 4

Spring Game Date: April 13

Following Duke’s bowl bid in 18 years, 2012 ended with a lot of question marks for the Blue Devils. Was this the end goal? If not, could this be sustained? And would they be able to quickly rebuild without program cornerstones Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon? Well, after one day of spring practice, it looks as if David Cutcliffe’s program may actually be just fine.

For all the naysayers regarding what this offense would be without the aforementioned Renfree and Vernon, they seemingly forgot about who’s stuck around for Duke. Former backup QB Anthony Boone is already more than capable of stepping into the role as starter, as evidenced by the limited time he spent under center last season. In the only game he started (a win over Virginia) he threw for 212 yards and four touchdowns. And yet, despite performances like that, he’s not taking his role as favorite for granted either, as evidenced by yesterday’s feature in the Durham Herald-Sun. Similarly, former second-option Jamison Crowder also has an opportunity to be one of the ACC’s standout receivers (some would say he already was last year). Both Crowder and Boone will have the advantage of dealing with an experienced offensive line (returning four of five starters), so now the big challenge revolves around the effectiveness of the new(ish) offense. If they can put in some solid work in the more sped-up, athletic attack this spring, it could be a surprising new fold against conference defenses come the fall.

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ACC Football Top 25 Players of 2012: #18, Ross Cockrell

Duke's Ross Cockrell Was an Integral Part of the Blue Devils' Surprising 2012 Season

Duke’s Ross Cockrell Was an Integral Part of the Blue Devils’ Surprising 2012 Season

As part of our 2012 season review, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC this season, from no. 25 to no. 1. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof, obviously — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 18, Ross Cockrell, CB/Duke (Preseason Rank: NR)

Going into 2012, it was thought that Duke’s offense, led by Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon, would impress, though most were unsure about the Blue Devils defense. In the season’s early goings, it appeared as if Ross Cockrell took that as a challenge, guiding the way during an impressive opening effort. Through the first six games, the junior corner had four interceptions, defended nine passes and scored a touchdown on top of that. Even in the admittedly rocky Stanford game, where I myself called out Cockrell and the entire secondary for their failings, he still managed a pick and six tackles. Possibly the biggest statement about Cockrell’s skill set, however, came from how the end of the season played out. Four straight miserable losses for the Blue Devils took some of the luster off their surprising season, and there’s two ways of looking at those defeats. Either that Cockrell, as a veteran leader, needed to step up and failed to (just one INT, 20 tackles in four games). Or he was such an integral part of their success, that they couldn’t come away with a victory unless he played at an elite level. I won’t take a guess at which situation’s true, but take a look at their final, and fifth loss in a row — to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. Duke allowed nearly 70 passing yards above their already poor average (267 passing yards allowed per game) without him playing. Ultimately, it ended up being the difference in a close loss.

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