When people discuss the Duke Blue Devils and potential impact players, names like Ross Cockrell, Anthony Boone, Josh Snead and Jamison Crowder are the first to pop up. However, often forgotten are the healthy returns of linebacker Kelby Brown and defensive end Kenny Anunike that could give the Duke defense the boost it needs to propel Duke to its second straight Bowl game for the first time in school history.
Brown is a redshirt junior. He sat out all of last year with a knee injury and health issues are always a concern with the dynamic linebacker. In 2011, Brown appeared in 10 games and recorded 65 tackles and 1.5 sacks. His best game came against Florida St. where he had one sack and 10 tackles. Having Brown, a player coach David Cutcliffe called “dynamic,” should be a huge boost to a defense that has been somewhat underwhelming at linebacker in recent years.
Joining Brown in returning to the defense will be Kenny Anunike who has led the team in sacks the past two seasons despite only playing in four games in 2011. Anunike, like Brown, has had his fair share of injuries and is actually on his sixth year of eligibility. His career has been one of hope, glimpses of greatness and surgery. In fact, Anunike has had five surgeries since joining the Blue Devils which is as many sacks as he had last season.
Now, Anunike is fully healthy and is ready to resume the role of emotional leader of the Blue Devils defense. At the time of his injury in 2011 he was leading the ACC in sacks and last year he looked like he wasn’t fully recovered at times. There were glimpses but Anunike has the ability to record double digit sacks and, if he can stay healthy, should be able to do that. Having their top pass rusher back should also take a ton of pressure off of a young secondary.
The Duke defense should be much improved from last season when they ranked 110th in points against by allowing 36 points per game. Getting a healthy season from Brown and Anunike and teaming with cornerback Ross Cockrell, the ACC’s active leader in interceptions with nine, Duke actually has impact players at every level of the defense. They won’t suddenly be in the Top 25 but Duke should post their first winning season since 1994 and once again make a Bowl game.