Duke’s Defense in Turmoil After Loss of LB Kelby Brown

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Duke’s bend-don’t-break defense just got a lot closer to snapping in half.

Senior linebacker Kelby Brown suffered a torn ACL during the Blue Devils’ scrimmage on Monday—marking the third time he’s endured such injury during his collegiate career alone—and is expected to miss the entire 2014 season.

Brown, a first-team All-ACC selection in 2013, compiled 114 total tackles (11 for loss), two interceptions and a sack during an extremely productive junior season. He was a key component to Duke’s ACC Coastal Division title, which featured an eight-game winning streak from the end of September through November.

“When you have a great person, a great player and a guy that’s a stalwart in the program that’s had two knee surgeries, it’s upsetting to say the least,” coach David Cutcliffe said, according to the News & Observer. “Kelby is a very strong spiritual person, too, so he’ll be fine.”

Brown’s perseverance will get him through another tough personal challenge, but Duke’s defense is in a ton of trouble. Its front seven was one of the least effective units in the nation last season and was the main reason the Blue Devils had extreme difficulties on first- and second-down situations, ranking 75th against the run (174.1 yards per game), 89th in team sacks (23.0), and 106th in team tackles for loss (4.9 per game).

Duke was fortunate that its secondary was pretty athletic and could at times compensate for the lack of pass rush, and then the back five could lean on a sound go-to linebacker like Brown to help an impotent defensive line.

However, defensive ends Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx—two players that were inconsistent, but valuable—are gone, and this means that there will be a lot more pressure on the linebackers and safeties to attack the edges, leaving corners responsible for more man-on-man on the perimeter. That could also end up leading to big plays up the middle, where Duke was already susceptible to giving up due to inadequate defensive tackle play.

Without Brown’s presence in the middle of the defense, Duke’s yards per play allowed (5.67) is sure to go up. Giving up an extra 40-50 yards per game may not look like a significant number on the stat sheet, but it can drastically change the outcome of a game.

It turns the bend-don’t-break mentality into: “Let’s hope we can score more points than the other team,” and, “Holding the opponent to anything less than a touchdown is a win.”

Brown is only one player and it takes 10 more to field a complete defense, but his absence will have a colossal effect on the Blue Devils’ performance in a negative way.

WARNING: There may be times where you think you are watching a Duke basketball game. Exposure to scoreboard inflation may cause confusion, over-excessive reaction tweets, inclination to set up blitz packages, and Can’t-Blink-Or-I’ll-Miss-Something Syndrome. Ask your doctor before agreeing to play any touchdown-related drinking games.