There are three main obstacles to being an immediately good left tackle at Duke.
The first is that left tackle, like any other position on the offensive line, does not allow for a smooth transition from watching to playing. A left tackle has to learn the job on the fly, all the while being expected to perform the job he’s still learning.
The second is that the position requires the player to block defensive ends, which often are the best athletes on their teams.
The third is unique to Duke. The Blue Devils are a pass-first offense that uses at least three wide receivers at almost all times, which for a left tackle means that there is nowhere to go: He rarely has help from a tight end. If he is beat by his man, the quarterback’s uniform is a sure bet to become a lot less clean than it was before the snap.
“That’s a tough circumstance, that left tackle island,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said before reiterating the point. “And it is an island. We have a lot of short edges.”
Takoby Cofield, a 2009 Tarboro graduate and a redshirt sophomore at Duke, has taken on left tackle. After moving all over the line during his time in college, Cofield has started all four games at left tackle for the Blue Devils (3-1).
Cutcliffe has referred to him as “the left tackle of the future” on more than one occasion, and it’s clear Duke needs him to maximize his experience quickly.
“There’s no substitute for experience, especially on the offensive line,” Duke offensive line coach John Latina said. “Unlike other positions, everything on the offensive line happens to you instantly, and you have to be able to react instantly. So, the best players are usually the most experienced players.”
For an inexperienced player, the Blue Devils are happy with Cofield’s progress.
The irony is that, after pass blocking about a dozen times a season in high school, Cofield sometimes has to pass block a dozen times on a single series.
“Coming from Tarboro, we run the ball,” he said. “We throw it, like, once every six games, so I definitely had to work on my pass blocking. The coaches have done a wonderful job helping me progress every day.”
Under Latina, who has coached offensive lineman for three decades, Cofield said the line has improved even more.
Latina was brought from Notre Dame to Akron by head coach Rob Ianello, who was hired to completely rebuild a floundering program that had built the premier stadium in its conference. But after going 2-22 in two years, the staff was removed.
Duke quickly found a spot for Latina, and it’s been a blessing for Cofield, who said Latina has helped “in too many ways already.”
“I love him to death,” Cofield said. “He hasn’t even been here that long, but he’s a wonderful source of information. He’s been coaching forever. He really believes in the technique of an offensive lineman, and that has helped me a lot.”
Latina has stressed that each offensive lineman know the role of the other positions, and he has broken down fundamentals into little parts, a big help to a unit that has allowed only three sacks through four games.
Still, becoming a FBS left tackle has its challenges for Cofield. There were plenty in a 50-13 loss to No. 9 Stanford.
“He had some big eyes in Palo Alto,” Cutcliffe said with a knowing grin. “He’s done well. Takoby hasn’t lost his confidence. He’s got a great work ethic. He’s a very bright young man, and I think he realizes what he has to do to get better, but you can’t lose your confidence.”
Latina countered with a good point: “I think Southern Cal’s eyes were pretty big when they played Stanford, too.”
The biggest issue for Cofield was building on his talented foundation. So far, the coaching staff is encouraged.
As ACC play opens this week for Duke, the Blue Devils need Cofield to be good out on his island.
Nothing has told Duke that Cofield will be anything but a fixture on its left end.
“He’s getting better each and every week, which is important because the competition gets a little better every week. It’s critical that we see that improvement,” Latina said. “And that’s what he’s done so far, and that’s what we need him to continue to do.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com.