Safety Jeremy Cash stars in improved Duke defense

Duke safety Jeremy Cash's eight tackles for loss this season ranks eighth nationally.

Rob Brown/AP

When Jeremy Cash showed up at Duke University on a Greyhound bus nearly four years ago, he was joining a football program that he knew next to nothing about.

The only reason Cash made the long trip from Columbus, Ohio, to Durham, N.C., was the advice of former Ohio State Buckeyes’ head coach Jim Tressel. Tressel’s resignation was followed by a new coaching regime at Ohio State, one that Cash did not necessarily see eye-to-eye with, which subsequently led to the Miami product’s transfer to Duke.

Now in his third season with the Blue Devils, Cash, a safety who lines up all over the field, is poised to receive All-American honors for the third consecutive year.

"He’s the most versatile defensive player that I’ve been around," Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. "He can certainly cover people man-to man, he can play the deep safety, he can play in the middle as a linebacker. He’s a pass rusher. He played outside linebacker in the game against Georgia Tech." 

The 6-foot-2 playmaker showcased that versatility and talent on a national stage last Saturday when he put together an unbelievable performance against a Georgia Tech option offense that numerous defenses have struggled to slow down in the past. 

Despite typically lining up at strong safety in a base defense, Cash was asked to play the role of an outside linebacker against Georgia Tech. Being closer to the line of scrimmage allowed for Cash to have the opportunity to disrupt the option much quicker — and that’s exactly what he did. He finished the day with 12 total tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. Any time Duke’s defense made a play, Cash was nearly a sure bet to be involved in some way.

The weekly accolades — Walter Camp Foundation National Defensive Player of the Week, the Football Writers Association of America National Defensive Player of the Week, the Lott IMPACT Trophy Player of the Week, the Jim Thorpe Player of the Week — piled up for his play against the Yellow Jackets. 

Due to the trust he’s earned from the Duke coaches, Cash displayed all of his abilities against a Georgia Tech offense that requires defenders to react quickly, yet be fundamentally sound. He made his mark chasing down running backs on the perimeter, hitting fullbacks in the middle, covering receivers down the field and getting to the quarterback on blitzes. It was the perfect offensive scheme for Cash to show the country that there isn’t anything he can’t do on a football field.

With Cash leading the way, Duke’s defense was able to limit the Yellow Jackets, an offense averaging 377 rushing yards per game, to just 173 yards on 60 attempts. The only success Georgia Tech found on the ground was up the middle with B-Back Patrick Skov. Cash & Co. simply shut down the perimeter.

The win, headlined by the solid effort by the Duke defense, went in line with what the Blue Devils (3-1, 1-0 ACC) have shown early this season. With opponents averaging just 11.5 points per game against them, the Blue Devils are ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense. After ranking 63rd two years ago and 24th last season, Duke is well on its way to improving in scoring defense for the second straight season. It’s no coincidence that those improvements are coming with a player of Cash’s quality leading the defense both on and off of the field. 

"I don’t know that there’s a better defensive football player from a production standpoint in the country, I’d have to see it to believe it," said Cutcliffe, whose team faces a shorthanded Boston College team on Saturday. "He’s had an impact, and all the while being the spark off the field. He’s an excellent captain to go along with all of that, and an excellent person, a guy that’s getting a graduate’s degree where he will finish with two degrees from Duke.

"It’s a pretty amazing football experience. I don’t know if there’s one better."

Already skyrocketing up 2016 draft boards, Jeremy Cash has everyone’s attention, and he has the opportunity to be considered one of the best defensive players in the nation by the time the season is over.