GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Duke senior cornerback Ross Cockrell cut his hair in December, which was noteworthy because he used to sport a Troy Polamalu-like 'do.
"It was a transition that needed to happen," he said Sunday at the 2013 ACC Football Kickoff media event. "I wanted to be more 'business-y,' I guess."
Chances are, that business eventually will be conducted in the NFL.
While Duke churns out NBA players, there aren't many former Blue Devils in the NFL. QB Sean Renfree was drafted by Atlanta in the seventh round in April, meaning he was Duke's first draftee since 2004. Duke has had just 11 players drafted since 1990 and just one player drafted before the sixth round since 1999. Cockrell has the talent to break that string.
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Cockrell (6-0, 185) doesn't necessarily stand out in any facet, but he does a lot of things well, including throwing out clichés. When asked if he thought about playing in the NFL, Cockrell shook his head and said, "No. I'm focusing on this season."
If his 2013 season is anything like his 2012 season, Duke coaches will be happy. Cockrell, who has started every game the past three seasons, had five picks and 13 pass breakups last fall; he has nine picks and 29 pass breakups in his career to go along with 187 tackles.
Cockrell, who will be playing this fall as a grad student after graduating in May with a political science degree, thinks he has bolstered his talents by improving his hand and lower-body strength during the offseason. And while Cockrell is the only returning starter in a five-man secondary (Duke uses a 4-2-5 set), he thinks an improved front four will help ease the growing pains among the defensive backs.
There's been a huge change in the physical makeup of Duke's players, Cockrell said, and not only up front. "We have bigger, more physical and more athletic guys in the secondary now," he said. As for the defensive linemen, "they look like guys you would never see on Duke's campus" before coach David Cutcliffe's recent recruiting efforts.
And, hey, maybe that will lead to more haircuts for players wanting to look more "business-y" for NFL scouts.