The start of the 2016 college football season is fast approaching. Its time to take a look at what to expect from the Blue Devils on the gridiron this fall.
If you could pinpoint Duke’s recent success on the football field to one area of the team you would have to look at the offensive line. The Blue Devils offensive line has performed as well as any unit in the nation over the last few seasons. Last season Duke was tasked with replacing first round pick Laken Tomlinson and Takoby Cofield and still managed to stay consistent with their play up front. Duke ranked fourth in the nation in Adjusted Sack Rate according to Football Outsiders.
The Duke staff made improving the offensive line one of their top focuses in recruiting and it has certainly been evident on the field. Duke returns several starters on the offensive line this year, but there are also a few you guys on the roster who may be ready to make an impact.
The biggest task facing the offensive line coming into the season will be replacing center Matt Skura. Redshirt junior Austin Davis was penciled in as the starter coming out of the spring, but in David Cutcliffe’s season opening press conference on Monday the head coach made a point to mention R-So Zach Harmon as someone who he expects to compete for time on the offensive line. Harmon was listed second at the center position on the depth chart, but played guard in high school. Its unclear at this moment where Harmon will see the majority of his playing time.
Duke returns starters at both the left and right tackle position with Gabe Brandner and Casey Blaser. Senior Tanner Stone returns to the right guard position, but after back surgery in the spring he is being limited for now in practice. If he isn’t ready to go by the season opener, Harmon or Sterling Korona could slide into a starter at RG. Korona is currently in a battle with redshirt freshman Zach Baker for the starting left guard position. Reno Rosene, Trip McNeil, and Christian Harris could all see time along the offensive line as well.
Coming into the offseason Duke had hoped talented guard Jake Sanders would be able to find a role on the offensive line, but this spring it was announced that due to medical reasons his football playing career is over.
The Blue Devils have the luxury of a deep and talented, if not totally experienced, offensive line unit. That trend figures to continue with another crop of talented linemen coming in this fall, all of whom will most likely redshirt unless the injury bug takes a big bite out of the line into the season.
Check out our other preseason position previews: