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Duke Football: Running Backs Preview

Credit:Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Duke’s running game has improved steadily over the past few seasons and has played a big part in the increase in wins for the program.  Duke has taken the committee approach to the running game often incorporating as many as three different running backs in addition to using the quarterback as a threat on the ground.  This season will be more of the same, most likely, with some minor alterations.

It should be expected that the offensive staff will try and put a “pitch count” on designed runs for quarterback Thomas Sirk to protect the recently healed achilles.  Sirk led the team in rushing yards and attempts last season, outpacing starting running back Shaq Powell by 39 carries and surpassing the combined carries by returning backs Shaun Wilson and Jela Duncan.  While Duke will certainly not get rid of the QB option, we may see more traditional running plays.

Senior Jela Duncan and junior Shaun Wilson should be considered costarters this season.  It really doesn’t matter who is on the field for the first snap.  Duncan and Wilson complement each other perfectly, with Duncan being in the role of the strong, bruising back and Wilson being the speedster.

Duncan averaged 6.8 yards per carry last season and averages 5.4 for his career.  He’s only gotten stronger this offseason and won’t be arm tackled by defenders. Duncan is as close to a sure thing as you can have in short yardage situations, but don’t sell him short on speed either.

Shaun Wilson has shown how dangerous he can be in space.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the staff line him up in the slot position in addition to his running back duties.  His elusivness on the outside is unquestioned.

Depending on how things shake out, true freshmen Brittain Brown and Elijah Deveaux could see the field this fall.  Both were highly recruited in high school and add a lot of talent to Duke’s stable of backs.  With Joe Ajeigbe and Nico Pierre already set in reserve roles and Zach Boden competing for playing time as well, its unknown if the staff would want to burn a potential redshirt for both newcomers.  But both Wilson and Duncan are proof that if the coaches feel a young player can contribute right away, they won’t hesitate to put them on the field.

The Duke running game should take another step forward this season and the offense as a whole should benefit greatly.

Check out our other preseason position previews:

Special Teams
Offensive Line
Quarterback
Linebackers
Defensive Line
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
Secondary