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Countdown to the Season: Quarterback, Wide Receiver, and Tight End Preview

Credit:Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Football season is fast approaching and the Blue Devils are ready to contend for another Coastal Division crown.  To get you ready for the upcoming season stay tuned to Duke Report as we preview the team and conference as we countdown to the kickoff of the season against Tulane on Thursday, September 3.

For all the areas on the team where the Blue Devils return production and experience two of the highest profile positions are suffering some turnover.  Last season Duke had the luxury of returning one of the most productive pass catchers in ACC history in Jamison Crowder and also the all time wins leader in Duke history at quarterback in Anthony Boone.  Both of these players have graduated and leave plenty of questions behind as to how much can be expected from those taking their place.  Both of these student athletes were instrumental in orchestrating a huge change in perception of the Duke Football program and have set the bar of expectations high.

Quarterback

Thomas Sirk is the unquestioned started coming into the 2015 season.  Sirk is a familiar name and face for Duke fans as he received quite a bit of situational playing time in 2014.  Sirk was used almost exclusively in short yardage and goal line situations as a running and occasional passing quarterback.  Sirk total 238 yards on 47 carries to go along with 8 rushing touchdowns.  His passing numbers were very limited only totaling 67 yards and 3 touchdowns on 10 of 14 passing.  While the sample size is small when it comes to passing there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about Sirk taking over at the QB position.  David Cutcliffe has said that Sirk is the fastest QB he has ever coached, which leads one to believe the Blue Devils may be able to have a more dynamic offense with a legit running threat at QB.  Sirk has plenty of crunch time experience, as well, something that is a must for a quarterback.  In fact, Sirk won two games for Duke last season.  He completed a game winning touchdown to David Reeves late in the game against Virginia and also scored the game winning rushing touchdown to beat Pitt on the road in double overtime.  At 6-4, 215 pounds Sirk has the size of prototypical QB and is in his fourth year in the Duke system.  He has had plenty of time to learn the offense, so there should not be any limitations to the play calling as Sirk takes over as the starting QB.

Parker Boehme will serve as the primary backup at QB.  As a redshirt sophomore Boehme is in his third year in the system and should have a good knowledge of the playbook and the personell around him.  However, he has not seen much significant playing time thus far in his Duke career.  Boehme has only seen the field in 3 games, all last season.  He only attempted two passes, completing one and has 14 total rushing yards on 3 attempts.  It is unclear at this time if Boehme will takeover the rushing QB role of Sirk and Brandon Connette in years past or if he will strictly be the backup quarterback.

Coming into fall practice redshirt freshman Nico Pierre was slotted third on the depth chart.  However, as Jela Duncan suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle and both Shaun Wilson and Joseph Ajeigbe suffered minor lower body injuries, the Duke staff was forced to look elsewhere for some running back depth.  Pierre has moved over to the running back position, but it is not clear right now how long term this will be.  If Duncan returns quicker than expected and Wilson and Ajeigbe’s injuries don’t hang around, Pierre could return to taking snaps at QB within the next few weeks.  Pierre was a quality dual threat QB recruit coming out of high school and may still see some time at the position down the road in Durham.  He also could have been a good candidate to take on the Sirk role and be used in short yardage situations if the staff opted to make sure Parker Boehme stays healthy in the event he needs to replace Sirk.

Wide Receiver

There is no replacing Jamison Crowder.  There’s simply no way around it.  Crowder impacted every game over the last few seasons both with his pass catching and special teams play.  When you also factor in Issac Blakeney the Blue Devils are losing 132 catches for 1603 yards and 13 touchdowns from last season.  At first thought it seems all too obvious that the passing game will be taking a step back in 2015.  Although the returning receiving corps may lack in proven production there is all kinds of talent at the disposal of OC Scottie Montgomery.

The lone returning starter is senior Max McCaffrey.  If nothing else, McCaffrey has been the definition of consistency in his time at Duke.  Last year he caught 37 passes for 385 yards and 3 touchdowns.  McCaffrey isn’t going to burn anyone on a deep route, but is as sure handed as they come.  His ability to catch anything thrown to him will play a big part in getting new starting QB Thomas Sirk comfortable at the position.  Johnell Barnes isn’t new to Duke, but is projected to start for the first time in his career.  Barnes has been praised by teammates and coaches before, but it has yet to translate to consistent success on the field.  With more playing time at his disposal Barnes should have plenty of opportunities to get into a rhythm and show what he can do.  As of today the third starting wide receiver is redshirt freshman Chris Taylor.  Taylor seems to be next in line to be an impact player for the Duke offense.  With good size and speed Taylor should start on the outside with either McCaffrey or Barnes in the slot.

The rest of the depth chart could change from week to week.  Terrance Alls, Anthony Nash and Ryan Smith return, but last year they combined for just 5 catches for 30 yards.  Redshirt freshman Trevon Lee should also compete for playing time.  Lee boasted an impressive offer sheet coming out of high school and was a late selection for Duke.  True freshman TJ Rahming is also in the running for playing time if he does not redshirt.  The Army All-American in high school has a size and frame similar to Crowder and will be wearing #3, as well.  Rahming could end up as the starting punt returner and could get plenty of looks on offense if he continues to play well.  There are plenty of options at wide receiver and competition in practice and early in the season will be a huge factor in solidifying the position for the fall.  The hope is that all of this quality talent will lead to quality production.

Tight End

Last year’s starting tight end David Reeves is returning for 2015, but he won’t be starting.  Braxton Deaver returns as the starting tight end after missing all of last season with a torn ACL.  In his last healthy season of 2013 Deaver had 46 catches for 600 yards and 4 touchdowns and was voted third team All-ACC.  Hopes were even higher for 2014 before his season was lost during practice in August.  Deaver is underrated as a blocking tight end, but really makes his name as a down the field threat.  Sure hands and good speed make Deaver the ideal tight end for the spread offense in modern football.  Look for Deaver to be the favorite target for Thomas Sirk.  Reeves has played in every game possible during his time in Durham.  He is known more for his blocking ability, but will catch the ball on occasion.  Last season he had 13 catches for 103 yards and 3 touchdowns.  He will still get plenty of time this season as Duke hopes to lean even more on their running game.

All stats from sports-reference.com
Check out our other Countdown to the Season previews:

Special Teams

Front Six

Secondary

Running Backs & Offensive Line