Duke will have the luxury of having an experienced offensive unit in 2014. The Blue Devils return 8 starters on offense. Last season they averaged 32.8 points per game, good for sixth in the ACC. Duke has an experienced quarterback, an All-American wide receiver, and a stable of talented running backs, and will challenge every defense they face this season.
Anthony Boone comes in as the unquestioned starter and one of the few returning starting quarterbacks in the ACC. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Boone is the most important guy on the team heading into the 2014 season. He is the only quarterback on the roster to have ever played in a college football game. Boone had 13 passing and 5 rushing touchdowns last season, but should have no trouble surpassing those numbers this season, barring injury. Last season the coaching staff favored Brandon Connette in short yardage and goal line situations, but they won’t have that luxury this season after Connette’s transfer to Fresno State. Redshirt Sophomore Thomas Sirk will serve as the backup quarterback this season. Sirk tore his Achilles last spring and didn’t see any action last season, but has had a year to recover and learn the system. Sirk was recruited as a dual threat quarterback and showed plenty of running ability in the spring game. He could be used in some of the same situations we saw Connette used last season. Parker Boehme, a redshirt freshman, will be the third quarterback on the depth chart.
Duke used a stable of running backs last season, with no clearly defined starter or premiere back. This year figures to be more of the same. Josh Snead was the team’s leading rusher last season with 651 yards and a 6.1 ypc average. He topped the 100 yard mark three times last season (Troy, Miami, Texas A&M). Shaquille Powell is listed first on the depth chart for the upcoming season. Powell ran for 344 yards last season and a 5.5 ypc average. Powell really came on strong in the second half of the season and proved his worth against Miami, rushing for 2 touchdowns, including the game clinching score on a 33 yard run in the fourth quarter. Duke will have to replace the production of Jela Duncan,. He missed the Chick Fil A Bowl and is suspended for the 2014 season. Duncan led the team in rushing attempts last season and was also the only back to catch more than 10 passes. He had the reputation as the team’s power runner. Joseph Ajeigbe, a redshirt freshman, appears to be the guy to step into that role. Ajeigbe played very well against the first team defense in the spring game and should get plenty of opportunities this season. True freshman Shaun Wilson could also see some time in the backfield if needed. The running game had their best season yet under Cutcliffe in 2013 and looks to continue that trend this season.
It could be argued that the most important group on the offense is the offensive line. The big guys up front are responsible for protecting the quarterback and opening up lanes for the running backs. Luckily for Duke, they will have a strong, experienced offensive line again this year. Last season Duke averaged 4.8 ypc as a team and ranked 12th in the country in adjusted sack rate. The Blue Devils return three starters on the line, led by RG Laken Tomlinson. The senior is currently projected as a potential 2nd round NFL draft pick and could move even higher with a strong senior campaign. LT Takoby Cofield also returns, as does Center Matt Skura. Last season was Skura’s first season as a starter, but he played very well and showed great chemistry with Anthony Boone. Junior Lucas Patrick will take over for LG Dave Harding. RT Perry Simmons will also need to be replaced. Tanner Stone, who missed all of last season with injury could be the new starter, but will be competing for the spot with fellow sophomore Casey Blaser.
Receivers and Tight Ends
You can’t talk about ACC wide receivers without mentioning Jamison Crowder. The All-American returns to Duke for his final season after setting the conference record for receptions in a season with 108. Crowder now has his eye on former teammate Conner Vernon and looks to pass him as the ACC’s career leader in receptions and receiving yards. Crowder will remain the focal point of the offense and garner most of the attention, but Duke has other guys who can catch the ball. Tight End Braxton Deaver is one of the best pass catching tight ends in the ACC. In his first healthy season as a starter for Duke, Deaver had 46 catches for 600 yards and 4 touchdowns. Tight end David Reeves will see the field plenty as well. Senior Issac Blakeney has been primarily lining up on the outside and spending most of his career in the slot or tight end positions. The hope is to create most mismatches and to make the most of Blakeney’s size and speed. At 6’6” and 225 lbs provides a huge target for Anthony Boone. Blakeney also had 4 touchdown catches last season and is a great target in the redzone. Junior Max McCaffrey projects to start in the slot this season. McCaffrey doesn’t have breakaway speed, but has great hands and has shown a knack for making tough catches. Max caught 4 touchdown passes last season. Johnell Barnes and Ryan Smith both saw the field as true freshmen last season and should get even more opportunities this season. The same goes for RS sophomore Anthony Nash who also saw his first action last season. Quay Chambers could be thrown into the mix also. The new guy to watch is true freshman Trevon Lee. Lee was a highly recruited wide receiver from Florida who chose the Blue Devils over a long list of big time football schools. At this time it is unclear if Lee will redshirt this season, but Cutcliffe has shown no fear of playing young players if they deserve to be on the field.
The biggest change to the Blue Devil offense will be the absence of Kurt Roper, who is now the offensive coordinator at Florida. Associate head coach Scottie Montgomery will take over play calling duties this season. Montgomery has been on the Duke staff since 2006, interrupted by a two year stint as the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers coach.
With all the returning talent and experience, combined with the schemes and game plans from the coaching staff, Duke looks to be a dynamic offense once again this season. I do not envy opposing defensive coordinators tasked with slowing down Jamison Crowder and company.