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 has epitomized what you want from your special teams unit over the last few seasons. They’ve been one of the best teams in the country in kicking, punting, and in the return game. According to Football Outsiders, Duke has ranked in the top 5 in special teams efficiency in the last two seasons. While this year’s special teams unit will feature some new faces, the Blue Devils will hope to continue to produce on special teams.
DeVon Edwards has earned his reputation as one of the best return men in the country. And after taking three touchdowns to the house last season, Edwards could stake his claim as the greatest return man in NCAA history this year. With six career KO returns for touchdown, Edwards is one touchdown shy of tying CJ Spiller’s career record. Edwards led the ACC, and ranked 6th nationally, in yards per kickoff return last season. Edwards may also start the season returning punts as well, unless Ryan Smith retains his role from last season. Smith averaged just over 7 yards per return last season and almost reached the end zone on a return against Georgia Tech.
Duke’s opponents will probably try to avoid kicking directly to Edwards if they can help it, but that may not work out too well for them either. Junior running back Shaun Wilson is expected to line up beside Edwards on kickoffs. Wilson has shown off his speed on many occasions, including on a 98 yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Pinstripe Bowl. Wilson and Edwards will form one of the fastest special teams duos in the country.
Duke knows what to expect from its return unit, but the kicking unit will open the season with some questions to answer. Kicker Ross Martin and punter Will Monday have been some of the most recognized names on the team, but leave some big shoes to fill after graduating.
Redshirt freshman Austin Parker will take over punting duties. The post spring depth chart listed senior Danny Stirt as the place kicker for the Blue Devils, but freshman AJ Reed is expected to compete, and possibly takeover, the kicking job. Ross Martin was a four year starter and made an impressive 84% of his field goal attempts over his career. That level of consistency will be tough for any incoming kicker to match, and especially so for a true freshman.
Fifth year senior Thomas Hennessy will conclude a long, successful collegiate career as Duke’s long snapper.
Check out our other preseason position previews: