ACC Nation Football Preview
Editor’s note – It’s kickoff week and no better time to take another look at all the teams in the ACC Nation Football Preview. Will Ojanen takes a look at a team with a promising future, the Duke Blue Devils.
After going to a bowl four straight seasons, the Duke had a down year in 2016, finishing 4-8. The future definitely looks bright for head coach David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils. He returns a very promising quarterback, some skilled players on offense, but faces some questions on defense.
2017 Duke Football Media Guide
ACC Nation Football Preview – Can The Offense Deliver?
Up front, the Blue Devils return some experience from last season. Center Austin Davis, guard Zach Harmon, and tackle Gabe Brandner all started at least 10 games last year. Together, they combine for 46 career starts. Joining them up front will be sophomore Julian Santos and senior Evan Lisle, a grad transfer from Ohio State.
At running back, there is some experience in senior Shaun Wilson, but a lot of unknown behind him. Wilson led the team in rushing. Providing depth is redshirt freshman Brittain Brown. Brown should see some carries but is a bit of a question mark.
Quarterback Daniel Jones adds to the running game. He led the team with seven rushing touchdowns last year along with 486 yards rushing.
Jones had a very promising freshman campaign last year. After a five interception game against Virginia, Jones settled down, and threw just one the rest of the season. The sophomore passed for 2836 yards in 2016. With noted quarterback guru and head coach David Cutcliffe tutoring him, you would expect his numbers to improve this year.
The receiving corps returns plenty of experience, but also faces some questions. While T.J. Rahming led the team with 70 receptions and 742 yards last year, no one else caught more than 34 passes. Rahming could see a boost in his numbers, but someone else behind him, possibly juniors Jonathon Lloyd or Chris Taylor need to become productive targets.
ACC Nation Football Preview – Can The Defense Step Up?
The bulk of the questions are on defense. This is a unit that returns just five starters from last year. They allowed 175 yards rushing per game, a 20 yards per game increase from 2015. Having very little experience back on the defensive line will not help answer those questions.
The only returning starter is senior Mike Ramsay. Aside from that, the projected starters are two sophomores, James Hornbuckle and Terrell Lucas plus a junior in Edgar Cerenod. Combined the trio accounted for just 34 tackles last season. They will need to get up to speed quick to calm those concerns along the line.
Linebacker is probably the strength of this Duke defense. Joe Giles-Harris came out of nowhere as a freshman and led the team in tackles.
Second on the team in tackles was his fellow linebacker Ben Humphreys, who also led the team in sacks. Humphreys earned second team All-ACC honors last season.
Where the Blue Devils defense excelled last year was against the pass. The 4-2-5 defense stymied some passing teams in 2016 where they held five opponents below 200 yards passing. There is some turnover this year with just seniors Byron Fields and Alonzo Saxton returning. This is an area where the Blue Devils could take a step back in 2017.
ACC Nation Football Preview – They Need To Be Special
Special teams will be an interesting area to watch in 2017. The Blue Devils may rely on one person to handle the kicking and punting duties this season.
Austin Parker served as just the punter last year but with A.J. Reed struggling on field goals (3-10 in 2016), he may be asked to do both.
Shaun Wilson had a very strong season returning kicks in 2016 averaging 25 yards per return including a 96 yard touchdown return.
ACC Nation Football Preview – Filling The Cupboard
With so many big losses from the 2015 season, we expected 2016 to be a down year for the Blue Devils and it was.
David Cutcliffe has done an outstanding job of restocking the cupboard in Durham. He has been getting some very high quality talent to come to school there the past few years. These players are starting to get significant playing time.
I like this team a lot and this season’s record will not indicate how good the team will be. The non conference schedule is tough. They will host Northwestern and Baylor along with NC Central and travel to Army. They may struggle to get to a bowl this year, but it won’t be due to lack of talent.