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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #20 Duke

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 29, 2014

#20 Duke Blue Devils

 

2013 Recap:

A 10 win season for Duke? That’s right, after starting the season 2-2 Duke reeled off 8 straight wins en route to a birth in the ACC title game where they became one in a long line of Florida State victims. Duke lost a close 52-48 contest in the Chik-Fil-A bowl to Texas A&M meaning they have not won a bowl game since 1961.

 

Coaching:

David Cutliffe has paid his dues in the coaching ranks and deserves the success the program is having. Even if you look at the stats and scratch your head as to how they won so many games, it happened and there is plenty of talent still on the roster.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Anthony Boone had an up and down season but he is viewed as a possible draft prospect despite his small 5-11 stature. Boone had just as many INT’s as TD’s last season (13), while Brandon Connette had a much better ratio 13 TD/6 INT. Connette was more of a 1-B quarterback but sadly he transferred due to family reasons. Duke is now forced to go with Boone as the starter and Thomas Sirk the new backup quarterback. Boone has the ability to get it done on the ground and his running ability kept him in the lineup although, once again Connette had better overall numbers on the ground. Boone has a terrific target to throw to in Jameson Crowder but the ground is where Duke gets it done with five players getting at least 300 yards last season.

The ability to keep ball carriers fresh and catch defenses off guard is what kept afloat offensively. The team ranked 4th overall in the ACC in offense last season and were #5 in scoring offense.  The running game will be led by Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell who combined last season had 4 touchdowns and 995 yards. Snead is the better runner and Powell is the best receiver on the team at the running back position. They will not be the only options though as Duke has a stable of runners and they are interchangeable. 

Best Draft Prospect: Anthony Boone, UFA 2015

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Talk to the average college football fan and they can’t tell you who Jamison Crowder is. Crowder made an appearance in the top 10 for our Heisman ballot last year after a campaign that included 108 catches for 1,360 yards and 8 touchdowns. Add an additional 71 yards and a touchdown running the football, along with a 16.0 YPG and a pair of punt return touchdowns, and you see what Crowder meant to this football team. Crowder is going into his senior year like Boone, so they should have a good last hurrah together.

The other big weapon in the passing game is tight end and 2nd team All-ACC selection Braxton Deaver who collected 600 yards and 4 TD’s through the air a season ago. Max McCaffrey is back and the junior collected 48 catches last season. Catching footballs will not be a problem for the Blue Devils. Cutting down on the turnovers and continuing to capitalize on opportunities will remain the focal point.

Best Draft Prospect: Jamison Crowder WR 4th Round 2015.

 

Offensive Line:

For years it had to be disappointing as a Duke fan to watch what went on in the trenches at the line of scrimmage. Duke has been known (along with Wake Forest) for having porous offensive lines that were often a hindrance to the offense. However, that is not the case anymore and may be the biggest change in the culture of Duke football. Laken Tomlinson at guard is the best prospect Duke has to offer at this time and has the chance to move into 1st round territory or even be the 1st guard off the board during the next draft. Tomlinson is one of only two seniors on a line that averages 313 pounds going into the season and were second in the ACC only allowing 17 sacks last season. Center Matt Skura returns although he may move to left guard and open up the center position for freshman Austin Davis. Takoby Cofield is the other senior at left tackle ensuring Duke has plenty of talent and leadership up front. This is a solid unit that deserves more accolades then they receive.

Best Draft Prospect: Laken Tomlinson OG 2nd Round 2015.

 

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

The defense was 12th in the conference and 9th in scoring defense, but Duke didn’t just win 10 games and get to the title game through luck. They were opportunistic grabbing a ton of interceptions, although only finished at +1 in turnover ratio since they were guilty of committing a lot of turnovers themselves. Duke deserves a little more credit then they deserve practically everywhere on the football field….except along the defensive line. Duke must find a way to improve as they underperformed along the line a season ago and their top returning sack artist had only 2 last year. Defensive tackle Jamal Bruce is the only starter returning from a group that is a huge question mark. Duke finished 11th against the run in the ACC and it amazes us that more teams simply didn’t pound the ball against Duke and try to wear the defense out methodically, instead of throwing the ball and playing into their strength. Dezmond Johnson and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo have to find a way to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks from the end spots. Teams have seen the film on Duke and the Blue Devils will need some new wrinkles on the defensive line or it could be a path to destruction.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

Linebackers:

The linebackers have a couple of returning starters that posted a lot of tackles but the numbers are a bit deceiving since they were on the field so often making plays that could have been handled at the line of scrimmage. David Helton and Kelby Brown had 247 tackles between them with both going over 100 total. Brown made 11 tackles for a loss with a sack and 8 hurries, and he may be the most consistent past rusher Duke has. Duke plays a 4-2-5 base so Brown and Helton are the linebacking corps but since both are seniors it will be important to integrate some fresh blood at the position in preparation for the 2015 season. C.J. France saw action in a number of games last season, while Chris Holmes is a freshman who will challenge for action on more than just the special teams units. The linebackers are great but it’s a spot where Duke needs to stay healthy in order for their limited defensive presence to stay true to form.

Best Draft Prospect: Kelby Brown LB UFA 2015.

 

Secondary:

The cornerback spot will be occupied by freshman and sophomores in the top 5 spots on the depth chart. Running the 4-2-5 means Duke has 3 safeties in its base package. Most formations have all three lined up together with Deondre Singleton in the middle, or with junior star Jeremy Cash acting as the free roaming safety while a pair play closer to the line. All three starters return with Cash coming off a monster year with 121 tackles and 9.5 for loss. Cash also added 4 interceptions and broke up another 8 passes, earning a spot of our Preseason All-ACC Team. Singleton is joined by DeVon Edwards who intercepted 3 passes last season himself. Cornerback Breon Borders picked off 4 in a reserve role last year as Duke was one of the most active secondaries in the country. We currently see them behind Florida State and Miami in the conference for best starting secondary but the talent is there for a number of players to have huge impacts and big seasons. Not bad for a secondary that lost Russ Cockrell as a mid round draft pick last season.

Best Draft Prospect: Jeremy Cash S 3rd Round 2016.

 

Special Teams:

Another reason why Duke rattled off 10 wins despite what the stats say was on special teams where they are stacked everywhere imaginable. Ross Martin was 13-19 in field goals but he went 2-3 from 50+ yards so he is a legitimate threat to put points up on the board from long range. Will Monday is an excellent punter and the return men accounted for 4 touchdowns total. The only part for improvement would be the coverage units and Duke was in the middle of the conference in this category. This is a solid special teams unit as Duke shows us all that there truly are three areas on a field football, not just offense and defense.

Best Draft Prospect: Jamison Crowder WR/PR 4th Round 2015.

 

Schedule:

The schedule isn’t that bad for Duke as their first test doesn’t come until game 5 when they travel to Miami. Duke also ends the schedule favorably with three home games against Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Wake Forest. This is one of the easier ACC schedules we have seen.

 

Draft Outlook:

The draft outlook for the 2015 season is great, as we will see players go higher than last year's lone draftee Ross Cockrell. Laken Tomlinson is one of the better guards in the country and if Jamison Crowder approaches last year's stats he could see his stock soar. Jeremy Cash is intriguing in that with another big year he could move up and declare for 2015, leaving school a year early.

 

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