2013 Duke Preview - Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Duke Blue Devil Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Duke continues to surge forward on offense for head coach David Cutcliffe and coordinator Kurt Roper. Don't expect much of a regression just because the pitch-and-catch combo of Sean Renfree to Conner Vernon is gone. Yeah, 2013 brings new challenges for the offense, but the Devils feel as if they're equipped to rebuild. Renfree was steady, but multi-dimensional successor Anthony Boone might have even more potential at quarterback over his final two years. And Jamison Crowder has already proven that he has go-to guy qualities. Factor in an improving O-line that returns four starters and ranked fourth in the ACC in sacks allowed, and it's easy to see why Duke expects to continue rolling through the air. Running the ball remains a struggle in Durham, though modest gains have been achieved. The Devils will ditch a workhorse for a committee that includes Juwan Thompson, Josh Snead and Jela Duncan.
Star of the offense: Senior WR Conner Vernon
Passing: Anthony Boone
49-95, 531 yds, 5 TDs, 2 INTs
Rushing: Jela Duncan
109 carries, 553 yds, 4 TDs
Receiving: Jamison Crowder
76 catches, 1,074 yds, 8 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Sean Renfree
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RG Laken Tomlinson
Best pro prospect: Vernon
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Vernon, 2) Renfree, 3) Tomlinson
Strength of the offense: Veteran quarterback, potential at receiver, veteran O-line
Weakness of the offense: Passing efficiency, the ground game, run blocking, big plays
Although it's never easy to say goodbye to a four-year starting quarterback, Sean Renfree, the Blue Devils are excited by the potential of junior Anthony Boone. The 6-0, 230-pounder has patiently waited for this opportunity to be the full-time starter in Durham. And he's not without experience, having played in 22 career games, and throwing four touchdown passes as the starter in last October's rout of Virginia. The physical tools, from a strong right arm to the ability to prolong plays when he tucks the ball, are in place for Boone to excel as David Cutcliffe's next pupil working form behind center.
Boone will be backed up by 6-2, 225-pound junior Brandon Connette , one of the more versatile weapons on offense. Although he hasn't thrown many passes as a Blue Devil, it doesn't mean he hasn't provided a spark for the offense. The triple-threat in Durham is a terrific athlete, throwing three touchdown passes, rushing for a team-high eight scores and even catching 11 balls for 85 yards and another touchdown. Connette forces the staff to find ways to get the ball in his hands.
Watch Out For .... Boone to make the locals quickly forget about Renfree. No. 7 appears primed for a breakout year, an experienced veteran, with the physical tools to hit the ground running. The fact that he's been around Cutcliffe his entire college career will only hasten his ascent as the new leader of the Duke attack.
Strength: Multi-dimensions. What stands out most about Boone is the strength of his arm and his ability to make things happen with his feet. The junior brings an added dimension to the offense that didn't exist when Renfree was behind center. Oh, and Connette is a wild card on offense, who's going to produce points somehow.
Weakness: Accuracy and consistency. The staff likes what it's seen from Boone so far, but it's still looking for more consistency through the air. He hasn't had enough reps to develop his confidence or his timing with the receivers. Boone will get there, but the early stages of the season could be a little rocky in the passing game.
Outlook: New quarterback? No worries. Boone appears ideally suited to pick up where Renfree left off. And even provide a little more pop for the attack. Aside from the requisite reps, he has many of the qualities Cutcliffe is after in a hurler. Fortunately, Boone will get games with N.C. Central and Memphis before ACC play begins with a visit from Georgia Tech.
Just about everyone who gained a yard on the ground in 2012 is back for the Blue Devils, a team that's never going to make the ground game the offensive focal point. Exiting spring, senior Juwan Thompson stood atop the depth chart, though that won't guarantee a workhorse role. The assertive 5-11, 225-pounder has started 20 career games, including 12 last year, yet only carried the ball 75 times for 352 yards and a score. Thompson also caught 24 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns, consistently flashing soft hands out of the backfield.
In the No. 2 hole is 5-9, 190-pound junior Josh Snead, a player whose potential is still exceeding his actual production. The former top recruit did finish second on the team last year with 496 yards and two touchdowns on 99 carries, adding a scoring catch. He's the quickest of the Duke backs, a shifty playmaker with good balance.
While physical sophomore Jela Duncan led the team in rushing as a rookie, he's currently No. 3 on the depth chart. The 5-10, 200-pounder provided a much-needed spark off the bench, going for 553 yards and four scores on 109 carries. The youngest of the Blue Devils backs has a bright future, but needs to play with a little consistency, including as a pass blocker.
Watch Out For .... the backfield by committee to again be the order of the day in Durham. The Blue Devils have a pecking order, but not really. The coaching staff is going to go with whoever is hot, which means anyone from Thompson to Duncan could shoulder the load on a given Saturday. If one of the backs rushes for 750 yards, it'll be an upset.
Strength: Depth. There's strength in numbers as it pertains to a Duke backfield that harbors three interchangeable options. Thompson may be the best and most seasoned of the trio, but the coaches will just as easily send Snead or Duncan running into the huddle, depending on the situation.
Weakness: Chunk yards. Yeah, all three of the primary backs averaged at least 4.7 yards a carry, a very healthy number, but explosive plays remained scarce on the ground. Of last season's 439 carries, just one produced an outburst of at least 35 yards. The Blue Devils are more methodical and pedestrian in the running game than the program would prefer.
Outlook: Duke is getting there, albeit slowly. The Blue Devils improved from 115th in rushing two years ago to 98th in 2012. And that trend ought to continue this fall, especially with a veteran line and an athletic quarterback behind center. None of the backs has a star quality about him, but there's something to be said for the kind of depth that keeps everyone fresh from September to December.
As a complement to record-breaking receiver Conner Vernon, Jamison Crowder was a revelation in 2012. As the unrivaled go-to guy this fall, he's determined to be every bit as productive in his junior season. Though only 5-9 and 175 pounds, he still caught 76 balls for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns to earn honorable mention All-ACC. Crowder was ultra-consistent for the Blue Devils, registering five games of at least 100 yards, and he's only begun to scratch the surface of his potential. He's cat-quick and plays much bigger than his size, freely going into traffic to make the tough grab. Cutcliffe loves No. 3, and plans to use him in a multitude of different ways this fall.
For good reason, the Blue Devils are excited about Isaac Blakeney picking up some of the slack out of the slot. And why not? At 6-6 and 235 pounds, he has tight end size, with the wheels of an outside receiver. There are very high hopes for the budding junior who laid a foundation with 32 receptions for 290 yards and a touchdown catch to go along with 10 special teams tackles.
The program is equally fired up about sophomore Max McCaffrey, one of the standouts of the offseason so far. The 6-2, 190-pound son of longtime NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey has the pedigree and the fundamentals to go from two catches last season to No. 2 guy this fall. He'll win the battles in one-on-one situations, and isn't afraid to get his hands dirty as a blocker.
Junior TE Braxton Deaver is back after missing 2012 following knee and thumb surgery. His speed and athleticism were missed in the passing game. At 6-5 and 240 pounds, he's akin to a super-sized wideout, creating mismatches with linebackers. Deaver will be a big target for Anthony Boone, using his long gait to stretch the field.
In an effort to bolster the unit's thinning depth, 6-1, 210-pound senior Brandon Braxton is moving over from safety, where he'll back up Crowder at wide receiver. No stranger to the offensive side of the ball, he started 15 games in his first two seasons, collecting 54 receptions for 532 yards and a touchdown.
After filling in for the injured Deaver last year, 6-5, 250-pound sophomore David Reeves will return to being the second-team tight end. While he's a better blocker than receiver, he did manage to catch 18 balls for 122 yards and three touchdowns, all from backup QB Brandon Connette.
Watch Out For .... Blakeney to emerge as a very interesting option for Boone and the passing game. His measurables are such that he can be employed a number of different ways, essentially an H-back with good wheels. Blakeney streaking down the middle of the field will be a very tall order for linebackers and safeties alike.
Strength: Hands. Duke sports a collection of sure-handed receivers, both on the outside and in the slot. Crowder sets the tone by securing balls with his sticky hands before heading upfield. The rest of the receivers have the huge mitts and the long arms to provide Boone with a wide catch-radius to target.
Weakness: Proven players after Crowder. Crowder is the unrivaled front man of the group, but he's going to require more support from players unaccustomed to playing an important role. Yeah, everyone has made an impression in the offseason, but that won't resonate unless it continues into the fall.
Outlook: Life after Vernon will have its challenges, but there's also plenty of reason for optimism in the receiving corps. Crowder is a legitimate go-to guy, and the supporting cast has a shot to be pretty good. Deaver is back at tight end, and both Blakeney and McCaffrey have bright futures. Best of all, none are seniors.
The Blue Devils welcome back four starters, including a pair of honorable mention All-ACC picks, from an O-line that began to grow up a season ago. Anchoring the left side will be senior G Dave Harding. The versatile 6-4, 285-pounder has registered 28 career starts, including a stint at center in 2011. He's a tenacious blocker, yet is also highly cerebral about his assignments.
The leader of the right side will be 6-5, 300-pound T Perry Simmons, another senior coming off an honorable mention All-ACC campaign. Durable and rugged, he's started 37 career games, and has played more snaps than any current Duke lineman. He's one of the key reasons why the Blue Devils stood No. 3 in the ACC in sacks allowed last year.
Next to Simmons will be 6-3, 320-pound junior Laken Tomlinson, a rising force at right guard. The former top recruit out of Chicago has started all 25 games of his career, and was in on more snaps than any other Blue Devil blocker in 2012. He's the kind of physical drive blocker in the running game who's going to start attracting the attention of pro scouts this fall.
The fourth returning starter from a year ago is LT Takoby Cofield. In his first season as a full-timer, the 6-4, 305-pound junior held up rather well in pass protection, handling the blindside for a unit that yielded just 19 sacks all year. He's one of the better all-around athletes among the linemen, and will continue to improve his technique as the second-half of his career ensues.
Entering the area beneath the microscope will be the newcomer to the lineup, sophomore Matt Skura, who's attempting to replace Brian Moore at center. The 6-4, 290-pound has earned the praise of the coaching staff this offseason, but only has 125 career snaps of experience at this level.
Quality depth on the inside will come from 6-4, 290-pound senior John Coleman and 6-4, 310-pound sophomore Lucas Patrick. Coleman is a savvy veteran of three letters and nine career starts who can play either center or guard. Patrick is a Blue Devil who came on very strong late last season. After missing the first eight games to recover from ankle surgery, he returned to play 137 snaps over the final five games, impressing the staff with his effort.
Watch Out For .... Harding to get a few looks at center this summer. An offseason surgery prevented him from getting his chance in the spring, but the veteran might get a look of Skura hits a wall in his development. If that happens, the staff will have no hesitation about bumping Patrick up a notch into the starting rotation at left guard.
Strength: Pass protection. Back from a line that ranked 35th nationally in sacks allowed are both starting tackles and both starting guards. Heck, it might even be tougher to bag a Duke quarterback in 2013 now that athletic Anthony Boone is in the saddle. The Blue Devils pass protectors are agile, and use their hands very well.
Weakness: Center. Maybe Skura will operate like a veteran, or maybe Harding takes over at the pivot. Either way, the Blue Devils will have a difficult time replacing the consistency and the leadership that Moore brought to the middle of the line.
Outlook: The front wall has been a microcosm for the improvements taking place at Duke. A glaring weakness just a couple of years ago, the O-line is now producing blockers capable of generating interest from pro scouts. The Blue Devils should once again keep the pocket clean for the quarterback, though cutting down on penalties and opening wider holes for the running backs remain priorities in Durham.
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