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2008 Duke Preview - Offense
Duke QB Thaddeus Lewis
Duke QB Thaddeus Lewis
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 23, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Duke Blue Devil Offense

Duke Blue Devils

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Duke Preview | 2008 Duke Offense
- 2008 Duke Defense | 2008 Duke Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Duke Preview | 2006 CFN Duke Preview 

What you need to know:
As good as David Cutcliffe is as an offensive teacher, he’s never been surrounded by so much uncertainty on this side of the ball. The Blue Devils were last in the ACC in scoring and total offense a year ago, averaging less than 18 points a game. QB Thaddeus Lewis and WR Eron Riley are nice starting points for the new pro-style offense, but more support is needed from a running attack that managed just 64 yards a game. The key, as always, will be up front with an offensive line that allowed 45 sacks and never opened enough holes for underrated Re’Quan Boyette. Tackles Fred Roland and Cameron Goldberg have potential, but Duke needs three or four more blockers like them to have a fighter’s chance of moving the chains with greater frequency

Returning Leaders
Passing: Thaddeus Lewis
199-360, 2,430 yds, 21 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: Re'quan Boyette
104 carries, 432 yds, 2 TD
Receiving: Eron Riley
40 catches, 830 yds, 9 TD

Star of the offense: Senior WR Eron Riley
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior OTs Cameron Goldberg and Fred Roland
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE Brett Huffman
Best pro prospect: Riley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Riley, 2) Junior QB Thaddeus Lewis, 3) Roland
Strength of the offense: The passing game, the young receivers
Weakness of the offense: Blocking, depth

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Although David Cutcliffe declared the competition open when he arrived, junior Thaddeus Lewis did nothing in the spring to hurt his chances of being the starter for a third straight year. Coming off a breakthrough season that saw him go 199-of-360 for 2,430 yards, 21 touchdowns and 10 picks, he’ll be even sharper with Cutcliffe and quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper monitoring his every move.  Lewis needs to clean up his mechanics and hone his decision-making, but neither are problems that the new staff can’t correct. He’s tough in the pocket, throws a tight ball, and can escape pressure when necessary, giving the Blue Devils their most dangerous quarterback since Spence Fischer was Durham in the mid-90s.   

Projected Top Reserve: Junior Zack Asack is the undisputed No. 2 on the depth chart, an experienced quarterback who started six games as a freshman and made another half-dozen cameos a year ago. Not your typical Blue Devil understudy, he’s 6-4 and 200 pounds with a live arm and excellent mobility. While Asack is behind Lewis, he’s not so far behind that the gap can’t be closed in April.

Redshirt freshman Mike Cappetto has two main objectives, be ready in case of an emergency and make it possible for hot-shot recruit Sean Renfree to redshirt this fall.  The 6-5, 210-pounder is a pure drop-back passer with good arm strength and a quick release.  Renfree is one of the most heralded players to ever sign with Duke, but his coming-out party probably won’t happen until after Lewis and Asack graduate.   

Watch Out For ... all of the quarterbacks to become more fundamentally sound under Cutcliffe.  One of the best teachers of quarterbacks in America, he’s bound to impart some wisdom on his next set of pupils. Both Manning brothers benefited from the teachings of Cutcliffe, as will Lewis, Asack, Cappetto, and Renfree.  
Strength: Experience. It’s been a long time since Duke had multiple quarterbacks with starting experience. Both Lewis and Asack are capable of moving this offense, the latter a quality backup and the former on the cusp of being an All-ACC player.
Weakness: Lack of the long ball. Lewis is at his best on short and intermediate routes, rarely making connections on deeper patterns. The Blue Devil passing game has averaged less than seven yards an attempt over the last two years, putting the program in the bottom half of the country in the category.
Outlook: After making a quantum leap as a sophomore, all signs point to Lewis taking another big step in his development. The competition, new staff, and return of explosive WR Eron Riley will all be factors in a second straight 20-touchdown season for the junior.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: That senior Re’quan Boyette has led the Blue Devils in rushing the last two years is somewhat misleading. He gained just 820 yards over that time in a Duke running game that’s consistently lagged among the nation’s worst. Still, to his credit, Boyette has averaged more than four yards a carry in all three of his seasons, commanding a bigger role in his final year of eligibility. At 5-10 and 210 pounds, he arrived in camp in terrific shape, showing improved quickness and more bounce in his step. One of Boyette’s main priorities will be to start hitting the hole faster and with fewer cuts, rather than dancing around in the backfield.    

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Clifford Harris is the program’s power back, a 5-10, 220-pound veteran that’s mostly contributed on special teams. He had 16 carries a year ago for 70 yards, performing a couple of important roles on third down. Harris caught 15 passes for 155 yards, while doing a solid job of picking up the blitz.

In order to give the backfield an injection of speed and elusiveness, the staff moved former S Tony Jackson to offense, where he performed well throughout spring. A natural open-field runner at 5-10 and 185 pounds, he showed enough burst through the hole and ability as a receiver to make the relocation a permanent one.

Watch Out For ... Boyette to be treated like a feature back. After a few years of the fickle Ted Roof, Duke has finally settled on a workhorse that can carry the ball 15-20 times a game.  Boyette had a career-high 104 carries as a junior, a number he might double this fall.
Strength: Senior leadership. Boyette and Harris have six letters between them and have taken on more of a leadership role within the Blue Devil offense since the end of last year.
Weakness
:
Breakaway speed. Maybe Jackson is the answer to Duke’s plodding running game, but then again, one nice spring isn’t enough of a sample just yet. The Blue Devils had just one run of more than 20 yards in 2007, a disturbing number for a ground game that’s sorely lacking in big plays.
Outlook: After averaging an ACC-low 64 yards a game on the ground, David Cutcliffe is determined to make sure that Duke runs the ball better in 2008. How much better depends on how well Boyette handles an expanded role, and how much help he gets from a sketchy offensive line.
Rating: 5.5

Receivers

Projected Starters: In senior Eron Riley, Duke has a go-to receiver that opponents must pay attention to at all times. A Second Team All-ACC performer, he caught 40 passes for 830 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging more than 20 yards a reception for the third year in-a-row. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, Riley has the deep speed and the body control to repeatedly abuse opposing defenses on the long ball. He and Thaddeus Lewis will again form one of the league’s most dangerous pitch-and-catch combos.

Sophomore Sheldon Bell will be one of the biggest beneficiaries when the team shifts into three-wide sets. After catching just four passes for 34 yards as a rookie, he stood out in the spring, using his 6-4, 200-pound frame to gain an edge over smaller cornerbacks and getting named Most Improved Player.

Seniors Raphael Chestnut and Ryan Wood are in a battle for the final starting job, which will continue through August. The 6-2, 190-pound Chestnut has a big edge in experience, boasting 53 career receptions for 575 yards and two touchdowns. The speedy veteran started four of last year’s first five games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. 

Better known for his role as the team’s holder on kicks, Wood is attempting to expand his role after catching just four balls in three years. A spring standout the last two years, the 6-1, 190-pounder with the good hands needs to show that he can also produce in the summer and fall.

Sophomore Brett Huffman used a breakout spring to elevate into the top spot at tight end. One of the prized recruits from 2006, he stands 6-5 and 245 pounds, yet can exploit a defense like a wide receiver. Huffman’s a big target with outstanding speed and a bright future as one of the Devils’ up-and-coming receivers.      

Projected Top Reserves: For now, sophomore Austin Kelly is a notch below Bell on the depth chart, but after hauling in 15 passes for 186 yards and a score, he’s poised to be a regular in the rotation. At 6-3 and 195 pounds, he’s well-sized and dangerous at picking up yards after the catch.

At 6-5 and 210 pounds, sophomore Jeremy Ringfield possesses the size and the wingspan to begin dominating smaller defensive backs. While still raw after failing to catch a pass in eight games, he’s about to become an intriguing option for Lewis, especially on jump balls near the end zone.

Junior Brandon King is one of the most versatile Blue Devils on the roster, a 6-2, 260-pound bruiser who backs up Huffman at tight end, will play an H-back type position at times, and can line up in the backfield as a pile-driving fullback. Of last year’s 10 receptions, four resulted in touchdowns.

Watch Out For ... Huffman. A top recruit two years ago, the light has gone on for him since the end of last season. The type of tight end that’ll split a defense down the seam and support on running downs, he’s poised to become Lewis’ preferred option on short and intermediate routes.
Strength: Size. From top to bottom, the receivers average about 6-3 and 200 pounds, giving them a distinct size advantage against most defensive backfields. The talented sophomores, like Bell, Kelly, and Ringfield, have used their offseason to get better. Potentially far better.
Weakness: Consistency. As is often the case with young receiving corps, the Blue Devils continue to drop way too many passes, a trend that needs to be stopped before the start of the season. While the group is physically imposing, it’s incumbent on each member of the two-deep to fine-tune his overall game.
Outlook: Riley is a given, a true game-breaker with the potential to make everyone around him better. For the receivers to become a team strength, however, one or two other players need to step up and attract some of the attention away from No. 15. If that happens, Duke has the parts to deliver its most prodigious passing attack in over a decade.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: While there’s enough first-line talent and experience for Duke to move forward, the unit has a ton to prove after yielding more sacks than all but one ACC team and blocking for the nation’s 117th-ranked ground game. The offensive line will be erected on the tackle of seniors Fred Roland and Cameron Goldberg, a pair of veteran blockers capable of more than they’ve shown over the past two seasons. On the right side, the 6-8, 310-pound Roland is an imposing figure with two years of starting experience, but needs to play with a nastier demeanor, especially on running plays. Still honing his technique, he’s a fringe candidate for the NFL if he can finish with a strong senior season.

For a while, it looked as Goldberg might not suit up, but he was reinstated to the program in May after being suspended a month earlier. It’s a good thing, too, because he has 23 games of starting experience and is slated to be the starter at left tackle.  At 6-6 and 280 pounds, Goldberg is light on his feet, but like Roland, would benefit from becoming more assertive at the point of contact.

The new center is likely to be sophomore Bryan Morgan, a converted tackle that played in 12 games and started one as a rookie. At only 6-3 and 255 pounds, he sacrifices plenty in terms of size, relying on crisp technique and footwork to keep his man getting into the backfield.        

The third returning starter is senior Rob Schirmann, a fixture at right guard for the last couple of seasons. He flashes good athletic ability and fundamentals for a 6-5, 285-pounder, and the versatility to play tackle as well. Along with Roland and Goldberg, Schirmann is one of the vocal and respected leaders of this group.

After lettering the last two seasons, junior Jarrod Holt is prepared for a promotion at left guard.  Built like a tackle at 6-6 and 310 pounds, he’s at his best on the move, needing more reps and upper body strength to develop into the player that attracted multiple offers in 2006.     

Projected Top Reserves: At 6-8 and 320 pounds, sophomore Mitchell Lederman is the biggest and most talented of the backup guards. After playing in 11 games a year ago, he’ll study behind Schirmann for one more season before replacing him in 2009.

The coaching staff really likes the potential of redshirt freshman Kyle Hill to develop into a top pass blocker at left tackle and Goldberg’s eventual successor. Considered the most athletic of the linemen, the sky’s the limit once he adds more muscle to his 6-6, 260-pound frame.

Morgan hasn’t exactly padlocked the job at center, leaving an opening for sophomore Marcus Lind, one of the school’s top recruiting gets of 2006. A substantially bigger option at 6-4 and 300 pounds, he’ll continue to vie for the top spot when the Blue Devils resume practice in the summer.

Watch Out For ... the stamina of the Blue Devil offensive linemen. In the new up-tempo style of offense, being in tip-top shape becomes a necessity for every man in the huddle. If the line is huffing and puffing after a couple of first downs, the result will be stalled drives when one of the gassed blockers gets leveled off his base.
Strength: The tackles. Now that Goldberg has made his penance, the Blue Devil line sports a couple of senior tackles that have been in the regular lineup for the past two seasons. If he and Roland are prepared to deliver career years and Lewis makes quicker decisions, Duke’s number of sacks allowed should start to decline.
Weakness: Lack of physicality. While the line is a relatively nimble group, it’s had a habit in recent years of getting dominated at the point of attack. The Devils struggle to move opposing defenders off the ball, the main reason why the quarterbacks are always running for cover and the backs rarely enjoy much daylight.
Outlook: Yes, the line is improving, but the starting point is not a pretty sight. The Blue Devils have yielded 88 sacks over the last two seasons and have been utterly incapable of springing the team’s backs. Even with modest strides, the program is going to house one of the most inept blocking units in the ACC.
Rating: 5.5