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2009 Duke Preview - Offense
Duke C Bryan Morgan
Duke C Bryan Morgan
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 15, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Duke Blue Devil Offense

Duke Blue Devils

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Duke Preview | 2009 Duke Offense
- 2009 Duke Defense | 2009 Duke Depth Chart
- 2008 Duke Preview | 2007 Duke Preview | 2006 Duke Preview 

What you need to know: By every possible measure, from scoring to total offense, Duke improved in the first year under David Cutcliffe. Now that the foundation has begun to set, it’s time to start building on it. The Blue Devils must replace star WR Eron Riley, but are buoyed by the returns of fourth-year starting QB Thaddeus Lewis and RB Re’quan Boyette, who missed all of 2008 with a knee injury. To really turn the corner, the offense will have to run the ball effectively for the first time in years and become more effective when it matters most. A year ago, Duke was 111th nationally in red zone offense and 85th on third down conversions.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Thaddeus Lewis
224-361, 2,171 yds, 15 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Jay Hollingsworth
108 carries, 399 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Johnny Williams
30 catches, 327 yds

Star of the offense: Senior QB Thaddeus Lewis
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior RB Re’quan Boyette
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LT Kyle Hill
Best pro prospect: Junior TE Brett Huffman
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lewis, 2) Hill, 3) Huffman
Strength of the offense: Veteran quarterback, tight ends
Weakness of the offense: Running game, red zone offense, third-down offense

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter
: Senior Thaddeus Lewis is back for his fourth year as the starter, giving the Blue Devils the most stable situation at quarterback in the ACC. More steady than spectacular, he has gradually sharpened his mechanics and decision-making, and will benefit from a second season with David Cutcliffe and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. As a junior, he went 224-of-361 for 2,171 yards, 15 touchdowns, and six interceptions, sharply raising his passing efficiency and earning a spot on the All-ACC Second Team. Although the 6-2, 200-pounder won’t wow you with his arm strength, he throws a catchable ball, stands down pressure, and will make plays with his feet when the pocket collapses.  

Projected Top Reserve: Through attrition and a solid year on the scout team, 6-3, 210-pound redshirt freshman Sean Renfree has elevated to No. 2 on the depth chart. The headliner of Cutcliffe’s initial recruiting class, he has the arm and the intelligence to be a star in Durham once he gets more experience. Barring an injury, he’ll be groomed slowly before having the training wheels taken off in 2010.

Watch Out For ...
. true freshman Sean Schroeder. No, the rookie from Dana Hills (Calif.) High School is no threat to Lewis or even Renfree, but with the dearth of quarterbacks in Durham, will Duke be able to redshirt him? Although that’s the plan, he’s one turned ankle from being No. 2, and must prepare with that in mind.
Strength: Lewis’ experience. No program in the league can boast a savvier veteran quarterback than Lewis, who’s entering that rare fraternity of four-year starters. Like having a coach in the huddle, he’s the perfect conductor for a Blue Devil offense that’ll be littered with young and impressionable players.
Weakness: Experienced backups. Renfree is a redshirt freshman. Schroeder is a true freshman. Former hurler Zack Asack is now a safety. Lewis has to remain durable, or else Duke’s quest for six wins goes on the shelf alongside its MVP.
Outlook: Lewis has made strides in each of the last two seasons, a trend that’ll continue as long as the unproven receivers deliver. Now in his second year in the system, look for the playbook to be expanded and the senior to get more opportunities to make plays. Renfree and Schroeder are important parts of the future at Duke. Cutcliffe is crossing his fingers that neither is forced to become an important part of the present.
Rating: 7


Running Backs

Projected Starters
: In need of a major facelift after finishing 103rd nationally, the running game got a jolt when 5-10, 200-pound senior Re’quan Boyette was granted an additional year of eligibility. The team’s leading rusher in 2006 and 2007, he missed all of 2008 with a knee injury. Despite getting poor support from his blockers, he’s averaged more than four yards a carry every year in Durham, commanding a bigger role. Even more important than what he can do with the ball in his hands, he was a captain last year and one of the veteran leaders of a young team.   

Projected Top Reserves: Boyette’s absence allowed 5-11, 185-pound sophomore Jay Hollingsworth to play more than anyone originally envisioned. In fact, he rushed for 399 yards and a score on 107 carries, becoming the first true freshman in a decade to lead Duke in rushing. A downhill runner with surprising power, he hits the hole quickly and proved himself as a receiver, making 25 grabs for 188 yards and two scores.

In order to give the backfield an injection of flash, junior Tony Jackson was moved from safety before the start of the 2008 season. He responded with 259 yards on 76 carries and a dozen catches, starting four games. A fluid open-field runner at 5-10 and 185 pounds, he rarely got enough room or support to pop off big plays.

Watch Out For ...
true freshman Desmond Scott. If Scott is ready to contribute right away, Cutcliffe won’t hesitate to get him the ball. One of the top recruits from a solid class, he’s an explosive all-purpose back, who was getting offers from the likes of Tennessee, Clemson, and Georgia. Duke needs more big plays from its running game. Scott is the type of player who can deliver them.  
Strength: Improved depth. With Boyette returning for a fifth year and Hollingsworth and Jackson getting valuable reps in 2008, Duke is in a far better position than a year ago. The Devils now harbor three players who’ve started games at the position, and can handle the feature role.   
Weakness:
Yards per carry. No, it’s not all their fault, but the backs averaged a mere three yards a carry in 2008, a familiar result in Durham. Of the 419 carries a year ago, just one went for more than 25 yards, a perennial lack of explosiveness in the running game that Scott hopes to help address as a rookie.     
Outlook: Although the Blue Devils got better in 2008, this remains one of the country’s most futile running attacks. And with the line being rebuilt, things may not get much better this fall. Boyette will help, but don’t bank on him becoming the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Chris Douglas did it in 2003.
Rating
: 5.5


Receivers

Projected Starters: Now that all-time great Blue Devil receiver Eron Riley is off to the NFL, the program will  rely on a bunch of younger players about to step out of the foreground. One of those players is 6-3, 195-pound junior Austin Kelly, who’s about to explode after averaging 14 catches in his first two seasons. Long and lean, he glides when running routes and is adept at picking up yards after the catch.

One of the real surprises of 2008, 5-10, 190-pound Johnny Williams started nine games and caught 30 passes for 327 yards as a true freshman. Now entering his second season, he’s expected to take on an even larger role in the offense. While not all that big, he has some of the best speed on the team and won’t drop many passes.

When injuries created a vacuum at tight end, junior Brett Huffman stepped up and had a solid season, catching 14 passes for 171 yards and a score. Hard to miss at 6-5 and 235 pounds, he has good speed and the long stride to exploit defenses down the seam. On running downs, he’s an aggressive blocker, but still needs to add a little more weight.    

Projected Top Reserves: Going step-for-step with Kelly for playing time is junior Sheldon Bell, a two-time letterwinner with 18 career receptions. Another big, physical target on the outside, he has the 6-4, 200-pound frame to shield defensive backs and go high on jump balls. His seven yards per catch average, however, is no longer acceptable as he inches up the depth chart.

Sophomore Donovan Varner is more of a slot receiver, who’ll get on the field plenty when the Blue Devils go three-wide. Already a veteran of four starts after just one season, he caught 21 passes for 164 yards and a score as a true freshman. Just 5-9 and 170 pounds, he has good speed, but even better quickness, and is explosive off the snap.  

The staff is thrilled to be getting back junior
Brandon King, one of the most versatile players on the roster. He missed all of 2008 with an injury, robbing the offense of a 6-2, 240-pound thumper, who backs up Huffman at tight end, can play some H-back, and will line up in the backfield as a pile-driving fullback. Of his 10 receptions in 2007, four went for touchdowns.

Watch Out For ... the ball to be spread around much more than in the past. For the last three years, Lewis has been able to lock in on Riley and get away with it. Not anymore. With his star pass-catcher gone, he’ll move the ball around to different receivers, while getting the tight ends more involved in the passing game.
Strength
: Talent mix. Kelly and Bell are the big targets on the outside. Williams and Varner are the jackrabbits, doing damage in the middle of the field. Huffman and King are versatile players from the tight end spot. Together, they form a complimentary group that can defenses in a number of different ways.
Weakness: Lack of a sure-fire go-to guy. When Riley was around, opposing defenses had to gameplan with him in mind. Now? Not so much. All of the young receivers have potential, but no one knows for sure if any of them are ready to become the consistent focal point of the passing game, especially on third down.  
Outlook: It’s a new era at the position, but the Blue Devils have recruited well enough in recent years to survive the graduation of Riley. While youth and inexperience must be overcome, there’s plenty of potential at wide receiver and tight end. Now that the composition has changed, Kelly, Williams, and Huffman should see their numbers skyrocket.
Rating
: 6.5


Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The graduations of starting tackles Cameron Goldberg and Fred Roland has Duke regrouping on the offensive line…again. One of the bright spots comes from 6-6, 270-pound sophomore Kyle Hill, a former tight end, who’s making the move from guard to left tackle. A Freshman All-American last year, he played extremely well, and has the athletic ability, footwork, and technique to anchor this line for the next three years.

Over at right tackle, the logical choice to earn the job is imposing junior Mitchell Lederman. Also a guard early in his career, he goes 6-8 and 305 pounds, with the long arms to keep ends from getting around the corner. A reserve throughout the 2008 season, he’s worked very hard for this promotion into the starting lineup.

The man in the middle for a second straight year will be 6-3, 250-pound junior Bryan Morgan. After beginning his career as a tackle and lettering as a freshman, he looked comfortable in 12 games at the pivot. Obviously not built like a road grader, he trades ideal size for quickness off the snap and crisp technique and footwork.

If experience plays a big factor in the decision, senior Jarrod Holt and junior Brandon Harper will get the nods at guard. Holt hasn’t reached expectations, but has earned three letters, playing in 12 games as a reserve in 2008. At 6-6 and 310 pounds, he can overpower opponents, and is surprisingly athletic for his size.

Harper is also a veteran, but with a twist. His 15 games of experience came as a defensive tackle before the staff asked him to switch sides of the ball. After missing all but one game in 2008, he returns intent on parlaying his toughness and physicality into success in a new zip code.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore tackle Chris Shannon has extensive game experience as the team’s long snapper and a great frame to grow into. He’s a 6-5, 270-pounder, now needing to add some bulk and get more reps with the offense.

If Harper doesn’t adjust to the new position, 6-4, 280-pound redshirt freshman Brian Moore could be the beneficiary at right guard. While young and obviously inexperienced, he was recruited out of Florida by Cutcliffe to play early in his career. He’s pushing hard for a starting job he could win in August.

Now that he’s had two years to get acclimated to college and get stronger in the weight room, it’s time for junior G Robert Drum to get some playing time and earn his first letter. Now 6-6 and 285 pounds, he moves well for his size and still appears to have room to grow.

Watch Out For ... the development of Hill. This line is filled with question marks, but Hill is not one of them. A former tight end, he’s light on his feet and a year wiser after starting all year as a freshman. When he bulks up and gets comfortable at left tackle, look out. Duke could be home to a rare next-level offensive lineman.   

Strength: Athleticism. The Blue Devil linemen aren’t very stout, but they sure move well. The unit is loaded with nimble athletes, and after Cutcliffe and his staff whipped them into shape a year ago, they’re also well-conditioned. Those who aren’t simply don’t play.
Weakness: Failing at the point of attack. The line has a lot of issues, namely an inability to generate much of a push. The Blue Devils just aren’t that physical, which begins to explain the lack of a consistent ground game. Duke averaged just three yards a carry in 2008, and it wasn’t just the fault of the running backs.  
Outlook: Although the staff has these guys headed in the right direction, they’re clearly a work-in-progress, especially with Goldberg and Roland gone. They should be fine in pass protection, especially with Lewis’ feel for the pocket, but a pass-fail grade will depend on how well they run block.
Rating
: 6


 
  
Related Stories
2009 Duke Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 15, 2009
2009 Duke Preview – Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 15, 2009
One on One With Jay Hollingsworth
 -by TheDevilsDen.com  Jul 8, 2009








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