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ACC Preview: Cutcliffe, Duke have reason for optimism

A year after winning the program’s first bowl game in 54 years, Duke slipped in 2016 as the Blue Devils won just one ACC game and were 4-8 overall. However, head coach David Cutcliffe has reason for optimism as the Blue Devils get set to begin the 2017 season.

“We have some talent,” he said. “We have some people that can run. We have a quarterback returning. Are concerns? The kicking game, which wasn’t as good as it has been around here. We’re trying to make sure that both our offensive and defensive lines take it up another level. So that’s going to be our continued focus as we move into the 2017 season.”

Duke lost 10 players from the 2016 team. They lost four on offense and five on defense.

Two of the key players on offense were tackles Casey Blaser and Tanner Stone, who both had over 24 starts. Second leading receiver Anthony Nash is also gone.

On the defensive side of the ball the Blue Devils lost Deondre Singleton. Last season the safety was third on the team in tackles and first in interceptions with three. He totaled 45 starts in his career.

Cornerback Breon Borders and safety Corbin McCarthy are also gone leaving their secondary short in experience. Borders especially will be missed after he had 35 starts in his career. Not only is the secondary short in veterans, but the defensive line will be as well losing three starters, led by defensive tackle A.J Wolf, who had 7.5 tackles for loss last season.

As for who is back, offensively they return quarterback Daniel Jones, who threw for 2,800 yards and completed 63 percent of his passes. He also had 486 yards rushing yards.

“He is a humble, smart young man,” Cutcliffe said about his quarterback. “He’s got incredible tools. I thought his spring was great, not good. We’ve got to build on that. All of the things that you want a guy to do, he can do. He’s elusive. He can beat you with his feet. He’s got a really, really good arm, and his accuracy is really special.

“So we are anxious to see him in year two just what level he can reach.”

Jones’ rushing numbers go along with leading rusher Shaun Wilson, who is also back in the backfield. Leading receiver T.J Rahming is also back. He had over 300 yards more than the next closest receiver.

“I think this is overall the best receiving corps,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ll see if Jameis and Crowder are pretty special, and some others we’ve had. But without question, it’s deeper. Our tight ends are weapons, too.

“I believe (Jones) is going to be surrounded by some high-level backs. We feel like that’s probably one of the greater strengths of our team is our skill people on offense. And as I members of the juried, we’ve got to make sure that our offensive line responds and gives us the opportunity to use those people.”

With the empty spot on the offensive line, it is expected that Ohio State grad transfer Evan Lisle will step into a tackle spot and help the Blue Devils solidify their offensive line. Robert Kraeling is the player who is looking to fill into the vacant guard spot.

On the defensive side of the ball Duke returns its entire linebacking corps. This includes leading tacklers Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris, who each had 107 tackles last year. Tinashe Bere and Zavier Charmichael will be fighting it out for playing time at linebacker as well.

On the defensive line the only returning starter is senior Mike Ramsey. Edgar Cerenord and Quaven Ferguson have been the most likely people to make a bid for a starting spot.

At the end position, there is a lot of competition between Tre Hornbuckle, Terrell Lucas, Chidi Okonye and Twazanga Mugala, all of which are sophomores. It is not clear who the frontrunner for these spots will be.

As for cornerback it seems as if redshirt freshman Mark Gilbert is the best guy for the job. At the safety positions Jeremy McDuffie and Hayes have looked like the clear favorites.

Duke will open the 2017 season on Sept. 2 against NC Central.

 

Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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