Duke football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Blue Devils, best players and season prediction.
What You Need to Know About the Duke Offense
New coordinator Zac Roper, the successor to East Carolina head coach Scottie Montgomery, will have his hands full in 2016. When Roper accepted the job, he figured quarterback would be low on his list of worries, but that was before Thomas Sirk was injured in February. Now, Sirk is eyeing a comeback this fall, but junior Parker Boehme will be ready for action just in case.
Beyond the uncertainty behind center, Duke is also worried about the balance of the unit. The skill guys don’t strike fear in opponents, and the always-reliable line is retooling on the interior. Jela Duncan and Shaun Wilson are expected to share the load on the ground, while there’s hope 6-5 senior WR Anthony Nash can build on a breakout spring and become the team’s top target.
Although the Blue Devils rarely disappoint in the trenches, there are tight battles taking place at left guard and center, and RG Tanner Stone is still working on a return from back surgery.
Biggest Key to the Duke Offense
Sirk-us act. Starting QB Thomas Sirk is in the midst of a remarkable recovery from a February rupture of his Achilles tendon, but will he be ready for the N.C. Central opener? The Blue Devils are hopeful based on the unexpected pace of his rehab, but they’re also preparing as if junior Parker Boehme will be in the lineup on Sept. 3.
Fortunately for the program, the injury occurred early enough for Sirk to have a crack at still playing in 2016 and for Boehme to operate in the spring as if he’ll be the full-timer.
What You Need to Know About the Duke Defense
Get after the passer. That’s the top priority this year for a Blue Devil defense that believes increased pressure will directly impact a secondary that was routinely toasted a year ago. But who’s capable of applying regular pressure? The team produced only 17 sacks in 2015, and no one jumps out as a no-brainer to routinely impact the pocket.
While the D-line is flush in question marks, the back seven fortunately has potential. Sophomore linebackers Tinashe Bere and Ben Humphreys flashed upside as rookies; the latter notched 11 tackles in the Pinstripe Bowl and the former compiled 58 stops and six starts.
The defensive backfield ought to be the strength of the D, provided the other team doesn’t have all day to throw.
Four starters return, headlined by CB DeVon Edwards, and 2014 full-timer Bryon Fields is back after missing all of 2015 to a knee injury. If Fields recaptures his sophomore form, Duke is capable of performing an about-face in pass defense.
Biggest Key to the Duke Defense
Fresh Fields. The Blue Devil pass D was a mess last season, ranking No. 12 in the ACC. But there’s a feeling around the program that the unit could be on the verge of turning the corner.
Three starters return, all seniors. So, too, does junior CB Bryon Fields, an emerging playmaker before a knee injury shut him down for all of 2015. He’s a leader and one of the smartest members of the defense, and his healthy return this summer will give the secondary more options on how to get the four best defenders on the field.
Duke Will Be Far Better If …
the pass rush becomes a factor. True, the pass defense was a trouble spot in 2015, allowing a whopping 14 yards per catch. To be fair, though, opposing quarterbacks had all day to locate the open man. Duke was near the bottom of the ACC with 17 sacks, and now the front seven is getting a reboot. The secondary sports enough talent for a turnaround, but it’s incumbent upon at least one of the new ends, like sophomore Marquies Price or Danny Doyle, to apply regular backfield pressure.
Best Offensive Player
Senior QB Thomas Sirk. That Sirk is Duke’s most talented—and valuable—player is beyond debate. When the disabled Blue Devil will be available remains up in the air. A healthy Sirk gives Duke a veteran in the huddle, a battering ram on the ground and player David Cutcliffe feels will improve as a passer. Sirk is the heartbeat of the offense, a poor-man’s Tim Tebow who’ll be missed if his injured Achilles tendon keeps him on the shelf in the early going.
Best Defensive Player
Senior CB DeVon Edwards. Is Edwards a corner or a safety? Yes. Edwards has been ultra-productive throughout his Blue Devil, with a knack for being around the ball. However, it’s his versatility that makes him so valuable to the defense. Edwards plays multiple positions equally well, which allows the staff to mix-and-match personnel to their liking. And despite being undersized, he’s effective both as a run stopper and a pass defender.
Key Player to a Successful Season
Senior RG Tanner Stone. An underrated O-line, led by assistant coach Marcus Johnson, has been one of the cornerstones of Duke’s success over the past few years. The unit consistently excels, sans a lot of attention, but it’ll have two new starters on the interior this fall. Three, if Stone’s back injury that required surgery limits him in 2016. The Blue Devils averaged 4.8 yards per carry in each of the last two years, a major step for this program. Maintaining that trend, though, requires at least one veteran occupying a spot at guard or center.
The Season Will Be a Success If …
Duke wins eight for a fourth year in a row. The Blue Devils eked out eight wins a year ago, nine if not for blown calls at the end of the Miami loss. While there’s minimal room for error on a schedule that includes trips to Northwestern, Notre Dame, Louisville, Pitt and Miami, David Cutcliffe has built a program that’s learning how to thrive through adversity. Go 7-5 and win a bowl game for a second straight year, and it’ll qualify as another foundational football brick in Durham.
Nov. 10 vs. North Carolina. With such a difficult road slate in 2016, it’s especially important for the Blue Devils to hold serve at Wallace Wade Stadium. And there’ll be no bigger game for Duke in Durham than the annual rivalry with the Tar Heels. Carolina is the defending Coastal Division champ, and all roads to the ACC title game might still go through Chapel Hill. Plus, the Devils were crushed at Kenan Stadium a year ago, 66-31, so there’ll be no shortage of motivation for revenge.
Duke Football Stats From 2015
– Yards per rush: Duke 4.8 – Opponents 3.6
– Yards per catch: Duke 10.9 – Opponents 14.0
– Sacks: Duke 17 – Opponents 18
Duke Football Prediction For 2016
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