Center of Attention

How injury creates ripple effects in the middle of Duke's offensive line.

It was supposed to be a glimpse of the future. Instead, it gave Duke followers reason to worry about the present.

Late in the Blue Devils' second preseason scrimmage, starting quarterback Sean Renfree trotted to the sidelines.

Renfree is expected to be one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC this season, but the Duke coaching staff wanted to get a look at Anthony Boone. The strong-armed redshirt freshman will eventually take over under center when Renfree heads to NFL huddles, and he'll likely see the field this season in special situations.

We'll never know whether Boone was supposed to get a couple late snaps in a game situation or working on some type of new wrinkle in the 2011 Blue Devil offense. He lined up in the shotgun and signaled for the play to start.

Boone then looked up and watched center Dave Harding's snap sail high over his head. He turned and ran, falling on the ball for about a ten yard loss.

Renfree then came back on the field. Whatever had been planned was suddenly a luxury. There was more work to be done.

Duke used a total of six starting offensive linemen last season. Harding replaced Brandon Harper at left guard for the final four games, and it was the only move the Blue Devils needed to make on the line all season.

Harding is on the move again this fall. Instead of returning to his left guard spot, he was forced to shift over to center midway through preseason camp.

Brian Moore, who started all 12 games at right guard last year, spent spring practice making the transition to center to replace the 2010 line's only departing senior Bryan Morgan.

In a national vote of confidence in the position change, Moore was named to the preseason watch list for the Rimington Trophy, awarded annually to the top collegiate center, despite not having taken a college snap at the position.

That gave the line one of the best centers in the nation, surrounded by three players returning to the same spot they played last year. That plan lasted all the way until August 12. That was the day that Moore went down in practice with a broken arm. No timetable has been given for his return.

In a press release, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said, "As we all know, injuries are part of the game of football, and this creates opportunities for other young players."

Emphasis on the word "young." Harding, who only had a month's worth of starts at left guard, became the new center. Sophomore John Coleman and redshirt freshman Laken Tomlinson, expected to battle for Moore's right guard position both ended up at guard spots, on either side of Harding.

Kyle Hill and Perry Simmons remain in place at the two tackle positions, but between them, Duke was looking at three players who had never seen a snap at their starting spot.

Harding accepted the new role like a pro. "I'm happy and honored that the coaches trust me with this," he said when he first stepped in at center. "It's a big responsibility. I'm just going to have to pick it up."

Bad snap aside, Cutcliffe seems comfortable with Harding in the middle. "Dave Harding is an incredible worker," he said. "Dave's a tough guy, he's worked hard with the change. He's worked hard to be good. He's worked hard to be successful."

Center appears to be relatively solid, with the occasional glitch. However Duke's line gets younger and less secure with each ripple coming out of that first vacant position.

"The guards need to know what the center is doing," Cutcliffe said of the two newest openings on the line.

"I'm proud of Laken Tomlinson," Cutcliffe said. Tomlinson has seen time at right guard, in Moore's old position. "We're getting a boost from a redshirt freshman."

Coleman has been getting snaps at left guard, but things were still not set in stone.

"Coach is still moving in guys," quarterback Sean Renfree said of his line, a week and a half before Duke's opening game, "but I'm sure we'll have a solid five guys either way."

As for his comfort level with Harding, the new center is old news for Sean Renfree. "He's handling it really well," Renfree said. "We're getting better every day."

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