2003-2004 Season Preview: Offense

The first part of the preview will focus on the offense. All 11 starters return from the 2002 team, and 21 of 22 from the two deep on the depth chart. Unlike many previous versions, the 2002 Duke offense was fairly proficient on the ground, averaging 158.4 yards per game rushing. The final totals of the passing game were decent, but the game-to-game consistency was not there.

The biggest trouble spot for the offense in 2002 was in the red-zone, where Duke only scored point on 65% of its opportunities inside the opponents' 20-yard line. The league average in red-zone conversion was about 80%. With everyone returning, the Devil attack is bound to improve on these numbers.

Here is a position-by-position overview of the offense.


Duke returns all three signal callers from 2002, and have added a redshirt freshman to the mix as well. Returning starter Adam Smith displayed flashes of brilliance some weeks, and really struggled in others. Smith became only the third sophomore in Duke history to throw for more than 2000 yards in a season. He has average arm strength and is decent at reading opposing coverage. The one aspect he really struggled with in 2002 is pocket awareness. He took many unnecessary sacks despite having ample time to move out of the pocket or throw the ball away. He doesn't have good mobility, but is able enough to take a couple of steps and avoid the rush. On the positive side, Smith played much better down the stretch, recording solid performances against NC State, Clemson and UNC.

Smith cannot rest on his experience from last season, as there are two more QBs vying for the starting job. Junior Chris Dapolito has superior arm strength and mobility compared to Smith, but really struggled with his confidence last season. Last season was his first under the gun at the college level, after sitting out a season due to transfer. If he can regain his confidence, he could challenge. Junior Chris Wispelwey has shown some promise in mop-up duty, but will need to take a big leap forward in preseason to join the rest of the pack.

The wildcard at the QB position is redshirt freshman Mike Schneider. He has the best physical tools of the bunch, but lacks game experience. If he picks up the offense quickly and shows that he can lead the team, the QB situation could get interesting in a hurry. Schneider wowed everyone at the spring game by throwing an NFL quality 25- yard frozen rope for a completion. His ability to make those types of throws separates him from the rest of the QBs on the Duke roster.

Running Backs:

For the first time in years, Duke has no questions to answer at running back. Returning are two of the top six ground gainers in the ACC, Chris Douglas and Alex Wade. Douglas is the ACC's active leader in rushing yards. He gives Duke a deep threat from the backfield; something the Devils haven't had in a long time. If Douglas can shake the injuries that have plagued him the last two years, then he could be primed for a big season.

If Douglas is the lightning, the Alex Wade is the thunder. In 2002, Wade recorded six 100-yard rushing games, and was named second team all-conference for his production. Wade gives the Devils a powerful, ball-control presence in the backfield, which is a nice contrast to Douglas's speed. One aspect of Wade's game that needs some work is his acceleration to the hole. Right now, he's getting by on brute strength, which he has plenty of. Unfortunately, hitting the hole quickly is a main component in goal-line effectiveness. Gaining quickness off the snap will turn Wade into a short-yardage terror.

Third-string RB Cedric Dargan is no slouch either. He has more size than Douglas, but has Douglas-like speed through the line, and is a stronger runner. He's not as big as Wade, but is probably a better goal-line option because of how fast he gets to the line of scrimmage. He's a good blend of the two that would probably be starting for Duke in most years. Fortunately for the Devils, they have this type of quality depth at the position.

If the top 3 remain healthy, true freshman Aaron Fryer could redshirt. If Fryer turns out to be the best option as a kick or punt returner, however, the staff will not hesitate to play him.

Wide Receiver:

This is the one position on the team that could see the most improvement from 2002. The entire depth chart remains intact, plus a few newcomers could force their way onto the field with solid preseason performances. Leading the way is preseason second team all-ACC selection Khary Sharpe. Sharpe started the 2002 season slowly, but ended up as the team's top receiver and deep threat. His six TD catches are second most among the ACC's returning receivers. Sharpe's speed and developing ball skills should allow him to move up into the elite in the ACC this year.

Enigmatic senior Reggie Love returns for his final season of eligibility. Love has outstanding size (6'4", 225) and good hands. A combination of injuries and off the field distractions (namely playing on the Duke basketball team in the 2000 and 2001 offseasons) has slowed his development on the football field. Love was starting to really assert himself in 2002, when a knee injury against NC State forced him to the sidelines for the rest of the season. If there is one player who could take the conference by total surprise, it is Love.

The rest of the WR corps is dotted with players of differing strengths. Sentierro Landrum and Ronnie Elliot are two diminutive deep threats that also double as kick returners. Junior Lance Johnson offers a solid possession receiving option who is not afraid to make the tough catches over the middle. Daryl Scott is a converted QB who threw two passes last year, completing one for a TD. He's another possession receiver in the Johnson mold.

There are others that might see the field as well. Mark Wigal was a former HS running back who is a good blocker and solid special teams player. Ben Kittleson is one of the fastest players in the program, but has been injured for most of his time at Duke. Redshirts Kendral Felder and Derek Bryant and both tall receivers with raw athletic ability. They need refinement of their receiving skills before seeing lots of game time. One player to keep an eye on here is incoming freshman Deon Adams. He has retrun skills and already has good size for the position. A good showing in preseason might allow Adams to see the field early on this season.

Tight Ends:

This coming season, Duke will be blessed with three tight ends that could play significant minutes for anyone in the conference. Returning co-starters Andy Roland and Calen Powell both finished in the top five in the ACC in receptions at the Tight End position. This year, they are joined by redshirt Ben Patrick, Duke's highest rated recruit from the 2002 class. All three tight ends are blessed with above-average speed and athletic ability for the position. Roland is probably the best receiver of the group. Powell is an excellent athlete, has good size, and is probably the best blocker. Patrick is the biggest and fastest of the group, but lacks experience. All three players have the ability to play tight end effectively, so this is one position that the Blue Devil faithful need not worry about.

Offensive Line:

This is probably the most experienced unit on the entire team. Nine of the top 10 from the 2002 depth chart return, including all five starters. The quintet of left tackle Drew Strojny, guard Rusty Wilson, center Luke Bayer, and guard Daryl Lewis, and tackle Chris Mitchell started all 12 games for the Devils last year. Strojny is a 3-year starer at tackle. Lewis and Wilson are two-year starters. Mitchell and Bayer have double-digit start totals underneath their belts as well. Along with being the most experienced line in the conference, Duke has probably the largest line as well, averaging over 310 per man. This helped Duke to place fifth in the conference in rushing average. The line must improve in pass protection after giving up 37 sacks a season ago. Strojny and Wilson will, by most accounts, contend for post-season honors.

After the starting five, however, the experience level drops off dramatically. Offensive tackle Jim Moravchik is probably the best of the rest. Guard Joe Bonewicz and right tackle Chris Best are both defensive line converts. Backup center Dan Mooney probably has the most experience of the reserves, working several series per game last year for Luke Bayer. Redshirt guards Lavdrum Bauta and Tyler Krieg have both made significant strides since arriving on campus a year ago, but need more experience before seeing signifncant game action. If the starting line stays healthy, it will be a big strength for the 2003 Devils. If there are multiple injuries to the starters, the line becomes a question mark.

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