Replacing the Seniors in 2004 Pt II

As Duke football embarks on a new era under Ted Roof, we must not forget the players that gave their heart and soul to the Duke program for the last 4-5 years. With the departure of this year's seniors, the coaching staff will have many big holes to fill before the 2004 season.

The talent might be there to replace them physically, but there were some real leaders in the class of 2003 that will be missed sorely. Lets take a look and how their departures will affect the depth chart, and who will step up and replace them.

Defense:

Defensive Tackle:

Graduating: Matt Zielinski – Z-man was the Duke defensive anchor for two seasons, and was all-conference his senior year. He was the strongest player in the program, and that power will be missed in 2004.

Likely 2004 starter: Bob Benion – Benion sat out most of the 2003 season with various injuries, but should be at full steam in the spring. He doesn't have the power of Zielenski, but what he lacks in power, he makes up for with great technique. He is a very smart player and should be just fine as Z-man's replacement. Benion did miss this season with injuries, so it remains to be seen how he will bounce back.

Darkhorse: Kevin Wilson – Wilson got some game experience in 2003, mostly when the Devils lines up in a 3-4 set. He is a natural 3-4 nose guard. His low center of gravity gives him good leverage in taking on multiple blockers. He will probably see more playing time this year, but I would consider him a very long shot to unseat Benion.

Middle Linebacker

Graduating: Ryan Fowler - Fowler was a 4-year starter for the Devils, with the last 2 seasons at middle linebacker. His strength at the point of attack will not be replaced by anyone on the current Duke roster. He wasn't the fastest linebacker around, but made tackles and was the emotional leader for the Devil defense.

Likely 2004 starter: Malcolm Ruff – Coming to Duke as a heralded running back, Ruff was switched over to defense last off- season. He has taken to his new position very well. He is not as strong as Fowler, but is faster in pursuit and better in coverage. He needs to be a more consistent tackler and needs to get of blocks faster, but has the athleticism Duke hasn't seen out of a MLB in quite some time.

Darkhorse: Codey Lowe – Ruff was originally moved to defense to play outside linebacker because of Lowe. After spring practice, Lowe was penciled in to the Fowler's main backup. He was forced to sit out the season because of grades, however, and Ruff was moved to the middle. Lowe is probably the most fundamentally sound linebacker on Duke's roster. He also has good size and great instincts. The big question mark, however, is how he will shake the rust off after sitting out the season. If he can do it quickly, Ruff might have to move back outside.

Strong Safety

Graduating: Terrell Smith – With nearly 30 starts in his career, Smith will be a difficult player to replace. He was small in stature, but could have been the best pound for pound hitter in the ACC. His run support abilities were excellent, as he was #2 in the ACC in tackles in 2003.

Likely 2004 starter: Brian Greene – Greene has been playing out of position his first two seasons at Duke. Recruited as a Safety prospect, Coach Roof was forced to play him at cornerback, due to ability and attrition at the position. Greene was very good at run support from the position, but lacked the top flight speed and agility to stay with the NFL quality receivers often found in the ACC. Going into 2004, Duke will have much better skill at corner than previous season, so Greene will move back inside . His experience in coverage at CB will make him a very versatile safety.

Darkhorse: C.J. Woodard – Also a special teams ace, Woodard has spent the last two seasons backing up at both safety spots. He is much bigger than Smith was and is a good tackler. There are questions about his coverage abilities and instincts, but he does have experience.


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