Who will play quarterback for the Devils?
Duke has had shoddy QB play since Spence Fischer's graduation in 1996. Since then, the Devils have been consistently ineffective in moving the ball. There have been personnel problems at other positions, but quarterback is one position that Duke must get something out of. The contenders are, senior Chris Dapolito, sophomore Mike Schneider, and sophomore Curt Dukes. Each player brings different strengths to the team. Dapolito is viewed as a leader by his teammates. He has good intangibles and the most game experience of the group. Schndeir struggled in his initial college campaign, but showed flashes of being a quality signal caller. He has a rifle arm and can tuck it and run if necessary.
The wildcard is Dukes. He is a transfer from Nebraska and is arguably the best athlete on the team. While is arm and mobility are not in question, he must prove that he can read defenses and deliver the ball to open receivers. If Dukes proves capable, he will be tough to keep of the field.
With the loss of four 5th year seniors on the offensive line, will Duke be able to block anyone?
There might not be much depth along the offensive line, but there are some capable players. New left tackle Jim Moravchik is a good athlete with great footwork, and ended 2003 as one of the best Duke players up front. He started a few games because of injury last year and graded out extremely well every tine. Right tackle Chris Mitchell is a two-year starter with great size, so the outside of the line is solid.
The middle of the line, however, will see 3 new starters. Sophomore guard Tyler Krieg is a great athlete, and should be a 3-year starter for Duke. Guard Chris Best has gained 70 pounds since his arrival at Duke in 2002, and will probably start opposite Krieg. At center, 5th year senior Dan Mooney will get his time to shine. The starters will probably be as good as last year, but depth will be a big question. Going into the spring, Duke only has 9 scholarship offensive linemen currently on the roster.
The Devils have six line recruits coming in this fall, but true freshmen rarely contribute up front. Expect the Devils to move one or two defensive linemen over to shore up depth.
Now that Chris Douglas and Alex Wade have graduated, who is going to carry the ball?
As of this moment, Duke only has two tailbacks on the roster. Junior Cedric Dargan will start the spring as #1 on the depth chart. He is a great size/speed combination runner. He had a good burst though the hole, and has the strength and instincts to be an effective goal line back. For a change of pace, Sophomore Aaron Fryer will see plenty of game action. He is more of an open field, shifty runner with a smooth stride. Duke also recruited 3 running backs this offseason. Expect one or two of them to play right away. The most likely candidate is probably Justin Boyle. He has good size, speed, and toughness. Some compare him to former Duke all-ACC performer Randy Cuthbert.
Who is primed for a breakout year?
Despite the loss of 4-year starter Ryan Fowler, the Duke's linebackers, as a whole unit, could be even better this season. One of the main reasons is junior weakside linebacker Brendan Dewan. Dewan combines great instincts with blazing speed to track ball carriers, tight ends and even the occasional wide receiver. At 215 lbs, he is a little on the light side. Despite the lack of bulk, he is a solid tackler especially in the open field. He is Duke's best two-way linebacker and probably will lead the team in tackles this year. All-ACC candidacy would not be a stretch for Dewan in 2004.
Another breakout candidate is the aforementioned Cedric Dargan. He had been overshadowed by the Wade/Douglas combo for a few years now, biding his time for a chance to start. His time has finally come. While the former runners offered two distinctive styles, Dargan is a good blend of both. If the revamped offensive line can open holes, he could have a big season.
Other than QB, what other positions are up for grabs this spring?
With an almost totally new staff in place this year, I'm sure every position is "up for grabs". But there are a few places where Duke will have legitimate battles between starting quality players.
The fiercest battles will probably be at middle and strong-side linebacker, 2nd cornerback, and wide receiver. In the middle junior Malcolm Ruff and sophomore Codey Lowe will go head to head for the starting nod. Ruff has better speed, but Lowe is a much more instinctual player. Ruff could also move to the strong side, and displace senior Guiseppe Aguano. At cornerback, one starter is set in stone. Senior Kenny Stanford has been starting there since his freshman year, and could vie for postseason accolades.
The opposite spot is totally up in the air. Right now, there appears to be 3 contenders: John Talley (SO), Cedric Mason (FS-FR), and Deonto McCormick (SO). All three have good height for the position. Talley started a few games in 2003 and probably is the front-runner at this point. Mason sat out last year with a knee injury, but big thing are expected from him. McCormick sat out last year due to academics, but might be the most physically gifted of the group.
At wide receiver, many questions need to be answered. Much of the offensive woes from a season ago were as a result of an impotent passing game. The quarterbacks were partly responsible, but some of the blame falls on the wide receivers. Their inability to get clean releases off the line and get separation in their routes allowed opposing defenses to stack the line. Senior Senterrio Landrum and senior Lance Johnson have plenty of experience, but are better off as 2nd or 3rd receivers. Sophomore Deon Adams might have the size/speed combo Duke needs at the #1 receiver spot. Also, help is on the way for the Devils, The incoming recruiting class is loaded with receivers, a few of which have the ability to play right away.