The new staff will have their work cut out for them on offense. Gone are the top two running backs, four starting offensive linemen, and the top 3 receivers from 2003. While the attrition might seem monumental to overcome, the change might be somewhat welcome. Duke has not average 20 point per game any time in the past 4 seasons. Sure some of the players will be missed for their leadership and toughness, however, it will not be a monumental task to replace their production
Position by position breakdown:
What was once a 3-way battle for the starting position is now a race to determine the backup. Sophomore Mike Schneider ended the competition early and cemented his position atop the depth chart during spring practice. He was thrust into the fire as a freshman, and acquitted himself well. He showed a quick release, rifle arm and toughness during his initial campaign. During the spring, he absorbed the new offensive scheme like a sponge and, barring injury, will be the man under center against Navy.
For the first time in recent memory, the Devils are blessed with quality depth at quarterback. As of the start of preseason practice, senior Chris Dapolito is the backup. He doesn't have the arm of Schneider, but is a natural leader and is a bit more mobile. Dapolito also has seen significant minutes the last two seasons, including several starts. He should be comfortable leading the team if and when he is called on to do so.
One of the most intriguing players on the roster, Curt Dukes, sits at third string. He might be the best overall athlete on the team. He is unbelievable strong and runs like a tailback. He does not have much experience as a drop-back style passer, but is a scrambling terror.
Duke has good depth at QB for the first time since Spence Fischer and Joe Pickens donned the uniform in the mid 90s.
Dapolito has been erratic throwing the ball during his career. Right now, Dukes looks like an athlete playing QB. If Schneider goes down, the offensive scheme will most likely change.
There are only 3 scholarship signal callers on the roster, however, all 3 are capable of running the offense. Unless beset by multiple injuries, this is one position the Devils will not need to sweat.
Despite losing two former all-ACC players in Chris Douglas and Alex Wade, the Devils return junior Cedric Dargan. He was the goal-line back for the Devils in 2003 when Roof took over, and now will have the chance to be the feature back. He has good size, and is very tough between the tackles. He doesn't have the breakaway speed of Douglas or the fullback body of Wade. What he does have, however, is a nice blend of the two styles that should make him an every-down type runner.
The primary backup will be sophomore Aaron Fryer, who saw limited duty last season. Fryer is more of a smooth strider who makes his living eluding tacklers rather than running them over. He does not have the power of Dargan, but should provide a nice change of pace.
Converted cornerback J.P. Kimbrough enters the fall as the 3rd string tailback. He got plenty of reps during the spring game and could see some spot duty during the season.
Some people though Dargan was the best running back on the Duke roster in 2003. Now he will be the feature back and will have ample chance to prove those people right.
Excluding Dargan, the rest of the Duke running backs have a grand total of 8 carries, all by Fryer. You hate to rely on true freshmen to fill out the depth chart. Unfortunately, that might be the case for Duke this season. Luckily, Roof recruited 3 running backs in the 2004 class. They will have a chance for immediate playing time.
Bottom Line: Running back is one position where ability can trump experience. Despite the glaring lack of depth, Duke has a solid starter in Dargan, and talented younger players who are eager to prove themselves at the college level. Duke might be short of experience, but there is talent coming down the pipe.
Tomorrow: WRs and TEs.