Senior Trey McDonald returns for his 4th season of punting duty for the Blue Devils. In 2003, McDonald was 5th in the ACC in yards per punt (40.7) and Duke was 7th in net punting average (35.0). McDonald usually get good heights on his kicks, but the key for him is consistently kicking for distance. K/P Matt Brooks handled the "pooch" punting responsibilities, and does a good job pinning the opponents inside their 20-yard line.
Gunners C.J. Woodard and Senterrio Landrum were among the ACC's best at punt coverage. The punt return game was a weak link of the Duke special teams in 2003, averaging a paltry 5.4 yards per return (last in the ACC). On top of the poor return average, there were also a few costly fumbles during punt returns throughout the season. With the off-season departure of PR Lance Johnson, there will be a new face fielding punts for the Devils in 2004.
The other weak link in last season's special teams was placekicking. As a team, Duke only managed to connect on 62% of field goal attempts in 2003. Returning kicker Matt Brooks hit on 66% of his tries, but lacks the leg strength for long kicks. Redshirt freshman Alex Feinberg will compete for placekicking duties as well, but the early results out of preseason practice have Brooks as the odds on favorite to win the job. Feinberg will most likely handle kickoff duties for the Devils because of his superior leg strength.
The kick coverage unit was a strength last year, giving up only 20.6 yards per return and not allowing a touchdown. On the flipside, the Devils' kickoff return team averaged 23.0 yards per attempt, led by Senterrio Landrum who ranked 7th nationally return average (28.4 per return). Along with Landrum, Ronnie Elliot should give Duke one of the better return duos in the conference.
Good news: In Landrum and Elliot, Duke has touchdown threats in the kick return game. Landrum and C.J. Woodard are excellent gunners in punt coverage, which helps in the field position game. With the overall improvement in Duke's team speed, the coverage units should be even better this year. McDonald should have another solid season punting.
Bad news: Right now, the placekicking game is the weak link on special teams. Brooks is average at best, and that is the best Duke has. Feinberg is having difficulty adjusting to kicking off the ground. He should, however, still be able to contribute kicking off. Duke must get more out of the punt return game in 2004. A repeat performance of five-yard returns and persistent fumbles this will make winning football games a lot more difficult.
Bottom Line: Senterrio Landrum is one of the best special teams players in the conference. Duke should be solid in the punt game and kickoff returns. Unfortunately, there is a big question mark in placekicking. Duke needs a leg to be able to kick 50+ yard field goals. There is statistical evidence that shows football teams often times settle for field goals too easily. Still, it would be nice to test that theory out of luxury, not necessity. Duke's punt return man will also be under a microscope. Expect one of the incoming freshmen, probably Jabari Marhsall or Ronnie Drummer, to handle the duty.