For the first time since the early 90's, Duke will utilize a fullback as a integral part of the offense. Senior Malcolm Ruff has moved over from linebacker to provide game experience and impressive size and speed to the position. Ruff originally came to Duke as a running back and actually received a few carries as a true freshman. He has spent the last two seasons, however, at the "Sam" linebacker position. At 260 pounds, he definitely has the size Duke will need for lead blocking, blitz pickup and the occasional carry. Junior Mike Dowling, a high school teammate of Ruff, will be the backup. He is one of the strongest players on the Blue Devil squad, and really made some strides in improving his game this offseason.
What we don't know: Right now, there isn't a player on the roster who has proven they can "carry the load". Dargan is a tough runner, but has spent a full season and parts of two others out with injury. Drummer is a smallish back who might have trouble taking the pounding associated with a heavy workload. Ball is recovering from a knee injury this offseason, and may or may not be ready to go this fall. Of all the backs on the roster, Boyle appears to be the one guy who might be able to handle a 20-25 carry load, but he only has 20+ carries in his college career. We also do not know how the fullback will be utilized in Duke's new offense under the direction of OC Bill O'Brien. With a talent like Ruff at the position, it would be a waste not to feature him at least on occasion.
Wildcard: In 2004, Duke's fourth leading rusher was sophomore Aaron Fryer. He took a personal leave of absence from the university, and his return is still up in the air. If he does return, he will add another hat into the running back playing time derby. Fryer was a well-regarded player out of high school who has seen limited action in his first two seasons as a Blue Devil. He is a slashing-type runner who can accelerate through holes and is shifty when out on the perimeter. College teams can almost never have too many running backs, so Fryer's return would be a welcome addition to the 2005 Blue Devils.
What will happen in 2005: Cedric Dargan will open the season as the starter. If he stays healthy (and that is a big if), he will receive between 18-22 carries per game and will probably finish the year with close to 1000 yards rushing. The competition to be Dargan's backup will be fierce, and will get even more competitive with the return of Aaron Fryer. Expect Ronnie Drummer to see action on third downs and passing situations, and to score 1-3 long touchdowns this year. Justin Boyle and his 235-pound frame will probably be used as a short yardage back The addition of the fullback to the offense will really help open some holes for the running game. Malcolm Ruff is big, fast, and is not afraid to stick it to whatever defender is in his path. Ruff will also prove versatile as a safety valve in the passing game. Overall, this could turn into a position of strength for the Devils, especially if Ruff adapts quickly to his new position.