2006 Preview: Offensive Line

The offensive line has been a position of transition for quite some time now. Each of the past 3 seasons, Duke has had to replace 4 starters along the front. And with each passing year, it seems the quality of play has declined.

Once again, the Devils have only one returning starter in junior center Matt Rumsey. He will have to be the veteran leader of the group, despite being only 20 years old. The only other lineman on the roster with experience is left tackle Cameron Goldberg. After serving as a backup for most of last season and playing well, he earned his first college start in the 2005 finale against UNC. Goldberg will be expected to step in and play like a veteran right away.

The other three line spots are up in the air. At right tackle, sophomore Fred Roland sits atop of the depth chary after spring drills. He will be pushed, however, by mammoth redshirt freshman Ben Loebner and true freshman Jarrod Holt. All three players possess the requisite size to play the position, but they will have to earn the starting nod on the practice field.

Both guard positions are in flux. Sophomore Rob Schirrman seems to have the inside track for one of the spots. He will be challenged by juniors Garrett Mason and Zach Maurides, and redshirt freshman Kinney Rucker. After spending his first year on defense, Rucker's transition to line has gone quite smoothly, and he should figure into the guard rotation.

There will also be some players from the incoming class that coung make a push for playing time. Duke looked across the Atlantic Ocean for some imported beef with guard Marcus Lind (6'3", 275) and OL/DL Pontus Bondesson (6'6" 280). The Duke coaches would like to play Bondesson on defense, however, need might force him to the offensive line. Both Swedes are lean and strong, but do not have the experience of competition that the recruits in the US have. Lind spent last season at St. Thomas Aquinas HS in Florida, while Bondesson participated in an elite European league against some players twice his age. He played well enough to be the MVP of his team and merited a personal invite to try out for NFL Europe. Still the best European league is not like playing in America, and there will surely be an adjustment period.

Other freshman that could figure into the mix are Rob Drum (6'7", 280), Jeff Cowart (6'7", 280) or Mitch Lederman (6'8", 340). All three of these guys have huge frames, but might need some time to build their bodies to withstand the rigors of the ACC.

The Good News:
Duke will have fresh faces on an offensive line that finished last in the league in sacks allowed. The 2005 unit had great difficulty protecting the QB, and were not much better creating running lanes. The 2006 unit will have youthful faces which possess much better athleticism than along past Duke lines.

The Bad News: The Duke depth chart is littered with true freshmen and guys who haven't played a down of offensive in the ACC. Only Rumsey and Goldberg have started a college game. In addition, only 8 scholarship players on the roster have endured a college practice, let alone competed in the ACC. There are no 5th year seniors in the group and only 2 4th year players. Most successful college football teams rely on older linemen because of their experience and strength. The staff would like to redshirt as many of the newcomers as they can. If there are any injuries along the front, however, some of the freshmen will be pressed into service whether they are ready or not. Duke will have to cobble together some semblance of a cohesive unit to allow the offense to function.

What will happen: There will almost assuredly be some serious growing pains with this unit. The line is the toughest position in college football to come in and make an immediate impact. Yet this is exactly what the Duke staff will be asking of at least three true freshmen this fall. Jarrod Holt will be the opening day starter at right tackle, opposite Goldberg. Matt Rumsey will anchor the middle. The guard spots will be a free for all between veterans and newcomers. Expect one of the veterans to step up and claim one spot, most likely Rob Schirrman at right guard. A freshman, most likely one of the Swedish duo of Marcus Lind and Pontus Bondesson, will nab the other starting slot. Rob Drum might also figure in to the mix at tackle, but expect Cowart and Lederman to redshirt.

Is this group Not Ready, Can Compete, ACC-ready, or Good as any team? Not Ready.

Preseason Superlatives:

Most important player: Center Matt Rumsey is the sole returning starter on the offensive line and will be in charge of a painfully young unit. He will need to be a steady leader for the young yet talented group. As the center, he is responsible for calling out the pre-snap adjustments to his line mates. Since he will have at least one, if not two, true freshmen surrounding him, he will need to provide help when needed. His veteran presence will be needed to offset the youthfulness of the 2006 Duke offense.

Biggest surprise: It is uncommon for true freshmen to step into a starting role and produce in major college football. This season, however, Duke will be counting on at least one, if not more, of their incoming class to win a starting position along the offensive line. The most college-ready of the group is tackle Jarrod Holt. Hailing from Florida, Holt was dominant against a high level of competition in the Sunshine State. His 300-pound frame combine with quite a mean-streak will allow him to compete in the ACC-level early in his career. If he can quickly learn the nuances of college-level blocking schemes during the preseason, he will be in the starting lineup from day one.

Ready to break out: After serving as a backup at both tackle positions in 2005, sophomore tackle Cameron Goldberg is poised to have a breakout season. He is the only other player up front, aside from Rumsey, with any real game experience, even starting last year's finale against UNC. He is a little light for a tackle, but makes up for his lack of bulk with good lateral quickness and intelligence. If Duke is to have any success throwing the ball, Goldberg will need to step up his game and become a rock at left tackle.

Time to step up: Junior Garrett Mason possess seemingly perfect qualities to take over one of the vacancies at guard. He has good size (300 lbs) and strength, but for some reason, has yet to translate it to the field. As talented as the incoming freshmen are, Duke would much rather have an older, stronger player, who has been in the system longer seizing a starting role this fall. A starting position is out there for the taking, it is time for Mason to grab the opportunity and make the most of it.

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