Honestly, this is one of those questions that is still up for debate. Neither Marcus Jones nor Thaddues Lewis has taken a snap as a collegiate starter, and yet one or both will have to overcome that gross inexperience in a little less than 11 days. Throughout both the mini and training camps, both Lewis and Jones have exhibited flashes of brilliance in their own ways. Just as both have left onlookers scratching their heads.
Jones has shown the kind of foot-speed and creativity that could make him a big time playmaker for the Blue Devils. He's also greatly improved both the accuracy and velocity of his passes. In addition, Marcus appears to be learning how to be a quarterback at the ACC level by curbing his natural instinct to attempt the spectacular (getting away from tacklers, and sprinting up field OR making a tough throw), when the conservative play (throwing the ball away) would be the better option.
Meanwhile the highly touted freshman, Lewis, has been forced to adjust on the fly to the speed of the college game. Much like Jones, he's got a natural ability to make big plays, and has yet to see the true consequences of trying to do too much. That is something the coaching staff will no doubt continue to work with the young gunslinger on, as any injuries sustained could be extraordinarily costly.
The Blue Devils will hope the green offensive line (see below) will be able to provide enough protection to at least keep the inexperienced quarterbacks vertical long enough for them to make plays. The offense will also take advantage of both Jones' and Lewis' mobility with number of plays that require a mobile quarterback. Exactly how fast the quarterbacks both gain experience and earn the confidence of their teammates, will determine Duke's ability to win the games they should, and have a chance to pull an upset or two.
With Virtually No Experience On the Offensive Line; Can Duke block anyone?
This was a major, major concern throughout the offseason. With just 12 career starts among the projected first team OL (11 by center Matt Rumsey), Duke will once again be relying on unproven and very young players to protect the quarterbacks and open lanes for the runners. With the summer and two camps now behind them, there is still cause for concern in Durham, though some seeds of optimism have rightly been planted.
The downside has been the inconsistency in the two scrimmages. Those instances have provided a number of big plays thanks to good protection and holes being opened for the stable of speedy running backs. But for every solid few downs there have been just as many instances of the guys in the green shirts running for their lives in an all-out jail break scenario.
Those seeds of optimism began to take root during the summer session when the freshmen all arrived in college football ready shape, as did their older counterparts. In a perfect world, the Blue Devils would be able to sit every one of the six freshmen down for a redshirt season. Unfortunately that is not able to happen this season, which means Duke will likely have at least a few of the young players moved into the two-deep on September 2nd.
The current consensus has been that Floridan Jarrod Holt will likely push his way into the starting lineup at some point as a left tackle, while classmates Rob Drum and Mitch Lederman have also made their case to crack the two-deep.
A few seasons ago no one believed Virginia would be able to block anyone either. The Cavaliers had a number of unproven players, and yet the unit surprised most analysts and propelled UVa to a successful season. That is the hope for this group in Durham. The good news is that most of the stud defensive linemen in the conference are now playing for pay in the NFL, and the first two games of the season against Richmond and Wake will give the offensive line more time to gel while gradually increasing the skill level of their opponents. If the unit can stay healthy, then Duke should be able to steadily provide protection, and ultimately have a chance to win a number of games. If not, then it could be a long season.
Which Offensive Players Could Surprise This Year?
Transfer fullback Tielor Robinson could fit the bill as he'll began the season as an unproven (at least in the ACC) quantity in the Duke backfield. At 5-foot-10 and 245 pounds, Robinson will be a factor on short yardage situations as well as near the goalline. Perhaps the most valuable attribute the West Point transfer will provide is additional blocking. His early battles with starting middle linebacker Mike Tauiliili have been worth the price of admission at early season practices.
The freshmen TEs should also provide some nice moments for the Blue Devils in 2006. During the second scrimmage of the season it's likely that William Ball earned his way into the rotation, when most expected the 6-foot-3, 230 pound Texan to redshirt. Ball's ability to make plays in the passing game and then turn up field for extra yards will make him a valuable target this season.
The return of Jomar Wright will immediately give the Blue Devils a top shelf receiving talent, but the emergence of Raphael Chestnutt will provide another big play threat as well. Through camp there is no doubt that Wright is the number one guy, but Chestnutt has made a strong claim for the number two slot with Eron Riley.
In the backfield, Duke has a stable of talent. It's clear that Justin Boyle will be the starting back with Requan Boyette also getting a fair amount of time. However, for our money, one of the best backs in camp was Clifford Harris (who also earned the role of third string quarterback). Junior speedster Ronnie Drummer could very well be Duke's total yardage leader by the time the season ends as the offense will have several plays designed specifically for his customized position of "Devilback".
Which Freshmen Are Likely To Redshirt?
If Duke fans have learned anything over the past two seasons, it's that the coaching staff will play young players if they give the Blue Devils the best chance to win. For the past two seasons more true freshmen have played in Durham than anywhere else in the country. With that said, this is our best guess of what will happen with the current crop of true freshmen: