Five Players To Watch In 2007

With the 2007 football campaign rapidly approaching, TDD is ready to begin our preseason coverage of what Blue Devil faithful hope will be a much more successful season. We kick off our coverage with a look at five key players that are vital to Duke's success this fall.

While there are several obvious names, like Thad Lewis or Vince Oghobaase that will get plenty of media scrutiny, these five players and their performance will go a long way to determining the success or failure of the gridiron Devils.

Fred Roland (Right Tackle):
While much of the Duke offensive line is considered a bit on the small side, the same cannot be said for mammoth RT Fred Roland. Standing at 6'8" and weighing in at 310 pounds, he has prototypical size for the position. 2006 was his first season of regular duty at the college level. After struggling initially, Roland steadily improved through the course of the year and was arguably Duke's best offensive lineman at season's end.

Roland continued his upward trend with big strength gains in the off-season coupled with a great spring. Now entering his junior season at Duke, Roland seems poised and ready to make a run at all-conference accolades. He will be tested by some of the nation's best defensive ends during Duke's brutal 2007 schedule. If he is able to mix in a mean streak with his strength and size, Roland could end up being Duke's first all-ACC lineman since 1998.

Tielor Robinson (Fullback):
After spending his first two collegiate seasons at Army, Robinson transferred to Duke in 2005 and spent a year on the sidelines per NCAA rules. In 2006, he showed flashes of effectiveness throughout the season and ended the year with ones of the best performances by a Duke fullback in recent history. In the season finale, Robinson made the most of his four official touches by being on the receiving end of 3 touchdown passes and a successful two-point conversion. His 20 points scored that day was not even a career-high; he scored five touchdowns in a single 2004 game while still at Army.

New offensive coordinator Peter Vaas will make getting the ball in Robinson's hands a very high priority in 2007. Once the ball is in his hands and he gets his body turned upfield, the 250-pound bowling ball Robinson is difficult to bring down. Considering Duke's short-yardage woes of a season ago, expect Robinson to shoulder some of the rushing burden in these situations.

Pat Bailey (Strong-Side Linebacker):
Bailey has spent his Duke career shuttling between linebacker and defensive end. The last season in which he played full-time linebacker, he led the team in tackles per game, forced fumbled and fumble recoveries until a mid-year injury ended his 2005 seaosn prematurely. Bailey played a hybrid DE/LB in the Duke's 3-4 alignment of a season ago. Now that Ted Roof has taken over defensive coordinator duties, Bailey has settled in as a full-time linebacker. He is a very intelligent player who excels in the classroom, and allows him to understand the finer points of multiple positions. This allows the staff to move him around in coverage and pass rushing. Bailey possess good positional size (235 lbs) as well as good closing speed. He is a reliable tackler in the open field, but can struggle if forced to cover quick tight ends and running backs down the field. Still, he provides a steadying influence in the back seven at a time where game experience is a bit scarce. Bailey will most likely play a traditional linebacker role on rushing downs, but will probably spend most of his time rushing the QB during obvious passing situations. Bailey's sack total will probably be a key indicator as to the success or failure of the Duke pass rush this fall.

Chris Davis (Free Safety):
After a stellar freshman season as a kick-returner extraodinaire and part-time free safety, Davis has struggled the past two seasons as the starter. Now entering his senior season, he is the veteran leader of the secondary and must provide solid safety play to cover for relative inexperience on the corners. He will have help with the return of fellow safeties Adrian Aye-Darko and Glenn Williams. That does not mitigate the fact that Leon Wright is the only CB on the roster with significant game experience. With that much inexperience on the outside, Davis must step up and become a reliable last line of defense to cover for the underneath mistakes. Davis has big-play potential, but has not capitalized on it since his freshman season. With career interception leader John Talley graduated, the Devils will need Davis to fill part of the big-play void in the secondary.

Ryan Radloff (Defensive End / Long Snapper):
After a red-shirt year and spot duty as a freshman, Radloff is poised to emerge as a legitimate pass rushing threat for the Devils in his sophomore season. His off-season growth into the weakside defensive end role has given the staff enough confidence to move projected starter Patrick Bailey to linebacker. At 260 lbs, Radloff offers more size than Bailey which should help Duke better defend the run. He has also been a consistent pass rush threat on the practice field. Where he might prove more valuable, however, is handling the long snapping duties for the kicking team. Last years' long snapper, Casey Hales, lacked bulk which put a non-significant strain on kick protection. One only needs to look at the multiple kick blocks against UNC and Wake Forest to see that the placekicking protection schemes need special attention. If Radloff is able to provide the same snap consistency as Hales, his extra 50 lbs of bulk should go a long way to improve the overall protection for the Duke kicking game.

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