What you need to know: Eleven starters return to an offense that lived through the growing pains of a youth movement in an attempt to take a giant leap forward. New offensive coordinator Peter Vaas, who comes over from Notre Dame, should help make quarterback Thaddeus Lewis more consistent. Helping the overall cause even more is a veteran line that needs to be far better after doing next to nothing well throughout last year. It'll be tailback by committee with several different options to see carries, while the overall strength will be at receiver with several young, big, good-looking targets for Lewis to use to push the ball deeper.
Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Thaddeus Lewis
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior OTs Fred Roland and Cameron Goldberg
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE Norman Gee
Best pro prospect: Junior WR Eron Riley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lewis, 2) Riley, 3) WR Jomar Wright
Strength of the offense: Experience, receivers
Weakness of the offense:
Projected Starter: Give Thaddeus Lewis credit for being a gamer. Thrown to the wolves as a true freshman, he did more than spend the year trying to figure out what he was doing, he was great against Wake Forest, throwing for 305 yards and engineering what should've been a game-winning drive (the gimme field goal attempt was blocked), while giving Miami all it could handle. While interceptions (he threw 16 of them) were a problem, as could be expected, he got far better as the year went on with six of his 11 touchdown passes coming in the final two games. While he's mobile, he's not necessarily a dangerous runner, using his quickness to try to buy time to throw. Even though he was solid in a tough situation, he looked like a different, more accurate passer this spring. The light went on.
Projected Top Reserve: Back as the main backup after getting suspended for plagiarism is sophomore Zach Asack, an interesting prospect with 6-4, 200-pound size to go along with Massachusetts state high school champion sprinter speed. Cleared by the university to return, he'll be a decent backup option who needs to get his feet wet again after missing all of last year and the entire spring.
Watch Out For ... Lewis to be fantastic. He has a veteran line to work behind, he has a very good receiving corps, and he has a year of experience. He'll be more confident, and more productive.
Strength: Accuracy. Lewis might have thrown for a ton of interceptions, but he was accurate, for the most part, completing 53% of his throws despite being under constant pressure. He was lights out at times this spring.
Weakness: The backups. There weren't any this spring. No, really. There was Lewis, and that was it. Asack might be experienced and has good potential, but he'll need time to get back into the swing of things. Former quarterback Marcus Jones is now a linebacker.
Outlook: Lewis will be the face of the program for the next few years, and with a new style of offense that'll rely on him to make more big plays, he should have some big moments and should shine with some big home runs. Asack has to get work as soon as possible to be ready to take over for a stretch, if needed.
Projected Starters: Is senior Justin Boyle finally going to get room to move? A decent 6-1, 215-pound power back with just enough speed to blast through the line, he followed up a 459-yard season with 358 yards and a team-leading five touchdowns. He missed the final two games and rarely got any holes to run through, but when he didn't do much early on to make his own big plays. Even so, he started to play well once the line started to come together, highlighted by a 113-yard, four touchdown day against Vanderbilt.
Senior fullback Tielor Robinson was a disappointment in his first season. The 245-pound transfer from Army didn't pave the way like he did as a Black Knight, and he wasn't much of a short yardage runner finishing the year with just 78 yards and now scores. He could grow into a dangerous goal line back (he scored five times against Cincinnati two years ago), but he'll likely be used more to help out Boyle and the other backs.
Projected Top Reserves: Boyle might technically be the starter, but 210-pound junior Re'quan Boyette is the better back. The team leader with 388 yards last season, along with two touchdowns, he came on over the second half of the season to be more than just a change-of-pace runner who was able to get outside more than Boyle. He didn't get double-digit carries until the season finale, but he's sure to see the ball far more.
Boyette will also see time in the Devil Back role, which is mainly a quirky name for a third down back, but senior Ronnie Drummer will mostly fill the role after catching 16 passes for 114 yards, good for fourth on the team, and running 29 times for 148 yards and a touchdown. He's the fastest player in the backfield and can create his own space far better than the others. At only 5-9 and 185 pounds, he's not an every down back.
220-pound junior Clifford Harris is mostly a garbage time runner, but he finished third on the team with 206 yards and a score. 260-pound sophomore Brandon King is a sledgehammer playing behind Robinson. He won't see any carries, but he's athletic enough to see some passes his way, catching seven for 54 yards last year.
Watch Out For ... more Boyette. He tended to make things happen that Boyle didn't, and he has the best mix of skills between Drummer's speed and Boyle's power.
Strength: Experience. While there isn't a proven workhorse back among the options, the top five runners from last year are back. Everyone knows what they're doing.
Weakness: One really good back. If you could combine Boyle, Boyette and Drummer into one, you'd have an all-star. Hence, the running back by committee approach that's sure to come again.
Outlook: With the expected improvement of the offensive line, the ground game should be far better. There are decent backs here to work with, but they had nowhere, nowhere to run last season. Give the speedsters Boyette and Drummer a little room and they'll crank out some big plays, while Boyle could be a tempo-controller with a little luck.
Projected Starters: The Blue Devils have two excellent receivers to get the passing game going in senior Jomar Wright, who led the team with 40 catches for 561 yards and two touchdowns, and junior Eron Riley, who led the team wit a 20.1 yard per catch average with 32 catches for 643 yards and two scores. Wright might have made the most catches, but most of them came in one game, and amazing ten-catch, 176-yard day against Miami. He'll be one of the team's most dangerous deep threats, while Riley is the team's most talented receiver with 6-3, 200-pound size and tremendous deep speed. He was consistent and had tremendous moments with great games against Florida State and North Carolina, and now he's expected to be even more dangerous.
The tight end doesn't get used too much, but senior Nick Stefanow can catch, making ten grabs for 113 yards and a touchdowns last season. Not huge at 6-4 and 235 pounds, he's not a dominant blocker, although he's a willing one, but his worth is as a receiver who needs the ball thrown his way more often.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-2, 190-pound junior Raphael Chestnut is technically a backup, but he'll play in three-wide sets and will get more than his share of work. He has the speed to go along with his good size, and now he has to use it all to do more than just be a possession receiver after finishing second on the team with 39 catches for 375 yards and two touchdowns.
6-5, 210-pound Jeremy Ringfield and 6-4, 200-pound Sheldon Bell are very big, very promising redshirt freshmen who will see plenty of time in the rotation and provide a huge depth upgrade. As good as those two are expected to be, it was sophomore Ryan Wood who stepped up and became a big performer this spring. While he's not likely to make too much of an impact this year, he showed he could be counted on in the spring game.
Behind Stefanow will be sophomore Norman Gee, a bigger tight end option who caught two passes for 18 yards. He's a physical receiver with the hands to be see plenty of passes come his way. Early on, it'll be more important if he can grow into an effective blocker.
Watch Out For ... the youngsters to slip in and have some big moments. Ringfield and Bell will be ignored by defensive coordinators early on, but are dangerous enough to come up with a pig performance when no one is looking.
Strength: Size. The top six receiver prospects average around 6-3, and while there's not warp speed, they can get down the field.
Weakness: Overall consistency. While there are three receivers who caught over 30 passes last year, there wasn't enough overall oomph on a game-in-and-game-out basis. If possible, all the top targets have to play well at once.
Outlook: The potential is there for this to become the team's strength, and the one area that can honestly plan on being more than just competitive at a top ACC level over the next few years. Wright and Riley will be terrific, and could blow up if the quarterback play is more consistent. There's enough size and speed to provide matchup problems with good backups to help provide options.
Projected Starters: All five starters return to the Blue Devil offensive line, but it has to be far, far better. Any improvement starts with the tackles, who did nothing against most decent pass rushers last year. Juniors Cameron Goldberg and Fred Roland have been in the rotation since for years, and Goldberg started ten games last year and Roland started all 12. At 6-8 and 310 pounds, Roland has a large frame and has the potential to be good in pass protection, but he has to be more consistent and has to do more for the ground game. The same goes for the 6-6, 280-pound Goldberg, who should be far better after playing a year at a pumped up weight. Roland's the better of the two.
Junior Rob Schirmann and senior Zach Maurides are back at guard, but can move around where needed. The 6-5, 285-pound Schirmann can play either guard or tackle, but will man the right side after starting every game last season. He's a good athlete for his size. The 6-6, 290-pound Maurides is an Academic All-ACC performer who also started in all 12 games on the left side. With his experience over the last several years, he has to be a steady performer, particularly for the running game.
6-4, 285-pound junior Matt Rumsey is the only on on the line with two years of starting experience. Thrown to the wolves as a true freshman, he has improved over the last few seasons and with his experience, smarts, and size, should be a decent anchor.
Projected Top Reserves: The recruiting hasn't been all that bad over the last few years, and it shows in the depth, especially with the three rising redshirt freshmen. While inexperienced, guards Mitchell Lederman (on the right side), Marcus Lind (on the left side), and right tackle Robert Drum can all play and are all pushing for jobs. At 6-8 and 320 pounds, Lederman is a huge run blocker behind Schirmann. The 300-pound Lind is a big, athletic prospect, while the 6-6, 285-pound Drum might end up moving to the left side to combine with Roland as the starters.
Also in the hunt for playing time will be Garrett Mason, a 6-5, 300-pound spot starter who'll start out the season behind Rumsey at center, has seen starting time at tackle, and is a natural guard. The former defensive lineman now knows what he's doing.
6-6, 310-pound Jarrod Holt is a good-looking sophomore who'll push Goldberg on the left side. He played in ten games and showed good potential, even if he struggled to be consistent.
Watch Out For ... the redshirt freshmen. The starting five isn't so good that it can't be replaced by bigger (for the most part), more talented prospects. They spent last year waiting in the wings, and now they're ready to blossom.
Strength: Rotation. When you get all five starters back, things can't help but be better. Having a slew of good reserves ready to step in makes the situation even better. However ...
Weakness: The starting five isn't that good. There's a reason so many reserves are going to be deep in the hunt for starting jobs come August.
Outlook: The Blue Devils allowed a whopping 43 sacks, but to be fair, blocking for a freshman, mobile quarterback who was trying to make things happen didn't help. There was nothing happening for the ground game either with little consistency. That was to be expected from a young line that spent the season growing and pointing towards the future. Now it all has to come together so the skill players can show what they can do.