Overview: Duke enters the 2008 season returning one of the ACC's leading passers from the 2007 season in junior QB Thaddeus Lewis. He was able to throw for over 2400 yards and had 24 TD tosses versus only 11 interceptions. He did all this despite having no running game whatsoever to rely on. Many pre-season prognosticators expect Lewis to flourish this season in the Cutcliffe system. Backup Zack Asack is no stranger to the field either. He started nine games as a true freshman in 2005 before a suspension for the 2006 season sidetracked his career. Now as a redshirt junior, he has clawed his way back into the QB picture and provides a reliable second option for the Devils. Redshirt freshman Mike Capetto is a tall, strong-armed pocket passer that Duke might play a little during garbage time this season.
The future of the Blue Devil passing attack, however, is true freshman Sean Renfree. He possesses a wide arsenal of skills that suit him perfectly for today's college game. He combines a rocket arm with 4.5 speed in the 40, and elusiveness to avoid sacks. Once he gets up to speed in the college game, he will be difficult to keep off the field. Given the current depth chart, expect Renfree to spend this season watching from the sidelines.
Positives: Duke is long on experience at QB. Lewis and Asack have combined for 31 starts between them over the past three seasons. This QB depth affords Duke the luxury of redshirting their top offensive recruit in the 2008 class, Sean Renfree. Lewis had a very good statistical season in 2007 and has maintained his hold on the starting job throughout the spring and preseason, though Asack is making a strong case for playing time as well. Lewis is one of the best throwers in the ACC. Very few QBs can match his arm strength, timing, and knack for finding seams in the defense. Asack is a capable passer, but not nearly in the class as Lewis. Asack strength is his ability to run with the football. He is dangerous in the open field, possessing enough speed to outrun most front-seven defenders. Either QB can move the offense; a luxury that most teams in the conference do not have.
Negatives: Despite the 31 combined starts between Lewis and Asack, Duke has only won 2 of those ball games. While many of the losses are not directly attributable to quarterback play, the fact remains that each QB has one college victory to their credit. One of Cutcliffe's biggest challenges is getting the players to believe that they can win games this season. Both Lewis and Asack do some things well, but struggle at others. Both QBs have sub-par mechanics that the staff have been trying to correct this offseason. Ball security was Lewis's weakest area in 2007. The QB must hold on to the ball when he is sacked. There are two ways to correct this. One of them is to not take sacks. The second is to secure the ball when you get it. Cutcliffe had made it clear that he will not tolerate turnovers. If Lewis continue have problems in this area, he will be watching from the sidelines. Asack sometimes struggles with throwing consistency. He gives the Devils a more mobile option at QB, but, limits what the Devils can do in the passing game when compared to Lewis. Both QBs are on a steep learning curve getting used to the teachings of Cutcliffe and staff. There is still a long way to go before any of the QBs master the system.
Bottom Line: It might not sound correct for most non-Duke fans, but the Devils are the envy of many teams in the ACC when it comes to quarterback play. Teams like NC State would give their collective left arm to have two battle-tested QBs that have shown they can execute at the collegiate level. The adjustment to the Cutcliffe system will take time and there will be some mistakes made early. As the season goes on and the players start to see their offseason work pay dividends, Duke fans will find that they will have some of the best QB play in the ACC this fall.