Positional Preview: Running Backs

A preseason injury to projected starter Re'quan Boyette has left the Blue Devil coaching staff looking for answers among of group of talented, but largely inexperienced runners. As we continue our stroll through the positional previews, TDD offers a look at which newcomers are likely to make an impact.

Projected Starter: Clifford Harris (5'10", 220 - SR)
Reserves: *Re'quan Boyette (5'10", 200 - SR), Tony Jackson (5'10", 185 - SO), Cameron Jones (5'10", 185 - R-FR), Jay Hollingsworth (5'11", 185 - FR), Patrick Kurunwune (5'10", 200 - FR)

Overview:
Duke appeared to have their go-to back in senior Re'Quan Boyette, but a knee injury during a preseason scrimmage has put those plans in question. He is expected to miss 5-6 weeks best case. If the injury lingers any longer, he will take a medical red-shirt. In Boyette's absence, senior Clifford Harris will most likely get the starting nod. Harris is not as fast as Boyette, but has some burst on the outside and has power to run between the tackles. Converted CB Tony Jackson has really come on since moving over from defense, and might push Harris for the starting job. Jackson was an accomplished running back at a small New York high school, where he averaged over 10 yards per carry his senior season. He flashed his big-play ability right away in the spring game, when he took a toss sweep left and blew by the defense for a 75-yard score. Duke got some backfield help this summer with the arrival of freshman Jay Hollingsworth and Patrick Kurunwune. Both players seem to be adjusting nicely to the college game. Hollingsworth scored two touchdowns in a preseason scrimmage and has displayed a natural feel for the position. Kurunwune was a lightly recruited back out of Texas that has really impressed the coaches during his short time in Durham. He's a bowling ball runner with a low center of gravity who is very difficult to stop in short-yardage situations. Redshirt freshman Cameron Jones is a smallish back that will compete for a few carries and special teams duties.

Positives:
Despite the injury to Boyette, the Devils still have a reliable option in Harris. While Harris is not going to wow anyone with moves and great speed, he's a cerebral player that does not make mistakes, gets the tough yards, and hangs on to the ball. Jackson provides a legitimate home run threat out of the backfield. Hollingsworth and Kurunwune have both been pleasant surprises so far.

Negatives:
None of the backs have shown they can excel in anything other than spot duty. Harris has a total of 90 career carries, and he is the only healthy regular who has taken RB snap at the college level. None of the players is an "all-in-one" back. Each guy has his specialty, but none have displayed a complete skill set that football coaches covet. Cutcliffe will have to match the player with the play call, which limits the offense to a certain degree. There also have been some questions in preseason if one of the runners will step up and become a reliable short-yardage option. Kurunwune might be the best bet here, but it would not be surprising if the staff wanted to give him a redshirt year to develop.

Bottom line:
The injury to Boyette has dealt a serious blow to the Blue Devil backfield. He was expected to be the primary ball carrier, but, as it stands now, he will probably sit out the 2008 season to recover from his injury. None of the remaining Duke backs have stepped up seized the starting role in Boyette's absence. It seems that Harris and Jackson would be the logical front-runners, but both have been dinged up during the preseason. This has allowed the freshman backs to show the coaches what they have. Still, it appears the workload will be spread amongst all the healthy backs, unless Boyette is able to return from his injury this season.


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