Positional Preview: Offensive Line

While the limelight may go to skill position players, it's the offensive line that will prove the most critical to the Blue Devils' success in 2008. TDD continues our seasonal preview with a look at the O-Line.

Projected Starters: LT Cameron Goldberg (6'6", 265" - SR), RT Fred Roland (6'8", 300 - SR), RG Rob Schirrman (6'5", 265 - SR), LG Jarrod Holt (6'6", 310 - JR), C Bryan Morgan (6'3", 250 - SO)

Reserves: OT Rob Drum (6'6", 280 - SO), OG Mitch Lederman (6'8", 305 - SO), OT Jeff Cowart (6'5", 310 - SO), C Marcus Lind (6'4", 270 - SO), G Pontus Bondeson (6'6", 275 - SO), C Chris Shannon (6'5", 270 - R-FR), OT Kyle Hill (6'6", 270 - R-FR), OT John Needham (6'7", 305 - R-FR), * C Brian Moore (6'4", 280 - FR), *OT Connor Irwin (6'5", 250 - FR)

To say the Blue Devil offensive did not perform well in 2007 would be a gross understatement. Because of the bad line play, Duke was one of the country's worst rushing teams. The pass blocking was not much better as Thad Lewis was sacked 45 times, second-worst figure in the conference. The good news for Blue Devil fans is that good news regarding the line play is coming out of camp. Cutcliffe recently singled out the offensive line as "the most improved position on the team". While compliments are nice, it should be remembered that this unit had the most room for improvement (aside form placekicking. We'll get to that later.). Still some progress is better than none at all. The line is led by senior bookend tackles Cameron Goldberg and Fred Roland. At 270 pounds soaking wet, Goldberg is the lightest tackle in the ACC. What he lacks in bulk, however, he makes up for with quickness. He has benefited greatly from the new staff's emphasis on agility over bulk and is primed for a redeeming senior season. Roland has NFL size at 6'8" and 300 pounds, but has struggled with consistency during his career. If he can put it all together, Duke might actually be able to block people this fall. Inside the tackles, however, is where the uncertainty level rises. Junior guard Jarrod Holt has the ability to be the best lineman on the squad, but has struggled with his conditioning during his first two seasons. The other guard, 5th year senior Rob Schirmann, was one the biggest weight losers on the team (down 30 lbs), and should be much more effective than a season ago. Duke has replaced the departed Matt Rumsey with sophomore Bryan Morgan. Despite being the lightest starting lineman in the ACC (at a feathery 250 lbs), Morgan is technically sound and tenacious.

While the starting line is on the small size, the backups are much more lineman-sized. Mitch Lederman and Pontus Bondeson are the top two reserves at guard. Bondeson played on the defensive line last season, and was moved over to offense prior to spring practice. The Swedish import is one of team's strongest players. Lederman has dropped about 30 pounds from last year and is still over 300 lbs. Needless to say, he was carrying a little too much weight. Redshirt freshman Kyle Hill is the heir apparent at left tackle. The former tight end has developed quickly and should be ready to protect the quarterback's blind side after Goldberg's graduation. Sophomores Rob Drum and Jeff Cowart are vying for time at right tackle. The battle for backup center is between sophomore Marcus Lind and redshirt freshman Chris Shannon. Redshirt freshman John Needham will also battle for playing time at tackle. Expect both true freshman OLs Brian Moore and Connor Irwin to redshirt.

Positives:
The Devils have three redshirt seniors in the starting lineup with at least 20 starts a piece. Holt has started games each of his past two seasons. Morgan saw extensive playing time at tackle last year. The starters know what to expect in the trenches. This experience along with new found agility due to significant weight loss should pave the way to great success this season. The Devils have been paper-thin (depth-wise of course) for the past two season. There are signs that this might be changing. The five 3rd year players on the roster are really starting to develop under the new staff. While they still might be a year away from starter level effectiveness, most of them should effective in short stretches.

Negatives
Expect Duke to have lots of trouble in short-yardage situations. The starting line as a whole is just not big enough to push people around. One option is to do to more of a Navy-style cut blocking scheme, but the fact remains that they will not overpower opposing defenses at the point of attack. Then there is the question of ability. The starting lineup was not getting the job done a year ago, yet there were not real replacement options for the staff to try. This year, three of the five starters are the same, and the top two reserves have been elevated to starting roles. The faces are the same, will the results be any different? For Cutcliffe and staff, the hope is that last year's incarnation of the offensive line was just out of shape and poorly coached.

Bottom Line
This unit HAS to play better if the Devils are to improve on their 2007 "offensive" performance. Failure to do so will force Duke to become a one-dimensional offense yet again. The good news is that Cutcliffe has these guys in shape and has spoken positively of their athleticism, post weight-loss of course. What this means is that Duke will be running plenty of screens, draws and other plays where brute strength at the point of attack is not necessary. Under the leadership of Goldberg, Roland and Schirmann, this group has a chance to be the biggest surprise of the 2008 season.


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