What You Need To Know About The Offense:
Scottie Montgomery has some of the biggest coordinator shoes to fill in 2014, those of new Florida assistant Kurt Roper. Roper was David Cutcliffe's right-hand man in Durham, so it'll be interesting to see how the players react to new leadership. The Blue Devils will also be without change-of-pace QB Brandon Connette, who transferred to Fresno State after accounting for 27 touchdowns a year ago. Starter Anthony Boone will no longer be sharing reps this fall, which isn't such a bad thing for the attack. Boone to prolific WR Jamison Crowder promises to be one of the ACC's best pitch-and-catch combos, and the ground game has the depth to survive the academic casualty of RB Jela Duncan. One of the underrated areas of Duke's recent success has been the play of the O-line, which has yielded fewer than 20 sacks in three consecutive years. Stout veterans Laken Tomlinson, Takoby Cofield and Matt Skura are about to be joined in the lineup by up-and-comers Lucas Patrick at left guard and Tanner Stone at right tackle.
What You Need To Know About The Defense:
The Blue Devils giveth and the Blue Devils taketh away. Duke has one of the ACC's softer defenses, especially up front, where NG Jamal Bruce is the lone returning starter. But coordinator Jim Knowles' unit was able to compensate for its generosity in 2013 with an attacking collection of defenders that accounted for 26 takeaways, including 18 interceptions. Plenty of those thieves return, particularly in the back seven. Even with the graduation of CB Ross Cockrell, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Buffalo Bills, the Devils are littered with exciting talent on the back end. Linebackers Kelby Brown and David Helton are run-stopping seniors, who combined for 247 tackles last season. And the DBs are a bunch of young ball-hawks, led by next-level S Jeremy Cash, precocious S Deondre Singleton and rising corners Devon Edwards and Breon Borders. Yeah, Duke will have its share of defensive problems, especially if a pass rusher doesn't emerge. But it'll also have those games in which the D lights the fuse with a couple of picks and pick-sixes.
Players You Need To Know
1. WR Jamison Crowder
No ACC player has ever caught more passes in a single season than Crowder did in 2013. Ever. The senior picked up where former teammate Conner Vernon left off in 2012, pulling in 108 balls for 1,360 yards and eight touchdowns. Crowder had at least 10 catches in four different games, highlighted by a monster performance in the bowl bout with Texas A&M. Oh, and he's also dynamite in the return game. While only 5-9 and 175 pounds, Crowder stands tall against all defenders, burning them with his quickness and precise route-running.
2. S Jeremy Cash
Things didn't work out for Cash at Ohio State. Well, bully for you, Duke. In Cash, the Blue Devils landed an instant hit and a budding star of the defense. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, he possesses great size for a safety, yet he's also an asset in coverage. In his Durham debut, Cash contributed 121 tackles, 9.5 stops for loss, four interceptions and four pass breakups to attract First Team All-ACC attention. Additionally, he received the Iron Devil Award for playing more snaps than any of his teammates.
3. LB Kelby Brown
What can Brown do for Duke when he's at full strength? He answered that question throughout 2013. In his busiest campaign as a Blue Devil, the 6-2, 230-pound senior racked up 114 tackles, 9.5 stops for loss and eight quarterback hurries. Brown shook off the knee injury that shelved him for the entire 2012 season, and he ascended to the All-ACC First Team. He operates with keen instincts and outstanding sideline-to-sideline range, serving as the heady quarterback of the D.
4. OG Laken Tomlinson
Tomlinson is the immovable pillar of a Blue Devils front wall returning three of last year's regulars. The durable 6-3, 320-pound Chicagoan, by way of Jamaica, has started all 39 games of his college career, and he rarely misses a snap. For a blocker of his size and strength, he has remarkable feet, a characteristic not lost on pro scouts and GMs. Tomlinson capped his breakout junior season of 2013 by landing a First Team All-ACC nod from the league's coaches.
5. LB David Helton
Helton make the most of his first season as a full-timer in 2013. The starter at weakside led the ACC with 133 tackles, four of which were behind the line of scrimmage. At 6-4 and 230 pounds, he has the best size among the Duke linebackers, which allows him to shed blockers before zeroing in on the man with the ball. After being unfairly overlooked by all-league voters, Helton will be impossible to ignore this season in Durham.
6. QB Anthony Boone
Boone had his share of struggles, such as throwing no touchdown passes and seven interceptions in back-to-back games with Virginia Tech and NC State. But he also showed enough as a thrower to retain his starting job. Boone was at his best in his last game, passing for a career-high 427 yards and three scores in the Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Texas A&M. He needs to eliminate mistakes, especially in his own territory, while capitalizing on a strong right arm and the awareness to break containment.
7. TE Braxton Deaver
Deaver returned with a vengeance after missing 2012 with thumb and knee injuries. The preferred intermediate target caught 46 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns to earn Third Team All-ACC from both the coaches the media. At 6-5 and 240 pounds, Deaver is a long target, with the stride to pick up added real estate after the catch. Last season was for shaking off rust. This season is designed to attract the attention of NFL scouts.
8. CB DeVon Edwards
In a year of surprises in Durham, Edwards was the poster child of unexpected results. The sophomore delivered an improbable debut, lending hope that he can become the successor to Ross Cockrell at cornerback. Edwards started eight games, while collecting 64 tackles, three interceptions and six pass breakups. In one epic performance versus NC State on Nov. 9, he advertised his big-play ability by scoring three touchdowns, two on picks and one on a 100-yard kick return. The best is yet to come for the 5-9, 185-pound Edwards.
9. P Will Monday
Monday is the centerpiece of one of the ACC's top special teams unit. The 6-4, 210-pound junior earned second-team all-league from the media and third-team from league coaches. He averaged 42.7 yards per punt, down from 44.6 a year earlier, with 21 boots downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Monday has a future in the NFL if he continues to improve his hang time and directional kicks.
10. CB Breon Borders
Concerns about a secondary losing starting corners Ross Cockrell and Garett Patterson are being allayed by the maturation of Borders. Despite not starting a single game in his rookie year out of Statesville (N.C) High School, he still managed to lead the Blue Devils with four interceptions, while ranking second with eight pass breakups. The 6-0, 175-pound Borders has a long frame, which he'