Anthony Boone will enter the season as the starter and only quarterback on the roster with collegiate experience. He finished 2013 with more than 2,000 yards passing and a much improved from completion percentage at 64 percent (up from 51.6 percent in 2012).
However, Boone could stand to improve with ball security. He threw the same number of interceptions as touchdowns last season (13), including three picks versus North Carolina State and four against Virginia Tech in ACC play. Boone says he has worked in the offseason on being consistent with his throws and he believes he can be the most efficient quarterback in the conference.
While Boone is expected to produce on the field as a senior leader for the Blue Devils, questions arise when you move down the depth chart.
Brandon Connette is Duke’s all-time leader in career rushing touchdowns (31), and it will not be easy to fill the role he leaves behind. He stepped up when Boone went down last season with a broken collarbone and excelled in the red zone as a dual-threat option.
Duke head coach David Cutcliffe will likely still use two quarterbacks, and Thomas Sirk and Parker Boehme are the prime candidates to replace Connette. Both players have fought through tough injuries, with Sirk coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon and Boehme recovered from toe surgery last year.
Sirk got a chance to show what he can do in the annual Spring Game, going 12 of 28 for 83 yards passing and running 19 times for 30 yards and two touchdowns. Boehme did not play in the game, but he has a similar skillset like Sirk and Connette.
Boone sees the guys behind him as inexperienced but very talented, and he feels the reps they have gotten in practice have already prepared them for the speed of the college game. Having multiple options to throw (and run) at opposing defenses will only make the Duke attack that much more difficult to stop.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN IN 2014
The success of the Blue Devils’ season could simply depend upon Boone staying healthy. Connette is not there to take over if Boone goes out with an injury, and as much as Sirk and Boehme may have improved in practice, there is still nothing to prepare you for the speed of the ACC until you get game experience.
Sirk and Boehme need to be ready to when their opportunities come, and they may see some action early in the season against teams like Elon and Troy to help ease the transition into the ACC schedule. One or both players will have to make up for Connette’s ability to put points on the board once in the red zone.
Boone will be surrounded by a talented group of players at the skill positions, including Jamison Crowder at wide receiver and Braxton Deaver at tight end. While losing running back Jela Duncan hurts, the mobility of the quarterbacks and stable of runners in the backfield should be able to keep the offense balanced.
If he limits turnovers and continues to improve his consistency hitting his targets, Boone’s final year in a Duke uniform should be his best yet.
Back to back losses after winning eight straight left a distinct and undesirable memory for Duke…