Duke Blue Devils
15 returning starters (11 offense, 4 defense)
Key Players: RB Re’Quan Boyette, QB Thad Lewis, WR Jomar Wright, WR
Raphael Chestnut, WR Eron Riley, DE Patrick Bailey, DT Vince Oghobaase, CB
Jabari Marshall, FS Chris Davis, SS Adrian Aye-Darko
Duke returns all 11 starters on offense. They showed a lot of promise
throwing the football last year, with Thad Lewis passing for 2,134 yards as a
true freshman, but the offensive line was terrible and held the offense back
quite a bit.
Duke’s defense was pretty solid last season, although they’ll probably
struggle this year. Cornerback John Talley, who had 18 interceptions in his
career, is gone. Over the weekend the defense suffered a major blow when middle
linebacker Michael Tauiliili was arrested for driving while impaired, failing to
stop after an accident, assault, assault by pointing a gun, and carrying a
concealed weapon. Tauiliili has been suspended indefinitely by head coach Ted
Tauiliili made 94 tackles, with 10 tackles for loss last season. As a true
freshman in 2005, he had 92 tackles and 10 tackles for loss. He is one of the
ACC’s most underrated linebackers, and he’s a huge loss for the Blue Devils.
Duke has a solid group of experienced wide receivers, and they should have a
decent passing game this year. Jomar Wright led the team in receiving last year
with 40 receptions, while Raphael Chestnut hauled in 39 passes. Eron Riley has
good size at 6-3, 200, and he had 32 receptions while averaging 20.1 yards per
catch. Back in 2005, he averaged 22.5 yards per catch, so he is truly a big play
Sophomore quarterback Thad Lewis has talent, although he struggled with
turnovers last season. But he was a true freshman playing behind by far the
worst offensive line in the ACC. He’ll be better in 2007, and so will his
Although they return all five starters, the Duke offensive line has to be
considered not only the weak link of the offense, but of the entire team. The
team’s leading rusher had just 388 yards last season, and as a team the Blue
Devils averaged just 2.9 yards per carry. They also couldn’t pass block,
allowing 40 sacks in just 12 games.
However, they should be better this year. All five starters are back. Duke
has had to replace four starters up front in each of the previous three seasons,
so there has never been any continuity there. This year, there is, and there is
also a little depth present. This should be an improved unit.
Duke will have a good starting defensive line in 2007. The Blue Devils have
recruited well up front. Defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase was a blue chip
recruit who was recruited by Miami, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. He started as a
r-freshman last season and had eight tackles for loss despite not being 100%. At
6-6, 310, he’s physically imposing, and he could have a breakout year if he
Besides Oghobaase, Duke also has defensive end Ayanga Okpokowuruk, a
sophomore who was recruited by UNC, Tennessee and Georgia Tech. Defensive tackle
Clifford Respress was recruited by Auburn. Senior defensive end Patrick Bailey
also returns, and he has 17.5 career tackles for loss. The Blue Devils should
have a pretty good front four this year, but unfortunately they no longer have
that ball hawking middle linebacker in Tauiliili.
This was going to be the secondary, but with the loss of Tauiliili, it’s the
linebackers. Marcus Jones, who started one game at quarterback and two at wide
receiver last season, could be the starter on the strong side. The weak side
linebacker is likely to be Tim Ball, who was a running back until last season.
The middle linebacker spot is currently unknown with Tauililli out, and the
listed backup is junior Alfred Williams, who has 10 career tackles. If this
group plays well, Duke will have a good front seven. But if the linebackers
aren’t up to snuff, the front four isn’t going to look as good as they actually
Duke isn’t going to win very many games this year, but they probably will
scratch the win column a time or two, possibly as many as three times. The best
chances for wins are the first game of the season, and the last game. The Blue
Devils host UConn in their season opener and travel to North Carolina on
November 24. Duke lost to UNC 45-44 last season, thanks to a missed extra point.
The Blue Devils were close in some other games last year as well. They lost
to eventual ACC Champion Wake Forest 14-13 when their last second game-winning
field goal attempt was blocked. They lost to Miami 20-15 when Thad Lewis was
intercepted in the end zone on the game-winning drive. They even led Alabama
14-10 late in the third quarter before running out of gas.
So Duke was close on quite a few occasions last year, but a bad offensive
line and no depth held them back. With 44 lettermen returning, they should have
some wins in 2007.
Will Stewart’s Take
You may (or may not) remember that Duke football had a big summit a few
months back in which 275 former players met with the current players, coaches,
and administrators to have a big pow-wow about Duke football, and whether or not
it can ever succeed. Part of me thinks that the summit was called because of the
2006 success of Wake Forest, the ACC champions.
If it can be done at Wake Forest, can it be done at Duke? That is, of course,
the logical question, but when you examine the two programs, it’s not apples and
apples. Duke won just 18 games in the ten-year stretch from 1996-2005, whereas
Wake won 46.
In 2006, Wake won 11 and Duke won 0, increasing that gap to 57-18 over 11
years. Everyone used to group Wake and Duke together, often referring to the
pair as "Duke Forest," but it’s clear now that you can’t do that. The
programs aren’t just miles apart now; they were miles apart before last season.
And that’s about all you can say about Duke. Duke will become interesting
when they start winning, and we’re not talking about a lot. Duke hasn’t won more
than four games since 1994, so if they reach five or six wins in a season, it’ll
be news. If they go to a bowl game, it’ll be stop-the-presses news.
But until then, Duke football is just a ten-car pileup on the interstate.
It’s a disaster of unusual proportions. But people slow down and look at ten-car
pileups, and they make the news. No one’s paying much attention to Duke.