Duke football 2016 position preview: Kicker/punter

Duke football 2016 position preview: Kicker/punter

With the 2016 season right around the corner, The Chronicle's football beat writers break down each of the nine major position groups: quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, defensive backs, kicker/punter and punt/kickoff returners to prepare you for the regular season.

For the first time in four years, the Blue Devils face major questions at both the kicker and punter positions. Ross Martin and Will Monday were both All-ACC specialists who consistently made big plays on special teams during their careers. Despite the duo's departure, head coach David Cutcliffe has said that he will demand the same type of focus and consistency from his specialists in 2016. Cutcliffe has always emphasized sound special teams play, but it remains to be seen whether his young specialists will deliver in pressure-packed moments during the upcoming season.

Key Players Lost: K Ross Martin, P Will Monday

Neither Martin nor Monday will take the field for the Blue Devils this season. Just let that sink in. It is very easy to make the argument that they were the most successful kicker-punter duo in program history. Martin was a four-time All-ACC selection who holds the program record and is third in ACC history with 78 field goals made, with a single-season school-record 26 of those coming during the 2015 season. He made 86.7 percent of his field goals as a senior and split the uprights on a critical overtime kick to lift the Blue Devils past Indiana in last season's Pinstripe Bowl win. Replacing Martin's reliability and consistency will be tough moving forward, but with true freshman A.J. Reed entering the program, Cutcliffe will potentially have another four-year starter with the chance to build his own legacy.

At punter, Monday was every bit as good as Martin. Like his teammate, he was a four-time ACC selection. He ranks seventh in punting yardage in conference history and finished his career averaging 46.46 yards per punt. Monday also holds the record for the longest punt in Blue Devil history, when he booted a 79-yard punt during his freshman season in the 2012 Belk Bowl. Another area where Monday made a noticeable difference was on the field goal unit, serving as the holder for all four years of his career. Monday, Martin and long snapper Thomas Hennessey had undeniable chemistry when it came to field goals, and though Hennessey does return, this is another area where Monday's presence will be sorely missed. Read more »

The Chronicle's 2016 Duke football predictions

With Duke's 2016 football season kicking off Saturday against N.C. Central in Wallace Wade Stadium, The Chronicle's football beat writers and editors in the sports department made predictions on how the team will fare and which players will stand out the most.

Regular-season record

Amrith Ramkumar: 6-6—I think Duke can get off to a strong start and win enough games in the Coastal Division to keep its bowl streak alive, but it's going to be close. The only almost guaranteed wins for the Blue Devils are N.C. Central and Army, so they will have to be more consistent week in and week out than they have in the past. I think they can get that done and win enough close games again to make their fifth straight bowl game.

Brian Mazur: 6-6—Without the likes of Thomas Sirk, Matt Skura, Max McCaffrey, Jeremy Cash and Carlos Wray, the Blue Devils have a lot of questions to answer on both sides of the football, as well as on special teams without Will Monday and Ross Martin. Combine this with a tough schedule that includes road games at Notre Dame, Louisville, Northwestern and Miami, and Duke will suffer its worst season since 2012. But there are enough winnable games on the schedule for the Blue Devils to get to six wins and play in a bowl game for the fifth straight year.

Hank Tucker: 4-8—Duke has to replace five of its six All-ACC players last year and its starting quarterback. The Blue Devils play six good teams on the road. It will be very hard to win any of those games. It will be very hard to beat North Carolina at home. Duke will probably lose at least one home game against Virginia, Virginia Tech or Wake Forest—all solid ACC teams. That is a reasonable way to get to eight losses, as pessimistic as it sounds. Read more »

Duke football 2016 position preview: Defensive backs

Duke football 2016 position preview: Defensive backs

With the 2016 season right around the corner, The Chronicle's football beat writers break down each of the nine major position groups: quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, offensive line, defensive line, defensive backs, linebackers, kicker/punter and punt/kickoff returners to prepare you for the regular season.

Duke’s secondary was unable contain opposing passing attacks down the stretch last season. The Blue Devils surrendered over 330 yards passing in their last three games and finished the year ranked 12th in the ACC in passing defense. The struggles in the secondary were in part because the defensive line did not generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which forced the defensive backs to defend in coverage longer.

But injuries and fatigue in the secondary also took a toll. Starting cornerback Bryon Fields missed the entire season recovering from a torn ACL in his right knee, forcing the Blue Devils to rely heavily on then-freshman Jeremy McDuffie.

Although Duke will have to overcome the departure of first-team All-American safety Jeremy Cash, the return of Fields has boosted the secondary. The Blue Devils also hope that an offseason emphasis on strength and conditioning will help prevent them from tiring toward the end of the season. Read more »

Duke football 2016 position preview: Linebackers

Duke football 2016 position preview: Linebackers

With the 2016 season right around the corner, The Chronicle's football beat writers break down each of the nine major position groups: quarterbacks, running backs,receivers, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, defensive backs, kicker/punter and punt/kickoff returners to prepare you for the regular season.

After throwing a bunch of inexperienced players into the fire of ACC football last season due to injuries, Duke defensive coordinator Jim Knowles comes into the 2016 campaign with a lot of confidence in his fast and young linebacking core. Led by sophomore Ben Humphreys, the Blue Devils look to build on an impressive run defense that ranked fourth in the ACC in yards allowed per carry.

But they will be without ACC Defensive Player of the Year Jeremy Cash, who made his presence felt in the run game despite playing safety. Humphreys has the talent to help stop opposing rushing attacks and take over Cash’s role as a leader of the defense both on and off the field.

Key Players Lost: Dwayne Norman, Kelby Brown

The Blue Devils will miss third-team All-ACC linebacker Dwayne Norman, who blossomed after converting from safety to linebacker prior to his senior year in Durham. Norman led the team in tackles in 2015 with 114 and teamed up with Cash in the run defense to combine for 26.5 tackles for loss. The Jacksonville, Fla., native was also one of the leaders last season for an inexperienced linebacking core, mentoring projected 2016 starters Humphreys and redshirt freshman Joe Giles-Harris. Read more »

This week in Duke history: A club rowing team with no boat

This week in Duke history: A club rowing team with no boat

This week in Duke history will commemorate the anniversary of a noteworthy Duke sporting event or story every week. From the funny to the unexpected, the blog will inform even the most dedicated Blue Devil fans about what you didn’t know about Duke athletics.

On Aug. 29, 1975, The Chronicle wrote that there was a significant obstacle facing the women’s club crew team entering the program's second year.

“The biggest problem facing the team was the lack of a boat.”

The article says the team had to practice in a simulation tank for most of its first season and was still raising enough money for a boat with the help of a "spaghetti supper" and a "bake sale" at the time of publication. Read more »

Duke football 2016 position preview: Defensive line

Duke football 2016 position preview: Defensive line

With the 2016 season right around the corner, The Chronicle's football beat writers break down each of the nine major position groups: quarterbacks, running backs, receiversoffensive line, defensive line, defensive backs, linebackers, kicker/punter and punt/kickoff returners to prepare you for the regular season.

Duke struggled to prevent explosive passing plays toward the end of last season, allowing more than 300 yards through the air in its final three games. But not all of that blame should be placed on its banged up secondary. Just as much goes to its performance up front, as the Blue Devils tied for 114th out of 128 FBS teams in sacks per game at 1.3.

Head coach David Cutcliffe and company know that if they want to stay competitive against better opponents this year, they need more production up front. New defensive line coach Ben Albert came to Durham from Boston College to lead that charge and has a young group of defensive linemen thinking it can make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks this season.

Key players lost: DT Carlos Wray, DE Deion Williams, DE Kyler Brown

Albert will have to replace three of the four most productive Blue Devils up front from last season in Wray, Williams and Brown, but defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is confident the team can do that by rotating in a number of players up front. Duke returns veteran defensive tackles A.J. Wolf and Mike Ramsay, and Knowles said he expects underclassmen Quaven Ferguson, Edgar Cerenord, Trevon McSwain, Zach Morris and Brandon Boyce—who is suspended for the team's first three games—all to make an impact at the position. Read more »

Four-star shooting guard Alex O'Connell becomes first Class of 2017 prospect to commit to Duke men's basketball

That didn't take long.

Just two days after he announced publicly that he had received a Duke offer, four-star shooting guard Alex O'Connell is expected to become the first Class of 2017 prospect to commit to the Blue Devils, CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein reported Friday afternoon.

Scout confirmed the report later Friday, and O'Connell announced his decision on Twitter. Read more »

Recruiting Roundup: 4-star wing Jermaine Samuels gets Duke offer, cuts list to 5

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski coined the phrase "Eight is enough" when the Blue Devils won the 2015 national championship with just eight scholarship players for the second half of the season.

But after Duke faltered down the stretch last year with a seven-man rotation, Krzyzewski and his staff are recruiting aggressively to ensure that depth is not a question mark in future years.

The Blue Devils extended their 15th scholarship offer in the Class of 2017 to four-star small forward Jermaine Samuels Thursday, a day after offering four-star shooting guard Alex O'Connell a scholarship.

Duke football 2016 position preview: Offensive line

Duke football 2016 position preview: Offensive line

With the 2016 season right around the corner, The Chronicle's football beat writers break down each of the nine major position groups: quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, offensive line, defensive line, defensive backs, linebackers, kicker/punter and kickoff/punt returners to prepare you for the regular season:

Make it two straight seasons now that Duke will be forced to replace a first-team All-ACC offensive lineman. In 2015, the Blue Devils had to fill the void left by guard Laken Tomlinson and this year, they will be looking to find someone to fill the spot of former captain and center Matt Skura. Fortunately for Duke, 60 percent of its starting offensive line in 2015 is back this season, with each of the three returners more experienced and ready to improve on a roller-coaster 2015.

The Blue Devils’ front five were crucial pieces in leading the ACC’s third-best offense to nearly 440 yards per game, and they also allowed the third-fewest sacks of any team in the conference. With a Blue Devil offensive attack led by a duo of talented running backs and last year’s leading rusher on the team—quarterback Thomas Sirk—the line will need to be at its best if Duke hopes to contend for the Coastal Division title.

Key Players Lost: C Matt Skura and LG Lucas Patrick

The loss of one of 2015’s senior co-captains cannot be understated for a Blue Devil unit that will run the ball often in 2016. Skura was selected to the All-ACC team in each of his final two seasons and was named a second-team All-America by USA Today as a redshirt senior—a testament to his talent and consistency as the anchor of Duke’s offensive line. The Columbus, Ohio, native helped the Blue Devils to the fifth-highest scoring offense in program history and was a leader on and off the field as Duke played in a bowl game in each of his four seasons of game action. Read more »

Duke basketball legend Grant Hill helps Class of 2020 students shop for dorm room items from Target as part of O-week tradition

Duke basketball legend Grant Hill helps Class of 2020 students shop for dorm room items from Target as part of O-week tradition

The annual late-night Thursday trip to Target for dorm room items is a Duke orientation week tradition, but this year's event for the Class of 2020 got an added boost from a former Duke basketball star.

Grant Hill ventured to the retail store on N.C. Highway 15-501 at about 10 p.m. Thursday to greet several members of the Class of 2020 and help them pick out items for their new homes on East Campus. The visit came after Hill took part in an Els for Autism charity golf event Monday.

"It's always good to be back in the area, particularly at this time of year," Hill said. "Twenty-six years ago, I was in this same boat, coming to school [as a freshman], getting myself ready, excited." Read more »