Ben Humphreys (pictured) and Joe Giles-Harris will lead a strong Blue Devils linebacking corps this ...

Duke football 2017 position preview: Linebackers

With the 2017 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.

In a defensive unit full of question marks, Duke’s linebackers are clearly its strong suit. 

Although defensive coordinator Jim Knowles only plays a limited number of linebackers in his trademark 4-2-5 scheme, Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris flashed their speed and size all over the field for the Blue Devils last season. Although Humphreys underwent shoulder surgery over the summer, he is back at full health for the start of the season.

But at times, the duo was forced to do too much and was worn down by the defense’s overall inability to get key stops on third down. However, current sophomore Koby Quansah impressed in limited opportunities, and senior Zavier Carmichael has proven to be capable as well. The Blue Devils should enjoy expanded depth at the position this season.

Redshirt junior Tinashe Bere—who was an honorable mention freshman All-American—will be back after suffering a torn meniscus in Duke’s fourth game of 2016, and redshirt freshmen Brandon Hill and Xander Gagnon have drawn solid reviews this offseason. 

Key players lost: None 

Duke has plenty of talent and more than enough youth at the position with no offseason departures—only Carmichael is a senior. Giles-Harris is a redshirt sophomore and Humphreys is a junior, and it seems as though everything is coming together for 2017 to be the best season yet for the linebackers.

Projected starters: Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris

Humphreys will man the middle and relay the plays from the sidelines, as he did last season, and Giles-Harris will be featured at the weakside position. Quansah will back up Humphreys and Gagnon will play behind Giles-Harris. 

The depth this season will be key for the linebacking corps. With Quansah, Bere and Carmichael all having game experience under their belts, Humphreys and Giles-Harris should be able to get more rest this year. 

Giles-Harris and Humphreys led the team in tackles last fall by a large margin with 107 and 106, respectively, and combined for 9.5 sacks. Expect the duo to receive the bulk of the playing time together, as Giles-Harris’ speed and size combined with Humphreys’ overall talent gives Knowles the ability to play them against any formation. 

Dark horse: LB Brandon Hill

Although Hill likely will not see the field often barring any major injuries, the Orangeburg, S.C., native has impressed this offseason and is another big body at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. His high-school tape was impressive enough for him to receive offers from Clemson, Georgia, Tennessee and Notre Dame. The redshirt freshman clearly has the talent to make an impact in the middle if he continues developing and is given the chance. 

Check in tomorrow to see how Duke has reshuffled its secondary entering this season.

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