Daniel Jones threw just one interception in the second half of the season last year.

Duke football 2017 position preview: Quarterbacks

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.

When Thomas Sirk was lost for the season before it even started last year, Duke was faced with the task of replacing its senior leader—and leading rusher. 

But Sirk’s Achilles injury gave redshirt freshman Daniel Jones an opportunity to shine. 

Jones was immediately thrust into the starting role and had some early growing pains, but flourished down the stretch. His play in Duke’s final six games led to optimism that the Charlotte native can continue to develop into one of the ACC's premier quarterbacks in his redshirt sophomore season.

Jones is just one of two returning starting quarterbacks in the ACC Coastal Division, and if he takes the next step, he could help open up the Blue Devils’ running game that floundered last season. But Jones and Duke will face another daunting schedule this fall, including preseason No. 3 Florida State.

Key player lost: Thomas Sirk 

The sixth-year graduate student transferred to East Carolina this offseason after Jones established himself as the starter.

However, the move did not come without some controversy. ESPN analyst and ex-Blue Devil Jay Bilas criticized Duke in an interview with The Chronicle for not allowing Sirk to transfer to schools that were on its schedule this season.

“They may not even play at all, yet, if Thomas Sirk chose to give up football and take a job at the University of North Carolina as an assistant coach, he could give the entire playbook to North Carolina. He could write a book and detail 'The Duke Way' if he wants to. But boy, he can’t go play somewhere else,” Bilas said. “That’s laughably absurd and it’s an extreme rationalization of an excuse for doing the wrong thing. Any restriction on a player as to where they go is just wrong.”

Projected starter: Daniel Jones

With his late season surge, Jones left no doubts that he will start his second season for the Blue Devils. 

In his first season, Jones broke the school's freshman record for passing yards, along with tying or setting 22 other program high watermarks. What made him so successful?

It certainly didn’t all come together at first for Jones, who threw five interceptions against Virginia and eight in his first four games against FBS competition. But once the strong-armed 6-foot-5 signal-caller settled in and adjusted to the speed of the college game, he threw just one interception the rest of the season, improving his accuracy and pocket poise. He also could move and make plays outside of the tackle box, racking up 486 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. 

At the pace Jones sustained for his last six games—against Duke’s top opponents—his 77.1 QBR puts him right next to Heisman contenders Deondre Francois and Mason Rudolph, if he kept it up for an entire season. The Blue Devils are continuing to hone Jones’ deep passing ability, which could open the running game that was futile last season. 

Dark horse: Quentin Harris

Although Jones is certain to see nearly every snap this season barring an injury, Harris, the clear-cut No. 2 after an Aug. 12 scrimmage, could give the Blue Devils a different look.

A redshirt sophomore, Harris has not seen meaningful game action, but perhaps could see more time on the field this year in blowouts or if Cutcliffe merely wants to mix things up. A dual-threat signal-caller, Harris was a three-star recruit who some scouts thought was a project-type player for Cutcliffe. Harris has the raw athleticism to be a dynamic play-maker, but scouts said before he came to Durham that he would have to work on his throwing motion. 

No. 3 quarterback Parker Boehme, who follows in the mold of the big, strong Sirk at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, could get some snaps as well. The redshirt senior is listed as the No. 3 signal-caller on the roster after serving as Jones’ backup last year.

In 18 career games, Boehme has thrown for 625 yards on 89 attempts while racking up 259 rushing yards and six scores. Before Jones emerged in summer camp to take the starting job last season, Boehme was slated to take the starting role in the spring.

Check in tomorrow to see how Duke's running back corps could provide multiple options behind veteran Shaun Wilson.

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