Blue Zone

Duke football 2017 position preview: Offensive line

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.

After losing several key pieces from 2015, Duke’s offensive line was ravaged by opposing defenses. 

 Then-redshirt freshman Daniel Jones and Duke’s signal-callers were sacked 31 times last season, and while certainly some came from the inexperienced Jones holding onto the ball too long, the Blue Devil offensive line sorely missed those pieces—including now-Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Matt Skura. 

This year, with a few veterans returning and one major addition, the offensive line has the potential to a better job of protecting Jones and opening up holes for Shaun Wilson and Duke's running backs.

Key players lost: Casey Blaser and Tanner Stone

Duke enters the fall having to replace the entire right side of its offensive line. Blaser started 38 straight games to end his career at right tackle and played the most snaps of anybody on the Blue Devils' roster last season. At 6-foot-5, 290 pounds, he was an honorable mention All-ACC selection as a junior in 2015.

Stone finished his career with 25 consecutive starts next to Blaser at right guard and brought a lot of size to Duke's offensive front at 6-foot-6, 300 pounds.

Projected starters: Gabe Brandner, Julian Santos, Austin Davis, Zach Harmon and Evan Lisle

Lisle, a graduate transfer from Ohio State, is arguably the most important newcomer on the Blue Devils' roster this year. A four-star prospect in 2013, he played in all 13 of the Buckeyes' games last season as they went 11-2 and earned a berth in the College Football Playoff. Lisle graduated last December and enrolled at Duke for spring practice and is now set to take over as the starting right tackle.

The three returning starters are Brandner, Davis and Harmon, who will move from left guard to right guard this season. Brandner broke his ankle in the Blue Devils' loss at Pittsburgh last November, but the redshirt senior recovered in time for the start of fall camp. Davis, also a redshirt senior, was a preseason second-team All-ACC selection by Athlon Sports at center.

Santos will round out the starting offensive front at left guard after appearing in nine games last season, when he became the first true freshman to play on the offensive line during head coach David Cutcliffe's 10 years at Duke.

Dark horse: Zach Baker

Baker is a versatile asset on the Blue Devil line who can play center or either of the guard positions. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound redshirt sophomore is currently charted as the backup center behind Davis and started the first two games of last season at left guard before he was benched in favor of Harmon. If anybody in the middle of Duke's offensive front goes down with an injury, Baker could be first in line to step into a contributing role. 

Check in tomorrow to see how Duke will fare up front on the other side of the line of scrimmage after a turbulent offseason that featured two dismissals on the defensive line.

Duke football 2017 position preview: Wide receivers and tight ends

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.

If Daniel Jones is Duke's most important individual player this season, then the most crucial position group has to be his pass-catching corps. The Blue Devils return nearly their entire crop of wide receivers and tight ends, but amongst them is just one player—T.J. Rahming—that tallied more than 34 receptions.

With Jones poised to take the next step in his development, he will certainly need reliable targets both outside and in the slot. And Duke's balanced eight-man receiving unit should together provide consistent support, along with the chance for a couple of breakout stars.

Key players lost: Anthony Nash and Erich Schneider

The veteran member of the Blue Devil wideout corps last season, Nash broke his clavicle in Week 7 against Louisville and did not see the field the remainder of the season. Yet even in a little more than half the season, the West Chester, Pa., native was a security blanket for Jones—he averaged 13.7 yards per catch to lead Duke and tied for third on the team with a pair of touchdowns. His 56.9 yards per game were also second among all Blue Devil pass-catchers, and at 6-foot-5, Nash measures two inches taller than any receiver on this year's squad.

His biggest moment came late against Notre Dame, when his 64-yard score brought Duke level late in the fourth quarter, and that veteran experience will be sorely missed. With Rahming manning one spot on the outside, it will be interesting to see who takes over for Nash on the other side.

Projected starters: T.J. Rahming, Johnathan Lloyd, Chris Taylor and Daniel Helm

There is no question who will be one of the two on the outside—Rahming caught more than twice as many passes as any Blue Devil last season, was named to the preseason All-ACC third team by Phil Steele and at just 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds has the speed to blow past defenders with ease. 

Beyond him, however, it becomes a series of question marks. My best guess is that Lloyd gets the first opportunity to step into a starting role after he caught 11 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown in Duke's final two games last season. The Graham, N.C., native was once a two-sport athlete but has now turned his attention solely to football, and the extra practice time could pay dividends this fall.

Redshirt junior Chris Taylor is listed as the final starter on the depth chart and could share significant time with newcomer Scott Bracey, who redshirted last season and will now get his first opportunity to don a Blue Devil uniform. Bracey was a four-star receiver at the Benedictine School in Maryland, earning a spot in the 100 as the country's 13th-ranked wideout. 

And expect Duke to lean on its tight ends once again, with Helm leading the group. His 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame was frequently a safety valve for Jones, who, even with more experience, will once again need plenty of help from his pass-catchers if he is going to lead the Blue Devils to success.

Dark horse: Aaron Young

To some extent, trying to pick out a surprise among this group is a bit like pulling names blindly out of a hat. Of the 18 rostered wide receivers and tight ends, seven are either redshirt freshmen or true freshmen and two are redshirt sophomores—the sample size is incredibly small, especially since no one other than Rahming caught all that many passes last year.

But do not look past Aaron Young. Although he is one of those redshirt sophomores, Young was another guy who took advantage of opportunities in a lost season at the end of the 2016, tallying nine receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown in Duke's last four matchups. Young is one of the taller returners at 6-foot-2 and was named co-Most Improved Offensive Player at the Blue Devils' spring game earlier this year along with Shaun Wilson. Although he was not a highly-recruited player coming out of Murrietta, Calif., three years ago, Young has the skills necesary to assert himself early on as a surprising offensive weapon this season.

Check in tomorrow to see how Duke's offensive line will benefit from an experienced returning group as well as the transfer of Evan Lisle from Ohio State.

Duke football 2017 position preview: Running backs

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.

The Blue Devils used a balanced approach on the ground last season in order to keep their backs fresh and opposing defenses on their toes. Three players rushed for at least 450 yards for Duke in 2017, and the Blue Devils will bring back two of those three players to lead the attack again.

With the departure of Jela Duncan, Duke will need greater contributions from those two—senior Shaun Wilson and dual-threat redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones—in order to have an effective ground game this season.   

Key player lost: Jela Duncan  

Despite returning their top-two rushers from last season, the Blue Devils will miss the presence and leadership of Jela Duncan. Duncan was the team’s third-highest rusher in 2016 with 450 yards and six touchdowns before going down with a career-ending Achilles injury against Georgia Tech. The Charlotte, N.C., native was also Duke’s most efficient back last season, averaging 5.1 yards per carry during his senior campaign.   

Projected starters   

Following the departure of Duncan and the transfer of would-be fifth-year senior Joseph Ajeigbe, the Blue Devils' depth chart is full of inexperienced backs entering the 2017 season. 

Wilson—the only active Duke running back with more than 25 career carries—will be relied upon to lead the Blue Devils' ground attack. The Charlotte native was Duke’s top rusher a season ago after gaining 623 yards on the ground last season.

However, finding consistency was a major issue for Wilson at times. The senior rushed for more than 50 yards in just six of the team’s 12 contests and was unable to surpass 30 yards on four occasions last season.

In addition to Wilson, the Blue Devils are hoping to get a large contribution from redshirt freshman Brittain Brown. 

The Canton, Ga., native has carried the ball 19 times for a total of 143 yards in the fall's two preseason scrimmages. Brown is also a much more physical back than Wilson, and at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, he could be used to pick up a few yards in third-and-short situations this season.  

Dark horse: Nicodem Pierre 

As the most experienced Blue Devil running back after Wilson, Pierre could be called upon to carry the ball much more often than before. Despite the fact that Pierre only played in one game last season, the junior was effective with the ball in 2015. In just 15 carries, Pierre averaged more than five yards per rush that season, and despite the small sample size, at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he has the size and physicality needed to be effective on the ground at the collegiate level.   

Check in tomorrow to see how Duke's experienced receiving corps could help Daniel Jones develop. 

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.

Bagley could be the missing piece in the Blue Devils' puzzle

Even during its late-season run to an ACC championship in 2017, Duke sorely missed a post scoring presence, a problem that seemed destined to recur after Amile Jefferson’s graduation.

But with consensus No. 1 recruit Marvin Bagley III’s commitment, it may have solved that problem—and established itself as a national championship favorite.

Bagley announced his decision to come to Durham on ESPN’s SportsCenter Monday night, electing to play for the Blue Devils instead of Southern California and UCLA. The high school junior will need to be permitted by the NCAA to reclassify and play this season, but if Bagley is cleared to join head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 2017-18 squad, he could give Duke one of its strongest teams in recent memory.

The 6-foot-11 forward has been called a “once in a generation” talent by some scouts and is the overwhelming favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft.

Why are recruiting analysts and NBA scouts alike so high on Bagley?

His combination of athleticism, shooting range and size figures to make him a formidable offensive threat, presenting serious matchup problems for opposing teams attempting to guard him. He is strong and tough enough around the basket to finish and has the agility and moves to create off the dribble from anywhere on the court.

But Bagley can also shoot from outside the paint and could develop into a legitimate 3-point threat. The Phoenix native is an elite rebounder as well, pulling in nearly 50 percent more rebounds than any other player in 20 games in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League.

His defense leaves a little to be desired, but his offense could make Duke more balanced than it has been in recent years. Sharing time with second-year center Marques Bolden and elite forward recruit Wendell Carter Jr. down low, Bagley will likely provide more scoring than the Blue Devils got from Jefferson.

Paired with Trevon Duval—the best point guard in this year's recruiting class—No. 7 overall recruit Gary Trent Jr. and senior Grayson Allen, Bagley could force defenses to collapse on him inside, leaving better opportunities for guards on the 3-point line.

In recent years in Krzyzewski’s system, it has generally taken longer for big men to develop, à la Bolden, Chase Jeter and Harry Giles.

But Bagley is thought to be as prepared for the college game as Jahlil Okafor, Duke’s No. 1 threat from the start of the 2014-15 season, and has been compared to Kentucky's Anthony Davis, who led the Wildcats to the 2012 national championship before starting an All-Star career with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Certainly, with seven freshmen on the roster for just the second time this millennium and Bagley’s late reclassification, it will take some time for the team to develop as a group. Last season, when coupled with injuries and tripping scandals, those growing pains proved to be a major obstacle in the early going.

But with four five-star recruits and two four-stars, this team is arguably even more talented than last year’s squad that won the ACC championship, and if it undergoes a bout of freshman-itis early on, the seasoned Allen will be there to provide a veteran presence.

If Bagley hones his defense, lives up to his offensive promise and helps facilitate a cohesive roster, Duke could be in for a special season.

Duval and Allen team up for their first dunk—in a driveway

Trevon Duval and Grayson Allen are already teaming up for dunks—in driveways.

Joining in on the ever-popular social media craze, the #DriveByDunkChallenge, Allen connected with the No. 1 point guard recruit in the nation to throw it down on a stranger’s hoop.

Sure, the hoop probably wasn't regulation height, but it was impressive nonetheless.

The challenge has swept across the basketball world, prompting NBA stars like Anthony Davis to posterize unsuspecting invisible defenders. Kentucky basketball also dropped its own video that featured not one, but five dunks.

Duke fans can only hope to see more connections like these from the Allen-Duval tandem against ACC teams in the near future.

Recruiting roundup: 2018's No. 1 recruit reportedly considering reclassifying, playing this season for Duke

After landing three 5-star recruits and the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, the Blue Devils seemed settled with another contender next year.

But they might not be done just yet.

The No. 1 player in the class of 2018, Marvin Bagley III, is reportedly considering reclassifying and joining this year’s recruiting class—making him to eligible to play this fall—and Duke is one of his top choices, according to 247Sports. After impressing in this weekend’s Nike EYBL Peach Jam, the 6-foot-11 forward will take his official visit to Durham this week and eventually visit Arizona and USC, which is thought to be the Blue Devils’ biggest competitor in his recruitment.

Bagley would still have many hoops to jump through in order to become eligible to play this season, including finishing high school and receiving the necessary academic clearances. But if he was allowed to reclassify and join the 2017-18 Duke team, he would join a freshman class that already has the 2017 class' best power forward, top point guard and No. 1 shooting guard in Wendell Carter, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr.

A rising high school senior that can move and shoot like a guard, his athleticism stood out on Nike’s elite circuit, making several highlight reel plays like this block and coast-to-coast dunk. 

Some of Duke’s other top 2018 targets also made flashy plays in North Augusta, S.C. including 5-star Zion Williamson with a thunderous block.

247Sports' Crystal Ball predicts Williamson will sign with Kentucky, but Duke is one of the top few left vying for the 6-foot-7 small forward.

Another Blue Devil target, 5-star point guard Darius Garland, told Durham Herald-Sun correspondent Adam Zagoria that he would like to play alongside Duke’s other top targets in college.

“I mean, it’s a lot of us who are trying to make a package deal out of each other,” Garland told Zagoria. “Cameron Reddish, Tre Jones, me and Marvin, we played together a few years back, so we’ve been talking about it. Me and Romeo [Langford] have a really good connection, so I’m trying to get him over with me, too. Wherever I go, I want him to come with me.”

If that group all came to Durham, it would give head coach Mike Krzyzewski three of the top five players in the ESPN 100 and five of the top 19. According to the Crystal Ball, the Blue Devils are the frontrunners for all of their services, save for Langford, who 247Sports projects to sign with Indiana. Jones, a 5-star point guard, is the younger brother of Tyus Jones, who helped lead Duke to the 2015 national championship.

Another target, 6-foot-8 forward Emmitt Williams, caught Krzyzewski and his staff’s attention with a strong performance at Peach Jam, including a dunk over Bagley. 

According to Zagoria, Williams was enamored when he spoke with Krzyzewski in June.

“Getting a phone call from him, it was like talking to God,” Williams said. “I never thought I would be talking to the best coach in the world from his cell phone, so getting a call from him is a blessing.”

This week in Duke history: Chuasiriporn nearly wins U.S. Women's Open as an amateur

At 20 years young, Jenny Chuasiriporn was making a name for herself on the world’s biggest stage. 

But she fell almost as quickly as she rose.

The amateur and rising Duke senior was playing in the U.S. Women’s Open on July 5, 1998 and needed to sink a 40-foot birdie putt to force a playoff against future Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak.

And she did.

She could not believe what she did and a famous image captured her stunned reaction, hand over mouth and eyes wide.

Chuasiriporn became a name talked about around the world of golf overnight. The next day she and Pak faced off in an 18-hole playoff. On the 18th hole, Pak had to play a shot so close to the water hazard that she had to stand nearly knee-deep in a lake to hit it. 

Chuasiriporn had a chance to win the tournament on that hole but her 12-foot putt traveled roughly an inch right of the cup. An inch. 

The pair went into the only sudden-death after an 18-hole playoff in the tournament's history, and two holes later Pak emerged victorious.

With the newfound media attention, Chuasiriporn struggled during her senior year at Duke—though the team did win the school’s first national title in any women's sport—and she never had much success as a professional, citing a lack of passion for the game.

In many ways, the 1998 Open was both the individual career highlight for her and one of the last shining moments of her career. But the legend of the miraculous 40-foot putt that July afternoon will long live on in golf—and Duke sports—lore.

Duke in the NBA: Former Blue Devils making highlight reels in Summer League

Former Blue Devil stars are making waves in their first taste of NBA action, and another ex-standout signed a massive deal. 

Duke players shining in NBA Summer League

It hasn’t taken long for Duke’s newest NBA players to settle in.

Newly minted Boston Celtic Jayson Tatum and Detroit Piston Luke Kennard picked up right where they left off with the Blue Devils, scoring at ease and making highlight-reel plays in the NBA’s Summer League.

Tatum was fourth in the Utah Summer League with 18.7 points per game and second in the league with 9.7 rebounds per game—and perhaps first in terms of flashy plays.

He wasted no time throwing down a thunderous dunk against the Philadelphia 76ers in his summer league debut Monday, slamming it home over former Arizona star Kaleb Tarczewski.

He also came through in the clutch for the Celtics in his debut, nailing a game-winning shot with 5.9 seconds left to top Philadelphia.

Kennard demonstrated some heroics of his own, averaging 17.2 points per game in the Orlando Summer League, including a 24-point outburst in a title game loss. He also pulled through in the clutch, scoring all seven of Detroit's points in overtime against Dallas Mavericks, including a game-tying 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds left before Johnathan Motley knocked down a game-winner on the other end.

Redick inks big deal with 76ers

Former Duke star J.J. Redick cashed in big in free agency, inking a one-year, $23 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers—more than he earned in the last three years combined.

In the midst of a rebuilding project, the 11-year NBA veteran provides leadership on a team chock full of lottery picks.

“Trust the process,” Redick tweeted shortly after the news broke of his signing Saturday.

Redick averaged 15.0 points per game last season with the Los Angeles Clippers, playing in all but four games. The sharpshooter will make Philadelphia more dangerous from beyond the arc—he shot 42.9 percent from 3-point range last season.

Duke draftees sign with NBA teams, but Plumlee waived by Knicks

After tying a school record with four players picked in June’s NBA Draft, all of them except Frank Jackson have officially signed with NBA teams. Tatum led the way in inking a deal that will give him $4.7 million in his first year in the pros, according to RealGM .

After two seasons in Durham, Kennard cashed in with a deal with the Pistons that will give him $8.2 million in his first three years in the NBA, according to the Detroit News.

Former No. 1 overall recruit Harry Giles, who was expected to be a lottery pick heading into the 2016-17 season, also signed Thursday with the Sacramento Kings. The No. 20 overall pick will earn $10.6 million in the next four years.

Jackson, a one-and-done guard picked No. 31 overall by the New Orleans Pelicans, remains the lone Blue Devil draftee unsigned by his NBA team.

But another former Duke standout, Marshall Plumlee, was waived by the New York Knicks Friday to make room for Tim Hardaway Jr., who signed a $71-million deal with the team. The 7-foot center averaged 1.9 points per game in 21 contests with New York last season. 

This week in Duke history: Longest professional baseball doubleheader ever played on East Campus

They say baseball takes too long these days. Good thing you weren’t around on July 5, 1915!

That day, the second half of a minor-league doubleheader brought the total of innings played that day between the Durham Bulls and Raleigh Capitals to 34.5. The two teams played the first game in Raleigh before moving to Duke’s Hanes Field on East Campus for the second game. 

The doozy of a day set the all-time record for length of a doubleheader in American professional baseball, according to Philip J. Lowry's "Baseball's Longest Games."

But that leaves a few questions to answer.

First: What was minor league baseball doing on East Campus?

That’s where the Bulls played before they found a home at the Durham Athletic Park downtown, where they played until 1994. They competed at Hanes Field from 1913 to 1917 and 1920 to 1926.

Second: Why did the games take so long? 

The games could have taken even longer. They lasted from 10 a.m. to the early evening according to the News & Observer.

But apparently, to end an argument about a dropped fly ball that created a “rhubarb” between the teams—including the immortal Connie Mack's son, Capitals manager Earle Mack—the umpire decided to call it quits with the game tied at two. The first part of the double-header lasted 14 innings, and the second 20 1/2.

Is Hanes Field named after the founder of Hanes underwear?

That may be a leading question, but it is true! His name was John Wesley Hanes, and he was a former Duke student from after the Civil War.

Did anything else happen at Hanes Field that was cool?

It’s where the Duke football team used to play, and also where the athletic-related sorority Delta Phi Rho put initiates through some traumatizing tasks... at least for the young male students on campus who could hear their cries from their dorm rooms.

It might have been easier for them to sleep, though, after watching a full day of baseball between the Bulls and Capitals.