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.