Can a football team ever have too much depth?
Head football coach Ted Roof and offensive coordinator Marty Galbraith hope the answer is “no.” Sophomore Ben Patrick, junior Andy Roland and senior Calen Powell are arguably Duke’s best players, but they all play tight end.
The trio combines to form one of the best tight end cores in the nation and provide so many options that Galbraith and Roof are experimenting with ways to keep all three on the field at once.
“The coaches definitely recognize the tight ends are a strength of the team,” Powell said. “We’ve been doing a lot of ‘13-personnel,’ which basically means one running back and three tight ends. So we’ve been doing a lot of three tight end formations.”
Patrick, emerging as the best of the three, may just be the first superstar of the Ted Roof era. The Sporting News named the Georgia native Third-Team Freshman All-America after finishing 2003 with 218 receiving yards, and his teammates voted him one of Duke’s co-captains.
“He’s got to be [our best receiver],” Roof said. “I expect him to have a good season. And it’s not hard to see how his teammates feel about him. He was elected captain as a redshirt sophomore. I haven’t been around that too much.”
Although Patrick has displaced Roland as the team’s No. 1 tight end, the John Mackey Award candidate has graciously tutored his younger counterpart.
“Coming in as a true freshman, I had to learn how to block,” Patrick said. “That was the hardest thing for me. Andy Roland is a great blocker and I worked with him, met with him outside of football to talk about different techniques and what to practice. He’s done a good job of pushing me in the process.”
In an attempt to keep the three on the field more often, the coaches have also moved Roland to fullback for several sets. Although Roland rarely played the position in high school or in his first two seasons at Duke, Galbraith thinks transition will be natural.
“He’s going to be more of a move guy, not a traditional fullback,” Galbraith said. “The move to fullback just gets him different patterns, different block angles.”
Roland has welcomed the challenge.
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“It’s one more way to get on the field, so that’s fine with me,” he said. “I just got to help the team by making some blocks and catching some balls.”
Complementing the three tight ends is redshirt freshman Nick Stefanow, who has emerged as fourth tight end worthy of playing time.
With the tight ends playing such an integral role, how well each player adjusts to his new role will dictate the Duke offense.
“Certainly the tight ends are some of our better players, and we need to get the ball to our best players,” Roof said. “They should make quite a contribution.”