The battle started last spring and will not end any time soon.
Head coach Ted Roof had three different yet viable options or his starting quarterback. If Roof wanted a solid pocket passer, he’d send in rifle-armed sophomore Mike Schneider, last year’s starter for much of the season. For intangibles, Roof will turn to senior co-captain Chris Dapolito. And should Roof decide to run the option, he would select fleet-footed Nebraska transfer Curt Dukes.
For now, Roof has elected to start Schneider, but judging from recent history, being named the starter before the season is not quite a lock for anything. Adam Smith, last year’s projected starter, only made it through two games before being replaced by Schneider. Smith is no longer in the quarterback picture after transferring to Western Illinois.
It makes sense, however, that Roof named Schneider the starter. Newly instated offensive coordinator Marty Galbraith used wide-open offenses while at the helm of N.C. State’s offense. Roof likes the idea of taking shots down the field, but he’s not about to revert back to Steve Spurrier’s late 1980s Fun ‘N Gun offensive schemes.
“We’d like to spread it out, spread the field, and throw the ball all over the place,” Roof said. “But we’re going to go with the situations, try to keep people off balance and trying to keep balance within our offense. You really can’t just do one or the other and be effective, you need to have some balance with the ability to do both.”
In the No. 2 and No. 3 slots on the depth chart are two athletes who contrast in style from Schneider but are also capable of running the offense. Backup quarterback Dapolito does not throw as well as Schneider, nor does he run as well as third-string quarterback Dukes, but he has a lot of value for Duke. Dapolito has superb leadership abilities and the utmost respect of all his teammates, who elected the fifth-year senior co-captain, a feat that Roof believes is very impressive for a backup. Dapolito has also worked accepted the backup role very well.
“Your quarterback is a guy who has to be in the game all the time,” Roof said. “He can’t be standing there drinking water, watching the cheerleaders and all of a sudden his number gets called. It’s been a positive relationship for [Schneider and Dapolito].”
But this spring, ironically, it was the third string quarterback Dukes who received all the hype. The Nebraska transfer is one of the strongest and best all-around athletes on the team. Stated simply, he is a powerful and dynamic athletic machine, a type of player that doesn’t often end up playing for the Blue Devils.
With the Cornhuskers, Dukes was trained as an option quarterback, and he is the least polished of the three Blue Devil quarterbacks as a passer.
“He’s grown up playing option football, and he’s having to learn how to run a pass-oriented attack,” quarterback coach Tom Knotts said last spring. “But he is a tremendous athlete with excellent speed and strength.”
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Because of those attributes, do not expect Dukes to spend too much time off the field. Roof will try to get him the ball as much as possible and plans on playing him at wide receiver and at running back as well.
“Curt has done a good job of moving around, and good things seem to happen when he touches the ball,” Roof said.
Bringing all three quarterbacks together is one of the best quarterbacks coach in the nation. Tom Knotts, who mentored current Florida quarterback Chris Leak during his high school days, is one of Roof’s newest additions to the coaching staff.
One possible problem for any Duke quarterback this season is the flux within the wide receiving corps. There will be a lot of young faces with important roles this year, but Dapolito is optimistic.
“I think the receivers have done a great job of picking up the offense, the young guys and the old guys,” Dapolito said. “As quarterbacks, along with them, we know what to expect and we are pretty much on the same page.”