The last time Duke’s receiving corps was this excited about the upcoming season, the Blue Devils were playing under the not-so-humble tutelage of Steve Spurrier.
With apologies to Carl Franks’ attempt at rejuvenating “Air Ball” at the beginning of his tenure in 1998, head coach Ted Roof and his pass-happy staff have assembled an offensive philsophy that aspires to confuse defenses and light up scoreboards just like Spurrier did 15 year ago.
And though the Blue Devils are a few years away from being able to score at will, a la current offensive behemoths Texas Tech and Southern California, Duke’s offensive plan of attack will at the very least be fun to watch—there will be sets ranging from zero to five receivers on the field at a time.
But will the Blue Devils’ young receivers be able to handle the complicated formations and multi-varied attacks that Duke will employ (not to mention the rotating door at quarterback of Mike Schneider, Chris Dapolito and Curt Dukes)?
“Compared to what we’re used to, it’s a little more difficult and I feel like we have to work extra hard to learn what to do,” senior wide receiver Senterrio Landrum said. “But I feel like it’s a great offense though. I guess at the wide receiver position now we have to know basically what’s going on at all positions, like the protections, because they refer to us. What the offensive linemen are doing up front depends on us, our routes.”
There’s a lot depending on Landrum, in particular. At the end of last season, he was one of three wideouts returning for Duke. But Duke’s top two receivers at the time, Khary Sharpe and Lance Johnson, are no longer members of the team.
Still, Landrum’s athleticism and ball-catching ability are not the issue—a preseason magazine tabbed him as one of the top 10 kick returners in America—but it is his height that could prove problematic against taller, longer-limbed defensive backs and safeties. Regardless, Landrum will be one of the keys to the Duke passing attack.
“[Senterrio]’s a leader, he’s been here five years, so he’s going to come up big for us, I know,” fellow receiver Deonte McCormick said.
But Landrum is quick to deflect any presumptions of added self-importance on the field, noting that there is plenty of potential among Duke’s wideouts—particularly a trio of freshmen—that will alleviate the onus on Landrum’s shoulders.
“I don’t really think they’re specifically looking for me,” Landrum said. “I just feel like we have a lot of talent at wide receiver, they’re just looking for the guy that gets open. We have a lot of talent, a lot of people that have a lot of ability to get open and make plays.”
Deon Adams and true freshmen Corey Thompson, Jomar Wright and Chancellor Young are the speedsters that will serve as the pistons for Roof’s machine. Each was a highly-touted recruit, particularly Young, who turned down Washington State and Notre Dame to play in Wallace Wade.
One of the guys that will be throwing the ball in Young’s direction this year, Chris Dapolito, is confident that the downfalls of youth and inexperience have been watered down, in part, by the sage assistance of Landrum.
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“The veterans are really taking the young guys under their wings and showing them what to do, but I think they’re all adjusting pretty well now,” Dapolito said.
The period of adjustment was also eased by voluntary passing drills that the quarterbacks and receivers conducted while in summer school. That’s not to mention the coaching abilities of new associate head coach and wide receivers coach David Kelley, who Roof lured away from Stanford last spring.
“Coach Kelley’s doing a real good job teaching them, and they’ve been catching on, doing what he’s been telling them to do,” said defensive back Kenneth Stanford. “You see a vast improvement from last year, and even from the beginning of two-a-days, they’ve been doing real well.”