After the final 2004 rankings placed Duke last in total offense in Division I-A football, the Blue Devils knew some changes had to be made. Enter Bill O’Brien, former running backs coach for Maryland, and future remedy to Duke’s offensive woes.
At least that’s what the Blue Devil faithful are hoping.
“I really believe we can win here,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got a great coaching staff, and we’ve got a lot of hard-working kids.”
None of those kids have proven to be more hard-working than quarterback Mike Schneider. Schneider, a junior and third-year starter, has been working closely with O’Brien in the off-season to learn and help implement the new offense.
“I really wanted to get in the playbook,” Schneider said. “I didn’t just want to know my position, I wanted to know what the offensive line had to do in each play. And the wide receivers. And the tight ends.”
Tight ends Andy Roland and Ben Patrick represent the experienced leadership that will likely be the backbone of O’Brien’s offense. Losses at wide receiver, both from graduation and transfers, further increased the importance of the position for the Duke offense.
“We’re always looking to go to our strengths, and Ben and Andy are probably two of the best tight ends,” Schneider said. “But I think our wide receivers are going to surprise some people.”
The Blue Devils wide-receiver core, consisting of Ronnie Elliott, Jomar Wright and Deon Adams, is rather inexperienced. The trio combined for just 47 receptions a year ago, and Duke will rely on a number of freshmen at wideout.
O’Brien can also utilize added depth in the Duke backfield in his offensive schemes. In addition to last year’s leading rusher Cedric Dargan, backups Ronnie Drummer and Justin Boyle will take some of the pressure off the senior.
“Last year I had to carry the ball 20-25 times a game,” Dargan said. “This year I don’t think I have to do that because we have good quality depth at running back. I have a lot more confidence in [our backups] this year.”
Although the coaching staff is keeping quiet on the particulars of O’Brien’s new playbook, the offensive coordinator’s philosophy will likely reflect the kind of work he did while coaching at Georgia Tech and Maryland, where he coordinated successful running games.
“[O’Brien] came from Maryland and Coach [Ralph] Friedgen’s offense. I think we’ll have some of that,” Schneider said. “We’ll have some of the stuff from Georgia Tech. I can’t really say what we’ll be doing, but it will be a lot of multiple formations, moving people around, just trying to keep defenses off-balance.”
The quarterback was willing to talk about one aspect of the new playbook: its immense size.
“I can’t even describe how big it is,” Schneider laughed. “It’s about 500 pages long.”
The extra time and effort Schneider has devoted to the daunting task of learning the new offense reflects the increased leadership the staff expects from their signal-caller.
“It’s a big role for our quarterback to be an extension of the coaching staff on the field,” head coach Ted Roof said.
Roof said he envisions O’Brien’s new offense providing a more flexible strategy and the opportunity to get the team “out of bad situations and get us in more favorable situations.”
“At the end of the season, the two words I would like to use to describe our offense are balanced and deductive,” Roof said.
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