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Duke looks to progress with young team

It's a numbers game.

In 2004, Duke played 17 true freshmen. In 2005, Duke played 14.

And over the course of those two seasons, the Blue Devils have won exactly one Division I-A game.

Though head coach Ted Roof is hopeful more veterans will step up to lead his team in his third full season at the helm, the depth chart is looking green once again.

For Duke's opening matchup against Richmond, Roof listed seven freshmen on the two-deep depth chart on offense and five on the other side of the ball.

"I hope this is the last year we're talking about those types of numbers of freshmen playing," Roof said. "I think it will be."

Duke could have returned this season with a great deal of upper-class leadership, but a number of last season's leaders opted to finish their football eligibility elsewhere. Mike Schneider, who began last season as the Blue Devils' starting quarterback, graduated in the spring and will play his final year at Division I-AA Youngstown State. Similarly, tight end Ben Patrick-Duke's leading receiver in 2005-decided to leave Roof's program in favor of I-AA Delaware.

Perhaps even more troubling, however, were the losses on the offensive line. Tyler Krieg and Lavdrim Bauta, both starters from last year, left the program, with Krieg transferring to California and Bauta to Villanova.

Into their places step a group of heralded but untested young players. Among others, five-star defensive tackle recruit Vince Oghobaase will finally make his debut this fall after a redshirt season in 2005.

He won't be the only player on the field without a great deal of game experience. The new starter that has received the most attention in recent weeks, sophomore quarterback Marcus Jones, will line up behind junior center Matt Rumsey, Duke's only returning starter on the line.

"He's gotten better," Roof said of Jones, who played primarily at wideout in 2005 and who became the presumptive starter only when Zack Asack was suspended for plagiarism in July.

Throughout the preseason, Roof has tried to take the pressure off Jones.

"He's come a long way," Roof said. "When a guy goes out there as a first time QB, so many times they think, 'Oh my gosh I have to put this team on my back and singlehandedly go win the football game.' That's not the case. What he has to do is play within the framework of the offense, make good decisions, take care of the football and run the operation."

The question remains, however, whether Jones will have enough support from his teammates, who, in some case are as inexperienced as he. When Jones lines up under center Saturday evening, the offensive line in front of him will only have 12 career starts among the five members, 11 of which are credited to Rumsey.

Compare that to Duke's first 2006 opponent, Richmond, which returns five players with starting experience on the line. The Spiders' defensive depth chart also includes seven seniors on defense, one more than Duke has on both sides of the ball combined.

The theme isn't limited to just Richmond by any means. Throughout Duke's conference slate, Roof's squad will face off against teams that may not only be athletically superior but also older and more experienced.

While Roof continues to build his program from the ground up, young players will likely continue to play until the team begins to win. And with the vast majority of players recruited by the previous regime finally gone from the program, Roof is hoping more players will stick with the program through their eligibility, giving the Blue Devils a greater chance of competing in perhaps the nation's deepest football conference.

"I don't care who you are, the first time you run out for a college football game, it's a learning experience and there's some growing pains involved with that," Roof said. "This is what we've been building for.. We need to have fun and enjoy the competition."

Roof can only hope his plan will finally turn the numbers game in his favor.

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