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Inexperienced O-Line takes steps forward

Before the season began, Duke's offensive line was the most inexperienced in the nation and an area head coach Ted Roof said needed to improve for the Blue Devils to see better results on the field.

Duke may still be waiting for those results to show up in the win column, but after a few tough weeks at the beginning of the season, the offensive line has shown progress in recent weeks.

Not coincidentally, Duke has scored two offensive touchdowns in each of the past three games after putting the ball in the end zone just once in the first four weeks. In three of the Blue Devils' first four games-including a 13-0 season-opening loss to Division I-AA Richmond-Duke was held scoreless.

"Starting from where we were at Richmond to where we are now seven games in, we've definitely picked up a lot of experience," junior center Matt Rumsey said. "We've progressed pretty well, and I'm pretty confident with the way we've been playing the past couple weeks."

Coming into the season, Rumsey was the only returning starter on an offensive line that was left depleted by graduation and transfers. Of the 11 total starts members of the offensive line had before the 2006 campaign, Rumsey had 10, and redshirt sophomore left tackle Cameron Goldberg had one.

This year, the five starters-who all have eligibility remaining for next season-have stayed relatively healthy and have yet to miss a start. The increased continuity has allowed the unit to practice together, and the results have begun to translate onto the field.

"They're gelling well," linebacker Mike Tauiliili said. "To be effective as an offensive line, you have to know the person next to you like you almost know what they're thinking. Our O-line is really coming together. As Thaddeus [Lewis] is able to step back and pass, it opens up our run, which is very effective now."

Duke racked up 201 yards rushing against Alabama Oct. 7 and 96 last week in two of the team's closest games of the season.

At the same time as the running game has improved, Rumsey and Lewis appear to have solved the problem with fumbled snaps that has plagued them throughout the season. Duke fumbled four snaps in its 37-0 loss to Virginia and had one returned for a touchdown in the first quarter of the team's 51-24 defeat at the hands of Florida State.

"It's never just one guy, and that's something we both had to realize," Rumsey said. "We spent a lot of time before, during and after practice working out those issues. I think we're both really comfortable with each other at this point of the season, and those issues are taken care of. I think we've done a good job working on them to eliminate them."

With Rumsey and the other four starters maintaining their health, Roof has not had to dip deep into his talented pool of freshmen offensive lineman. Only Jarrod Holt, who played an entire series at tackle in the Miami game, has seen significant playing time so far. That will allow Roof to redshirt the four other offensive linemen in the freshman class.

"When you look at the successful programs, the guys who are playing with a lot of 23-year olds are usually pretty good football teams," Roof said. "The guys who are playing with a lot of 18- and 19-year olds aren't quite there yet."

Through practice sessions where the first team offenses and defenses face one another a few times per day, Tauiliili said the units push each other constantly and the improvement has been noticeable.

"Are we where we want to be?" Roof said. "Nope, but we're getting better, and I can see the improvement."


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