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Blue Devils try to find answers on offense

In the weeks prior to the start of fall practice, questions for head coach Ted Roof and the Duke football team serve little purpose.

There are so many questions that there is just no way they can all be answered.

It remains to be seen whether or not the Blue Devils will be able to snap the nation's longest losing streak, which currently sits at 20 games. It is also impossible to know if the Blue Devils will be able to replace All-ACC cornerback John Talley, Casey Comero, and Eli Nichols, who all signed NFL free-agent deals following the NFL draft.

Until Duke takes the field Sept. 1 against Connecticut, any outlook for the 2007 Blue Devils is merely speculation.

The Competition at Quarterback

Fresh off his one-year suspension from the university, quarterback Zack Asack has been enrolled in summer school since May. Along with returning freshman All-American Thaddeus Lewis, Asack provides the Duke offense with something it hasn't had in Roof's tenure-two talented and proven signal-callers.

Nonetheless, on a team full of question marks, at least one thing is certain for Roof-who his starting quarterback is.

"Thaddeus Lewis is our quarterback," Roof said. "Zack is going to play a major role on this team and he knows that, but right now, Thaddeus is plugged in that number one spot."

In 2005, Asack was named an honorable mention freshman All-America by the Sporting News after starting six games and throwing for 966 yards and five touchdowns. Asack ran into trouble over the summer, however, when the University became aware that he had plagiarized a paper for a Cultural Anthropology class. With Asack at home in Massachusetts serving his suspension, a true freshman assumed the reins and quickly established himself as the Blue Devil quarterback for the second straight season.

"At this time of the year, the media likes to make a big deal about what roles certain people are going to have on certain teams," Roof said. "But so much of people's roles are defined by things yet to be determined. As we've seen so many times, roles can change during a season, and Zack knows that."

Instructing the two quarterbacks and the rest of the Duke offense this season will be new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas. Last season, Vaas tutored Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn in his role as quarterbacks coach with the Fighting Irish. At Duke, all 11 starters return from an offense that finished second to last in total offense and last in scoring offense in the ACC. But with two quarterbacks with starting experience, Vaas expects immediate improvement.

"I don't look at it as a Thad versus Zack thing," Vaas said. "The more quality players you have at one position, the better. Both these guys are going to have major roles in the way we do things here."

Vaas worked with Lewis during spring practice, but because Asack was not enrolled in school, he was prohibited from participating in any drills.

"Thad and I got to develop a great relationship during the spring," Vaas said. "I'm excited to see how Zack and I will interact. I haven't been thinking at all about competition between the two, only about the relationships I would like to build with both of them."

Redshirting Freshmen

Regardless of who ultimately ends up directing the Blue Devil offense this season-and both Roof and Vaas insist that Lewis is the team's starting quarterback-Duke will face stiff competition in the ACC. The Blue Devils have struggled in recent years, in part due to the fact that so many true freshmen have had to take the field. In 2005 and 2006, Duke played 23 true freshman. While the number dropped from 14 in 2005 to nine last season, the Blue Devils were often overmatched against older, more experienced players.

"I'd like to redshirt more guys," Roof said. "It's the landscape of college football. Teams have 12, 13, 14 redshirt seniors on the roster. There is such a big difference between a 19-year-old and a 23-year-old."

Vaas, however, looks at redshirting decisions a different way.

"I think it's important to use any and all means to win," Vaas said. "If a freshman can contribute, he should be on the field. I'm not looking to redshirt guys-I'm looking to find guys that can play."

Nonetheless, Vaas said he does recognize the importance of having players with a redshirt year under their belts on the roster.

"The perfect team is a team full of redshirt seniors," he said. "And then next year you reload with 11 new redshirt seniors. But that of course doesn't happen."

No matter who is on the field for Duke this season, any type of success would be an improvement over 2006. Roof may already have the answer as to who his quarterback is, but with a long season ahead, the questions are destined to get tougher.


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