With the 2018 season right around the corner, The Chronicle breaks down each of the eight major position groups: quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, defensive backs, linebackers and specialists.
Even with a handful of returning starters, it will be a battle in the trenches for the Blue Devils on the defensive side of the ball. Two sophomores and a junior will share time on the ends and although one defensive tackle spot is likely settled, as many as four guys—including a true freshman—could fight for the last spot on the line.
Duke has some stars among its linebackers and defensive backs, but the line will be the anchor of a unit that could build on a season in which it finished fourth in the ACC in yards allowed per game.
Key players lost: Mike Ramsay
Losing a captain is always a major blow, and Mike Ramsay is no exception to the rule. The 6-foot-2 defensive tackle played 50 games during his four years, starting the final 25, and earned third-team All-ACC honors in his senior campaign. Edgar Cerenord, who played alongside Ramsay in 2017, will hold down his spot on the line, but it could be one of many names to take Ramsay's spot among the front four.
Most likely is sophomore Derrick Tangelo, who head coach David Cutcliffe has raved about in the lead-up to Tangelo's second season with the Blue Devils. But Trevon McSwain—a redshirt junior who Duke considered as an option at offensive tackle earlier in the summer—has more than 400 snaps under his belt and will likely fight with Tangelo throughout the season.
Projected starters: Tre Hornbuckle, Edgar Cerenord, Derrick Tangelo and Victor Dimukeje
The Blue Devils' depth chart currently has Hornbuckle and Drew Jordan opposite Dimukeje, which is a testament to the growth of Jordan—the highest-ranked defensive member of Duke's 2017 recruiting class. That said, Hornbuckle started all 13 games last season and will likely be able to hold off the true sophomore.
He, along with Cerenord and Dimukeje, were a steady unit in 2017, and now with Tangelo added to the group, the Blue Devils' front four should be able to give a strong push in the trenches to make way for Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris to do their job as sack-masters from the linebacker spots.
Dark horse: Tahj Rice
Rice was the No. 1 prospect in Duke's 2018 recruiting class and he's already fighting for playing time, although in a bit of logjam with several veterans at defensive tackle.
Still, that unit faltered down the stretch of 2017, and whether it's a result of fatigue or simply poor performances, it's not crazy to think that Rice could get some time on the field—even if it's limited so that he can eventually redshirt the season and earn an extra year of eligibility.
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