Duke football 2018 position preview: Specialists

Punter Austin Parker returns to the Blue Devils after a plagiarism scandal cut his 2017 season short.
Punter Austin Parker returns to the Blue Devils after a plagiarism scandal cut his 2017 season short.

With the 2018 season right around the corner, The Chronicle breaks down each of the eight major position groups: quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, offensive line, defensive line, defensive backs, linebackers and specialists.

Ever since Ross Martin's departure at the end of 2015, Duke's kicking game has been unsettled. The Blue Devils struggled in that area throughout 2016 and it took a long preseason battle in 2017 to determine who would handle those duties last season. But after Austin Parker took control of the kicking and punting responsibilities last fall, he turned things around.

Still, Duke ranked in the bottom third of the conference in PATs, punting, and punt returns. And for a unit that gave head coach David Cutcliffe "acid reflux" throughout 2016, last season didn't show much improvement, meaning things will need to change come 2018.

Key players lost: None

The Blue Devils averted a crisis in May when it was announced that Austin Parker would return after being kicked off the team for plagiarism last year. Although Parker was far from one of the ACC's better punters in 2017, he was one of the league's better placekickers, hitting on 17 of 21 attempts, including a long of 45 yards.

Parker will now refocus on being just a punter—a role he played throughout high school and his sophomore season in Durham before being knocked out with a fractured clavicle midway through the campaign.

Projected starters: Austin Parker, Collin Wareham, Jack Driggers, T.J. Rahming, Deon Jackson

With Parker punting, Duke will turn to Collin Wareham as its placekicker. Wareham, a walk-on redshirt senior from McLean, Va., has never seen the field as a Blue Devil but had a streak of 70 consecutive made PATs during his high-school career. Sophomore Jack Driggers will once again handle kickoffs for Duke, a role he handled nicely during his freshman season with 17 touchbacks on 64 kicks.

As far as returning duties, T.J. Rahming will likely field punts again—he fielded 13 of 19 punts for the Blue Devils last season but didn't do much, averaging just 7.0 yards per return with no touchdowns. Deon Jackson left most of the kick-return duties to Shaun Wilson in 2017, but with Wilson gone to the NFL the versatile Jackson might provide a spark to the return game.

Dark horse: A.J. Reed

To say 2016 was a struggle for A.J. Reed is likely still an understatement. The then-freshman made only three field goals on 10 attempts, burying him on the bench as Parker took over the role in 2017. But Cutcliffe seemed optimistic that the now-junior could battle with Wareham for the starting placekicker spot, saying that Reed has added strength during the offseason and is more confident than in the past.

For a look at Duke's quarterbacks, go here. And come back tomorrow as we break down who will fill out the running back stable behind Brittain Brown, as well as options in the defensive backfield, including All-American contender Mark Gilbert.

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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