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Duke football 2019 position preview: Defensive backs

When cornerback Mark Gilbert recovers, he'll rejoin the rest of Duke's fleet-footed "Cheetah U" secondary, which allowed the 29th-least passing yards last season.
When cornerback Mark Gilbert recovers, he'll rejoin the rest of Duke's fleet-footed "Cheetah U" secondary, which allowed the 29th-least passing yards last season.

With the 2019 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. 

With Duke’s Chick-Fil-A kickoff game against No. 2 Alabama Saturday afternoon in sight, many fans are most excited to see how the Blue Devil secondary shakes out, and for good reason. Nicknamed “Cheetah U” by associate head coach Derek Jones, Duke’s group of defensive backs features speed, experience and a hunger to make a name for itself as one of the best secondary units in the country.

Key players lost: Jeremy McDuffie

Of all 12 corners and safeties on last year’s roster, Duke lost just one starter to graduation, meaning that most of the unit’s starters are returning to make up what could be Duke’s best secondary in recent history. A big question mark is whether redshirt junior Mark Gilbert, who dislocated his hip last September, will be ready to play at all this season. Gilbert was a preseason All-ACC selection last year but did not participate in spring drills due to his recovery. If he can get back into playing shape this year, he will add to an already stacked defensive back unit.

Projected starters: Josh Blackwell, Marquis Waters, Michael Carter II, Dylan Singleton, Myles Hudzick

Not a single player on the projected starters list is younger than a redshirt sophomore, and all have at least a season of valuable playing time under their belts. Waters, Carter II, Singleton and Blackwell all earned starting positions last year and proved themselves, giving Duke a national ranking of 29th in passing yards allowed for the 2018 season. As the unit continues to make strides this season, opposing quarterbacks may find it difficult to find open receivers in crunch time.

Dark horse: Tony Davis

Gilbert’s leave of absence leaves some wiggle room for a second starter at the corner position, which is Hudzick’s to lose. However, incoming four-star freshman Tony Davis impressed at the spring and summer camps and may see some of the field as well. Davis, who enrolled early last winter, had a head start with learning the ins and outs of Duke’s program, and it showed, as he had an interception in Duke’s first scrimmage a couple of weeks ago.

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