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.
Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys are gone, making linebacker the defensive position for Duke that has needed the most retooling since last fall. The group underwent a minor scare when Koby Quansah broke his thumb during practice, but the senior captain shouldn’t be sidelined for long and could even be on the field week one against Alabama. Still, Quansah will be tasked with leading a position that lacks the experience the rest of the Blue Devil defense has.
Key players lost: Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys
It’s impossible to overstate what Giles-Harris and Humphreys meant to the program. Giles-Harris was a two-time first-team All-ACC honoree, taking home the Blue Devils Carmen Falcone team MVP award in 2017, while Humphreys made third-team All-ACC as a sophomore and was an All-ACC honorable mention last season. The two combined for 148 tackles and 13.5 tackles for a loss in 2018. What will be missed most about this duo, however, was their leadership both on and off the field, serving as the team’s two defensive captains last year.
Projected starters: Koby Quansah and Shaka Heyward
Quansah’s thumb is still something to monitor, with head coach David Cutcliffe referring to the Manchester, Conn. native as day-to-day. I predict he’ll be out on the field this Saturday. While injuries over the past couple seasons have given the senior captain some game experience, Quansah has quietly waited his turn behind Giles-Harris and Humphreys and is ready to showcase his talents as a full-time starter.
Heyward, meanwhile, has been commended for his leadership despite totaling only 18 snaps during his first year in Durham. The redshirt freshman has played his way into a starting role throughout camp and could be very well be the future of this position for Duke.
Dark horse: Brandon Hill
As a redshirt junior, I’m not sure Hill really qualifies as a dark horse candidate. But outside of Quansah and Heyward, the Heathwood Hall Episcopal product is likely the only other linebacker to garner serious playing time this season.
Hill entered the fall as the projected starter opposite Quansah. And although he was eventually beat out for the spot, expect the Orangeburg, S.C. native to see a big increase in snaps in 2019.
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