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.
There used to be much calmer times for Blue Devil fans when it came to special teams, but too much time has passed since Ross Martin, Will Monday and Devon Edwards dominated that part of the game. Duke’s specialists have suffered from inconsistent play over the last few years, but could have flashes of better times ahead with a Preseason All-ACC player and a stalwart punter.
Key players lost: T.J. Rahming, Collin Wareham
It will certainly feel different without the All-ACC receiver Rahming flying around as an all-purpose threat, and Cutcliffe will have to find new blood to replace him as a punt returner. Rahming didn’t return one for a score in his two years in the role, but he did rank in the top 40 nationally in average punt return yards.
There will also be a new place kicker in Wallace Wade, as Wareham graduated last year. The St. Albans product connected on nine of 13 field goal attempts and 49 of 51 PAT tries in his only season as the starting kicker in 2018. In his final game in the Independence Bowl, he ended his career by making all eight of his extra point tries in the win.
Projected starters: Austin Parker, A.J. Reed, Jack Driggers, Deon Jackson, Jalon Calhoun
Duke has had a knack for finding explosive kick returners over the last few years, and Jackson looks like the next in line. He’ll line up as the starter for kickoff returns and was recently named to the Preseason All-ACC Team as an all-purpose selection. With Rahming gone, look for the freshman wideout Calhoun or redshirt sophomore defensive back Josh Blackwell to compete for that job.
Austin Parker will again return as the head punter after a year that saw him average 41.4 yards per punt. He’ll be flanked by Jack Driggers who will again handle duties for kickoffs. There could be competition brewing on who will start as placekicker against Alabama, but signs point to redshirt junior A.J. Reed taking over the duties this season. The Alabama native started in his freshman year in 2016, making three of 10 field goals. However, he has not attempted a kick since.
Dark horse: Charlie Ham
The Blue Devils have been unable to find a reliable kicker ever since all-time leading scorer Ross Martin graduated in 2015, but they’re hoping they have found that man with Ham, the No. 7 ranked kicker in the 2019 class according to ESPN. The Atlanta native knocked in multiple 50 plus yard field goals throughout his high school career and was invited to Kohl’s Football Kicking and Punting camps. With a big leg, don’t be surprised to see him as a specialist on kickoffs and perhaps even the full-time starter.
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