Taking over for the highest-drafted quarterback in program history is no easy task.
Coupling the loss of now New York Giant Daniel Jones with an offense that returns just four starting players, any prospect of high-scoring shootouts and scoreboard fireworks seem to be non-existent in Durham.
Although expectations for the Duke offense this season are certainly not high, there are hopes that with Quentin Harris and his experience under center the Blue Devils will not completely fold over.
Harris, who has 37 more career rushing attempts than passing attempts, has primarily been used in relief looking to deceive defenses on the ground. However, the redshirt senior will now be forced to develop into a true dual-threat signal caller if he hopes to lead Duke to a successful campaign.
"Quentin is brilliant, just plain and simple brilliant," Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. "You can coach him intellectually, he understands what the concepts are and what we're trying to do.
"I think what we're working on is trying to find what he believes in. Ultimately, what he has most confidence in what we're going to do. We have a big ole wide array of offense, a lot of sets, a lot of pass concepts. What we want to do is zero in on what Quentin Harris believes in."
The Connecticut native will look to his two starts last year to guide him in his first full season as the starter. Playing for an injured Jones, Harris completed 27-of-57 passes for 376 yards and six touchdowns in consecutive wins against Baylor and N.C. Central, while adding 117 yards on the ground. He will need to improve significantly on his accuracy, registering a career 50.6 completion percentage on 81 attempts as well as developing a credible deep ball with a middling career 6.3 yards per attempt.
With a strong running back corps in Deon Jackson and Brittain Brown, and Harris’ rushing reputation, opponents will struggle defending play-action and read-option plays if Harris can keep defenses honest with his arm. The returns of 2018 starters Julian Santos, Jack Wohlabaugh and Rakavius Chambers on the offensive line will likely strengthen the ground game and offer Harris additional time in the pocket. A balanced offense will certainly open up both the field and offensive playbook for head coach David Cutcliffe.
“Passing, I think for me it's getting more in-game reps with that, continuing to build rapport with the receivers. I think definitely it's something I want to improve upon, the completion percentage," Harris said. “As I get more comfortable, as I kind of learn how to dissect coverages in a certain way, get more familiarity with the plays that we're running, I think that will naturally happen. I think our offensive game will continue to thrive on a nice balanced approach.”
Duke lost 70 percent of its 2018 receiving yards to graduation, making Harris' job tougher. Due to the departures of T.J. Rahming, Jonathan Lloyd, Chris Taylor and tight ends Daniel Helm and Davis Koppenhaver, and the injury to Jake Bobo—the only returning receiver with double-digit receptions—Harris will turn to Aaron Young as his go-to-target.
Young, who had an injury-plagued junior season, showed promise in his two appearances in 2018. In the season opener against Army, Young had four receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown. He added three grabs for 25 yards against Georgia Tech in mid-October before being shut down for the season with a hamstring injury.
“I think one of the nice things about losing that many starters on offense is the guys that are now coming into starting roles are guys I've been practicing with the last few years. We've been able to build a good rapport,” Harris said. “Coming through our off-season work through the spring, we've taken a lot of strides getting on the same page and building our chemistry.”
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What no opposing coach will question is Harris’ knowledge of Cutcliffe’s system and leadership. Duke will benefit from maturity from its field general that is unmatched for most first-time starters. Having developed in the Blue Devil program over the last four years under a heralded quarterback guru in Cutcliffe, do not be surprised if Harris shows immense progress under center and leads the offense against opposing defenses that view him simply as a rusher or game manager.
For more preseason coverage of the 2019 Blue Devils, check out our football season preview for features, predictions, and more.