Who should start at quarterback for Duke football this season?

Redshirt sophomore Gunnar Holmberg will return from injury eyeing Duke's starting job, but he'll face some fierce competition.
Redshirt sophomore Gunnar Holmberg will return from injury eyeing Duke's starting job, but he'll face some fierce competition.

With Quentin Harris out of eligibility, Duke heads into its second consecutive fall looking for a new starting quarterback. Our Max Rego, Alex Jackson and Jake Piazza break down the case for each of the Blue Devils' three main options: redshirt junior Chris Katrenick, Clemson transfer Chase Brice and redshirt sophomore Gunnar Holmberg.

The case for Katrenick

Head coach David Cutcliffe demands consistency from the quarterback position. Consistency is achieved most effectively through being in the program for multiple years, building relationships with teammates and the coaching staff and sitting behind experienced and knowledgeable signal callers. 

All of these traits apply to Katrenick, which is why he should be considered the current front-runner to take the first snap against Middle Tennessee in week one. 

Katrenick arrived at Duke in January 2017 as a three-star pro-style quarterback prospect with only one other Power Five scholarship offer. In three years on campus, Katrenick has seen the field in only seven games, attempting a grand total of 25 passes for two touchdowns. 

Based on the tape from his high school career, though, Katrenick has a varied skillset that could allow the Blue Devils to open up the offense in 2020. Katrenick is accurate when attacking the middle of the field and shows touch and velocity with his deep ball. 

Mobility is also a strength for the redshirt junior, as Katrenick often moved around the pocket with his legs to create different throwing lanes. This mobility has been displayed in his limited snaps, with 15 rushes for 50 yards. 

When taking into consideration the limited amount of practice time due to social distancing regulations, any experience is crucial for the upcoming season’s quarterback battle. With regards to the other contenders for the starting sport, Katrenick has a clear advantage over both Holmberg and Brice.

Holmberg has not had the same opportunities as Katrenick due to a severe knee injury suffered in fall camp before the start of last season. Brice, on the other hand, had to finish his degree at Clemson in the spring, limiting his ability to fully immerse himself in the program. 

Starting Katrenick would allow Cutcliffe to make minimal changes to his general offensive scheme out of the gate. While all three quarterbacks clearly have talent, Katrenick presents the best option based on his exposure. -Rego

The case for Brice

Brice is the standout among a mediocre QB room in Durham. What he brings to the table is something that neither Katrenick nor Holmberg have shown signs of—Brice has the potential to be an NFL quarterback, and Cutcliffe should not let that go to waste. 

According to NFL Draft analyst Jim Nagy, Brice is already being scouted for next year’s Senior Bowl alongside other pro potentials such as Alabama’s Mac Jones, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Wisconsin’s Jack Coan. Before transferring to Duke, Brice was being pursued by a number of Power Five schools who are on the lookout for the next Joe Burrow-esque type player.

Standing at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Brice has 15 pounds on Katrenick and 40 pounds on Holmberg, despite all being comparable heights. That added strength not only boosts Brice’s throw power, but also makes him more lethal in the running game. The ability to break sacks and escape out of sticky situations is invaluable to the Blue Devils, who took 28 sacks last season.

The next level of Brice’s game is experience. No matter how you look at it, game action beats all else, and that is a distinctive edge for Brice. Katrenick and Holmberg have thrown a combined 25 pass attempts in their collegiate careers, all from Katrenick. That stacks up to the former Clemson backup’s 134 career pass attempts. Brice is also rocking a career completion percentage of 61.2 with a 9-4 touchdown-interception ratio and 1,023 yards to his name. Furthermore, his athletic ability has allowed him to tack on another 157 yards and one touchdown rushing. 

Albeit most of Brice’s numbers have come in garbage-time situations, a 2018 comeback against Syracuse led by the man himself proves that innate clutch ability that is needed in Duke’s offense. After two seasons of seeing the ACC’s best at Clemson, he becomes the clear leader for this next generation of Duke quarterbacks. -Jackson

The case for Holmberg

To argue statistics and raw talent in Duke’s quarterback race is pointless—none of the three candidates have viable collegiate game film to analyze. Holmberg does not have a passing attempt to his name while Katrenick and Brice have mostly only seen snaps in garbage time. 

The argument that Brice led Clemson to a comeback victory against Syracuse in 2018 is void. Brice showed potential in his 2018 relief appearance, but he was fortunate enough to face a defense that had watched hours of game film on Trevor Lawrence and was not prepared for Brice's style.

The intricacy of the quarterback position is unlike any other, and a huge part of what makes a quarterback successful has nothing to do with their physical skills. For this reason, Holmberg is the obvious best choice to be Duke’s signal caller this season.

Holmberg has the grit and brains that a Duke football player should possess. He was a three-star prospect out of high school, suffered a devastating injury a year ago and has had to listen to many media outlets crown Brice the starter before the former Tiger backup has even stepped foot onto Duke’s campus.

In addition to his grit, Holmberg also has the benefit of being in his third year with the program, meaning he has had plenty of time to master the playbook, though Katrenick has obviously had ample time to learn the offense as well.

But in the end, Holmberg will be Duke’s starting quarterback because he knows what it is like to be cast into the shadows. The fire that stems from being overlooked and knocked down burns deeply and has a knack for never being extinguished. Come opening kickoff, Holmberg will be the man under center for the Blue Devils. -Piazza

Max Rego profile
Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.

Jake C. Piazza

Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.


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