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Duke football 2020 positional preview: Defensive line

Victor Dimukeje will be an experienced member of the defensive line this season, looking to add to his already impressive career.
Victor Dimukeje will be an experienced member of the defensive line this season, looking to add to his already impressive career.

With the 2020 season right around the corner, The Chronicle breaks  down each of the eight major position groups for the Blue Devils: Quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends, offensive line,  defensive line, defensive backs, linebackers and specialists.

Co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Ben Albert returns for his fifth season, and we can expect the same prowess from the defensive line that has defined Albert’s tenure at Duke. The 2019 season, in particular, consisted of standout years for many players and a 10-year team-high for sacks in a season with 35. 

Key players lost: Trevon McSwain, Tre Hornbuckle, and Edgar Cerenord

A few key productive pieces from last season will be gone this year. Graduated seniors Trevon McSwain, Tre Hornbuckle and Edgar Cerenord combined for 9.5 sacks last season, and McSwain and Hornbuckle both tallied over 30 tackles in 2019. The question then becomes whether or not other players can step up and fill in the gaps left by them. 

Some freshmen to watch who could do just that include Aeneas Peebles and DeWayne Carter. They have the potential to become important depth players, especially at defensive tackle where the team lacks the star power found at defensive end. However, because of a shortened preseason, it remains to be seen whether these guys have the training to comfortably play at the college level.

Projected starters: Chris Rumph II, Victor Dimukeje, Drew Jordan, and Derrick Tangelo

What a 2019 season for Chris Rumph II. Despite only one start, Rumph put up incredible numbers with 47 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries. Going into last year, we wondered whether he would live up to the glimpses of greatness he’d shown throughout the previous seasons, and he delivered. In addition to the numbers above, Pro Football Focus (PFF) states that his 30.8 percent pass-rush win rate was the best among the entire FBS. 

PFF also gave Rumph First Team All-America honors and ranked him the seventh-best player in all of college football for the 2020 season. With a starting position, there’s no reason to expect that he won’t match or even surpass that performance in his upcoming redshirt junior season.

Senior Victor Dimukeje has been one of Duke’s most consistent players since he joined the team and will anchor the defensive line this season. He’s played in 38 career games and started in all of those, leading the team this past season with 8.5 sacks. 

This summer he made his second appearance on the Chuck Bednarik Award watch list, the award for the best defensive player of the year. Rumph also made the list, although it was his first time.

Rounding out the list of key returning players is Drew Jordan at defensive end to go along with Derrick Tangelo and Ben Frye at defensive tackle. While most of the glory at defensive end goes to Rumph and Dimukeje, Jordan is also a smart, fast player who puts up consistent numbers. 

At defensive tackle, senior Derrick Tangelo had 23 tackles as well as 2.0 tackles for loss last season and will provide valuable leadership for a young group of defensive tackles. 

Dark horse: Ben Frye

Finally, there’s redshirt junior Frye whose college career has been marred by injury. However, in 14 career games, he’s put up solid numbers, and if he can stay healthy this season he could play an important depth role for the team. Last season, Frye had a career-best 3.0 tackles against Notre Dame, so keep an eye out for him during the first matchup of the season on September 12th with the Fighting Irish.

Last year Coach Albert often played Rumph, Dimukeje and Jordan, all ends, at the same time. However, we could see Tangelo and Frye as well as some freshmen step into the starting defensive tackle roles alongside Rumph and Dimukeje in this upcoming season.

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