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As season opener approaches, Duke football presses on with fall camp

We are now just three weeks from Duke's season-opening trip to Notre Dame Sept. 12.
We are now just three weeks from Duke's season-opening trip to Notre Dame Sept. 12.

It’s been a hectic week not just in college athletics, but college in general.

Nevertheless, Duke football has continued to press on, with no signs of altering its course. 

On Aug. 17, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced it would be switching all of its courses to mandatory online due to 130 positive COVID-19 tests between Aug. 10 and Aug. 16. In addition, Notre Dame—which the Blue Devils are currently scheduled to play on the road Sept. 12—decided this past Wednesday to move to fully online classes for a minimum of two weeks.

Aug. 17 also marked the first day of class for the fall semester at Duke, and so far, the University’s name has remained absent from television ticker headlines. 

Meanwhile, the school’s football team has continued with fall camp, and there is quite a bit to key in on as Duke’s date in South Bend, Ind., approaches.

At the top of every player and fans’ mind is the big question of who head coach David Cutcliffe is going to choose for his week one starter at quarterback. Despite the season opener rapidly getting closer, there is still no official word from Cutcliffe on who will be under center.

Cutcliffe, along with a number of his players, was clear to note that Chris Katrenick, Chase Brice and Gunnar Holmberg have all been competing at a high level since the team’s return to Durham.

“I’m happy I’m not [Cutcliffe] because he has to make a tough decision at the end of the day,” redshirt junior defensive end Chris Rumph II said. “All three of those guys are incredible quarterbacks.” 

The Blue Devils’ backfield is equally as messy, with two of Duke’s five scholarship running backs—redshirt junior Marvin Hubbard III and sophomore Jaylen Coleman—injured. Cutcliffe acknowledged how thin the team currently is at the position and believes some non-scholarship running backs or receivers may be called upon to handle some of the running load.

On the other side of the field, Rumph has skated through his college career tremendously under the radar for the type of production he’s had. But over the past few months, he's finally begun to receive some recognition. The Gainesville, Fla., native is a projected first round draft pick in next year’s NFL Draft, with Pro Football Focus recently ranking Rumph as the No. 7 player in all of college football.

Senior defensive end Victor Dimukeje also returns after leading the team with 8.5 sacks a year ago, a number that placed fourth in the ACC and 17th nationally. He and Rumph should be one of the scariest pass rush duos in the country this season.

Duke’s secondary is playing as expected, with the unit returning its core from a year ago and reincorporating redshirt senior Mark Gilbert, a former All-ACC first team pick who’s missed the majority of the past two seasons due to a hip injury.

“It’s the same Mark Gilbert that you guys knew and loved before he got hurt,” co-defensive coordinator Matt Guerrieri said. “He’s been absolutely fantastic and an even more mature version because he’s had to overcome so much adversity in his life.”

Rounding out the defensive end is the young linebacker group, headlined by redshirt sophomore Shaka Heyward. 

“He’s a guy that you’ll see as the heart and soul of what we do in the middle of our defense,” Guerrieri said.

The Blue Devils are going to need some young players to step up to aid Heyward in the middle, and Guerreri and Cutcliffe both expressed excitement regarding true freshman linebacker Christian Hood.

“He is a physical player and an intense player,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s got the Mike Singletary eyes.”

Cutcliffe added that many answers to the remaining questions on Duke’s depth chart will begin to be revealed in the coming week, after the team’s first scrimmage. In this year of uncertainty, the question marks about the Blue Devil roster seem to be par for course.

“We'll find out a lot tomorrow about our personnel,” Cutcliffe said during the Friday press conference. “First scrimmage tomorrow and we're going to take a good look at every position. And I mentioned it the last time, a lot of competition. So to tell you anything definitive today about battles for this or battles for that would be a little bit premature. So after tomorrow, we'll know a little bit more."

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