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Duke football 2020 positional preview: Defensive backs

Mark Gilbert is back and fully healthy into this season, adding even more talent to this already skilled secondary.
Mark Gilbert is back and fully healthy into this season, adding even more talent to this already skilled secondary.

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 linedefensive line, defensive backs, linebackers and specialists.

With all the uncertainties surrounding the 2020 season due to the recent pandemic, Duke fans are cautiously looking forward to college football. The impact of the offseason departure of associate head coach and defensive back coach Derek Jones will be interesting to follow as we get into the games. Jones created a brand known as Cheetah U before he left Duke, coining the Blue Devil secondary as The Coalition with each member being a cheetah. Many are excited to see the return of former first team All-ACC cornerback Mark Gilbert as he rejoins The Coalition. 

Key players lost: Dylan Singleton

Duke’s top ranked secondary unit lost one of its key members: Dylan Singleton. The former team captain and starter who ranked 11th in tackles per game graduated this past year. The four-year letterman has been preparing extensively during the pandemic for the next chapter of his football career, awaiting an opportunity to play in the NFL. Despite losing a leader and a veteran, this deep Duke secondary squad features a talented group of returners ready to impress the Blue Devil fans.

Projected starters: Mark Gilbert, Josh Blackwell, Leonard Johnson, Marquis Waters, Michael Carter II

With no member of the starting lineup being younger than a redshirt junior, the experienced “Cheetah U” secondary will be ready to show ACC opponents why they are an elite unit. The quartet of Blackwell, Johnson, Waters and Carter have already proved themselves a season ago as Duke’s secondary was ranked 24th in the country in passing yards allowed. This season, as Mark Gilbert fully returns from a devastating hip injury that sidelined him since the 2018 season, Duke’s secondary will be a nightmare for any opponent’s quarterbacks.

Dark horse: J’Marick Woods 

Adding experience to the deep and talented group of Duke defensive backs is Michigan transfer J’Marick Woods. He is ready to play big minutes for the Blue Devil secondary. With his maturity on the field, Woods put out a solid performance during this year’s spring camps.

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