Duke football 2022 positional preview: Specialists

Recently-departed Josh Blackwell returned seven punts in 2021.
Recently-departed Josh Blackwell returned seven punts in 2021.

As the 2022 season rapidly approaches, the Chronicle takes a look at each of the eight major position groups on this Duke roster: Specialists, defensive line, offensive line, linebackers, defensive backs, receivers, running backs and quarterbacks.

Key players lost: John Taylor, Scott Boylan, Josh Blackwell

The Blue Devils return the majority of their special teams unit from 2021 but lose one of their most reliable contributors in long snapper John Taylor. After a pair of stellar seasons as Duke’s short snapper, Taylor stepped in as the team’s long snapper in 2020 and quickly became one of the best in the position during his final two years in Durham. Needless to say, the Blue Devils will need somebody ready to fit seamlessly into Taylor’s spot—luckily for them, that successor is fairly clear heading into the new season.

Elsewhere, graduate students Scott Boylan and Josh Blackwell combined to return all but one punt in 2021. With both now departed, those duties are up for grabs.

Projected starters: Evan Deckers, Porter Wilson, Charlie Ham, Jaylen Stinson, Jontavis Robertson

The starting special teams unit should remain largely unchanged from a season ago. Jaylen Stinson, the dynamic defensive back and kick returner now entering his junior season, is the headliner: The Alabama native earned an Honorable Mention All-ACC nod for his return duties in 2021 and figures to be among the conference’s leading returners again this fall.

Punter Porter Wilson and kicker Charlie Ham both return for their redshirt junior seasons, giving Duke the benefit of some continuity on fourth down. Wilson upped his game in 2021, averaging 44.8 yards per punt—good for third-best in the ACC. Ham also seemed to take a step forward as a sophomore, improving his field-goal accuracy to .771 and flexing some serious range with a 50-yard boot against Northwestern.

Evan Deckers joins the Blue Devils after four years as long snapper at Massachusetts and should immediately slide in as the starter for this experienced unit. To replace Taylor with a specialist of Deckers’ caliber and experience is nothing short of a luxury, and one that should benefit this Duke team greatly.

Perhaps the biggest unknown here is the punt return job, but junior wideout Jontavis Robertson is certain to contribute in at least some capacity. Robertson fielded a team-leading seven punts in 2020 but took a backseat in 2021. Now, with Boylan and Blackwell no longer in Durham, Robertson is the logical and experienced choice.

Dark horse: Jalon Calhoun

Now entering his senior season, Jalon Calhoun seems primed to take over for Jake Bobo as the team’s primary pass-catcher. But Duke’s most experienced receiver also has some minor experience fielding punts from his sophomore season and could prove a reliable option if head coach Mike Elko and special teams coordinator Patrick Dougherty opt to send him out for special teams—only if his importance to the offense doesn’t prevent him from stepping in.

Jonathan Levitan

Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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