As the 2022 season rapidly approaches, the Blue Zone 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.
The backfield figures to bring question marks to this year’s Blue Devil team. Star rusher Mataeo Durant's departure leaves a giant hole, but head coach Mike Elko has depth at this position with several inexperienced backs looking to break through. The running back-by-committee approach may be back in Durham, so keep your eyes peeled for the next guys up as Duke looks to establish the ground game this year.
Key players lost: Mataeo Durant
It’s just one player gone, but man, this one is going to hurt big. As the owner of the most prolific single-season performance from a running back in program history, Durant took his talents to the NFL where he is currently looking for a home after his release from the Steelers. His contributions to the offense week in and week out were unmatched, and his ability to lug an enormous load out of the backfield helped out when the passing game looked sluggish.
Over 250 carries and nearly 1500 total yards with a strong frame like Durant’s—for all intents and purposes—is irreplaceable from one year to the next.
Projected starters: Jaylen Coleman
“I don't know that one of them necessarily, is going to step up to be that guy, but I do think that collectively, we've got a stable of guys that can be very productive for us,” Elko said of his running back room.
He named Coleman the lead back ahead of the season opener, but each of Coleman, Jordan Waters and Jaquez Moore will contribute in a somewhat balanced fashion.
Hence we aren’t going to project a true starter as each is certain to be used in a multitude of ways depending on down-and-distance and other situations. After Durant scrapped together 255 carries last season, it is nearly impossible to see one of the three first-time “starters'' coming close to that total. Waters may lead the load as he averaged over five yards per carry last season, but it will be a committee approach as the season begins.
Dark horse: Eric Weatherly
Weatherly, a 5-foot-7 freshman, was included in the roster as the fourth running back. He may rarely find time on the field but is trusted by his coaches to make an impact when he gets his share of snaps. With the crowded field of backs ahead of him, he will have to capitalize, but his impressive fall camp showed he can do just that. The small-but-compact Florida native is explosive and figures to get a handful of touches.
For the rest of our Duke football preseason coverage, click here.
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.