DURHAM — The difference between run blocking and pass blocking boils down to this: going out and hitting someone vs. sitting back and getting hit.
With dual-threat quarterback Anthony Boone taking over, Duke’s veteran offensive line is ready to initiate more contact.
“I enjoy a good run block when you can just finish somebody off and see the running back spurt out,” said senior guard Dave Harding. “You’re kind of on your heels pass protecting and really letting the defensive line dictate what’s about to happen. You can impose your will in the run block.”
Harding is one of four returning starters on the offensive line, joining left tackle Takoby Cofield, right guard Laken Tomlinson and right tackle Perry Simmons. Center Matt Skura, a redshirt sophomore, fills out the group. With pro-style quarterback Sean Renfree under center the past three years, the offense was much more pass heavy – about a 70-30 split with running plays, Boone said. This year, he is anticipating the breakdown to be 60-40 and possibly even closer to 50-50.
That would represent a significant shift for Duke – the Blue Devils finished last in the ACC in rushing attempts per game in 2009-11 before finishing ninth last year.
“When I first came here, we passed a lot, so defensive linemen could get their hands on them and bull rush them,” Boone said. “With us going to the zone-read, with our run style it’s giving them a chance to set the tempo and go out there and hit somebody in the mouth. They’re really amped up about it.”
When Boone decides not to keep the ball and run upfield himself, he’ll have a “stable” of backs to choose from, to use Harding’s word: senior Juwan Thompson, junior Josh Snead and sophomores Jela Duncan and Shaq Powell. Duncan, listed third on the depth chart, led Duke in attempts (109), yards (553) and yards per carry (5.1) last season. Snead and Thompson will get their carries as well, and it remains to be seen if Powell can earn a more regular spot in the rotation this year.
With Duke’s multiple-option plays, the line will be run blocking even when Boone opts to throw the ball – the result of the play is dictated by the read he picks, not the play call itself.
“People realize this as you look at football more, the run game isn’t always a handoff. You can throw it to those guys,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “We want to evolve and use those guys. It’s extremely important that Thompson and Snead and Duncan and Powell get their touches.”
To do more run blocking, second-year offensive line coach John Latina put more emphasis on offseason weight training. His rationale was simple.
“If you want to be physical, then you have to become more physical off the field,” Latina said. “Some people talk about second effort, I talk about all the time effort. I don’t want second effort, I want all the time effort. That’s my methodology.”
The Blue Devils aren’t about to abandon the passing game – “We’ve got real threats at receiver, we don’t want our receivers to become fullbacks and block all the time,” Cutcliffe said – but they have spent more time this offseason working on run blocking than they have in any previous season.
Latina points to the games last year against Virginia (182 rushing yards), North Carolina (234, a Cutcliffe-era high) and Cincinnati (200) as examples for how the offensive line should block all the time. Duke passed for more than 200 yards in all of those games, too.
“That run game being good opens up a lot of opportunities for you,” Cutcliffe said.
Duke is planning on that.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley