Duke coach David Cutcliffe began fall camp last week by saying the wide-receiver position was “all over the place” — that is, a wide-open competition.
Cutcliffe has since mentioned the need to identify the best playmakers on offense.
T.J. Rahming doesn’t mind the competition. And the sophomore from Powder Springs, Ga., said he wants to be counted on as a big-play guy this season.
“Definitely I feel like I can be a playmaker this year, stepping up big time when our team needs us,” he said Tuesday.
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Gone is Max McCaffrey, who had a team-best and career-high 52 catches last season and finished with 117 receptions in his consistently solid four-year career. Gone is Johnell Barnes, who caught 34 balls last season.
But Rahming and Anthony Nash also were productive in 2015. Rahming, playing as a true freshman, started six games and had 43 catches for 571 yards, and Nash started four games in closing with 32 grabs for 475 yards in his redshirt junior season.
Rahming had six catches in the opener against Tulane and five against Boston College, showing his potential. Then came Virginia late in the season.
Against the Cavaliers, Rahming caught 12 passes for 190 yards, setting Duke records for a rookie in both categories. He scored a fourth-quarter touchdown on a 12-yard throw from Parker Boehme, albeit in a 42-34 loss in Charlottesville, Va.
“I know the team expects me to make more plays than I did last year and take away the freshman mistakes and just do what I’m supposed to do,” Rahming said.
One offensive emphasis this season, Rahming said, will be in developing more of a long-ball vertical passing threat. Running back Shaun Wilson had the longest reception last season, an 89-yarder, and Rahming had a 59-yarder that was the longest by a receiver.
Duke averaged 246.5 yards passing per game in 2015 and 10.9 yards a reception.
“Last year we really couldn’t get the ball deep down the field,” Rahming said. “We’re looking forward to making those plays and giving our quarterbacks the trust so we can make those deep throws.”
Rahming, listed at 5 feet 10 and 165 pounds, smiled when asked if he now felt like one of the older, experienced receivers. “I wouldn’t say I’m a vet yet,” he said. “I’m one of the younger receivers. We only have one younger receiver to come in, one freshman.”
That’s Scott Bracey, a four-year recruit who has been sidelined by a hamstring injury early in camp.
But there are plenty of receivers in the mix — Nash, Trevon Lee, Quay Chambers, Chris Taylor and others. Bracey likely will be another.
“Everybody is trying to play this year, everybody is working for that spot,” Rahming said of the competition. “At the end of the day it just makes us all even better.”