It’s back! For the third straight year, the N&O will count down the top 10 most important Duke football players for the upcoming season. Most important isn’t necessarily the best, but it’s a combination of individual skill, depth at a position and cruciality to success.
Duke football is currently on an unprecedented run of success, going bowling three straight years and winning 19 games over the past two seasons. And the schedule is favorable again this year, thanks in large part to divisional crossover games with Boston College and Wake Forest.
No. 7: Linebacker Dwayne Norman
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Last year’s stats: 23 tackles, 3.0 quarterback sacks
Norman started his career as a safety, and he started five games as a true freshman at the position. The number of snaps he has played has actually decreased every successive year in his career—from 605 as a freshman to 387 as a sophomore and then 372 last year—but that trend will end this year, if all goes according to plan.
Norman will enter camp as the starting will, or weakside, linebacker, in Duke’s 4-2-5 defensive alignment (for those rusty on terminology: that’s four offensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs). Having a productive linebacker corps is critical to the success of the Blue Devils’ defense, as they need to be able to both play closer to the line of scrimmage to quickly stop running backs who got through the initial line and drop back in coverage to defend against shorter passes. In Norman’s position, he will be asked to especially do more of the latter—a familiar idea from his time at safety.
The transition from safety to linebacker began last year for Norman. His one starting assignment came against Georgia Tech, when Duke opted to essentially play three linebackers to contend with the run-heavy, spread-option offense that they Yellow Jackets employ. The result was a 31-25 win over the eventual Coastal Division champions, and it was the first time Duke had beaten the Yellow Jackets in 10 years. The coaches liked what they saw from Norman so much that they decided to deem him the frontrunner for the open starting linebacker spot.
Norman has put on 20 pounds over the course of his Duke career, bulk that should serve him well in his new role. And the Blue Devils certainly need new linebackers, the the graduations of C.J. France and David Helton, along with the career-ending injury suffered by Kelby Brown.
Previously in this series: