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. 6: Linebacker Zavier Carmichael
Last year’s stats: 20 tackles, two interceptions
The Blue Devils will have two new starting linebackers in their 4-2-5 defensive alignment: senior Dwayne Norman will hold down the weakside spot, and it will be up to sophomore Zavier Carmichael to be the quarterback of the defense from the middle linebacker position.
This is the position that Kelby Brown would have held had his career not been ended by a fourth ACL tear earlier this month. But with Brown out of the picture and his last year replacement, David Helton, out of eligibility, the spot falls to Carmichael.
Carmichael, who is listed at 6-foot, 220 pounds, was thrown into the fire last year as a true freshman after Brown’s ACL injury in camp. He appeared in all 13 games, posting 20 tackles and two interceptions, both of which came in the red zone (vs. Tulane and at Georgia Tech). He was one of just five true freshman to earn a letter last year (running back Shaun Wilson, tight end Davis Koppenhaver and cornerbacks Zach Muñiz, Alonzo Saxton II were the others).
Carmichael’s responsibilities on the field, though, are increasing significantly this year. As the middle linebacker, he is essentially the quarterback of the defense, making the calls for the front seven defenders. So, he’ll need to quickly diagnose offensive formations, and then once the ball is snapped, he’ll need to either drop in coverage or accelerate forward quickly, covering large swaths of the field, and make plays. The two interceptions last year show nice potential for playmaking ability.
Carmichael’s backup is redshirt freshman Tinashe Bere—who obviously hasn’t played a snap of college football—so keeping Carmichael on the field is a high priority.
Previously in this series: