With all the accomplishments Duke has achieved as it brings its football program back from the dead, one has flown a bit under the radar.
For the past two seasons, Duke has ranked second in the ACC – behind only run-heavy Georgia Tech – in fewest sacks allowed. The office line personnel has changed – multi-year starters Dave Harding and Perry Simmons needed to be replaced before last season, for example – but the results have stayed the same.
In 2013, when Duke won the Coastal Division and had 10 wins, the line yielded just 17 total sacks, or 1.21 per game. Last season, that number was 13, or just 1.00 per game.
Two more multi-year starters are gone – right offensive guard Laken Tomlinson, who was a first-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions, and left tackle Takoby Coifed, who is in camp as an undrafted free agent with the Washington Redskins. In their place will be redshirt senior Cody Robinson and redshirt sophomore Gabe Brandner.
Still, the Blue Devils are confident that the change in personnel, once again, won’t come with a change in results.
“You can’t obviously just plug in and be like, all right, do exactly what Laken and Tacoby did because that’s pretty hard to replicate when you have those two guys leave,” redshirt junior Casey Blaser said. “It’s just teaching them.”
Redshirt senior center Matt Skura, entering his third year as a starter, is the most experienced of the group.
Left offensive guard Lucas Patrick started all last season, a key cog in the unit that allowed the nation’s fewest tackles per loss per game (3.15). And Blaser started every game last year at right offensive tackle.
In the run game, if you want to be productive, you have to be physical and nasty.
Duke guard Lucas Patrick
Robinson, while never a starter, has played in 33 games, a regular in the line rotation that ideally goes six or seven players deep. Brandner is the greenest of the group, playing in five games last year.
“The line obviously has to work like it is one,” Blaser said. “Laken, first-round talent next to me, that helped me a lot last year. Now with Matt and with me having a little bit of experience, it’s our job now to help.”
Tomlinson and Cofield have both been in contact with their former teammates, passing along advice (keeping your shoulders square in your stance, for instance). And beyond just adjusting to two new linemen, the unit is adjusting to a new quarterback in Thomas Sirk.
“Thomas has done an exceptional job this summer studying,” Patrick said. “He’ll even ask us on certain protections, ‘if I’m too deep, let me know, if I’m too short, let me know.’ He’s actually done great communicating with us.”
There could be other new wrinkles as well, like two-tight end sets, with Braxton Deaver and D.J. Reeves. And that won’t necessarily just be a jumbo package for running situations – both of them could split out wide in the passing game, too.
The Blue Devils will likely run the ball more this year with Sirk and the capable stable of running backs – an idea that will bring a smile to any linemen’s face.
“In the run game, if you want to be productive, you have to be physical and nasty and move people out of the way,” Patrick said. “It’s something that is passed down between each offensive line class that leaves.”
Just one of many traits the Blue Devils hope remain from years past.