Duke Now

Why the Blue Devils’ two-deep depth chart includes 22 freshmen and sophomores

Duke coach David Cutcliffe watches the clock wind down as the Blue Devils beat UNC 28-27 in November.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe watches the clock wind down as the Blue Devils beat UNC 28-27 in November. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Duke will be counting on young talent to reverse last season’s 4-8 record that ended its streak of bowl appearances at four years.

The Blue Devils’ depth chart, put together after spring practice and made public on Thursday at the ACC Football Kickoff media event, features 22 sophomores or freshmen on the two-deep chart.

Including redshirt sophomores, who only saw their first game experience last season, Duke has 12 sophomores on its defensive two-deep depth chart with 10 on offense.

So let’s rank the positions, in order of importance, where the young players will need to do the most to help get Duke back over the .500 mark this season

Quarterback

No surprise that redshirt sophomore Daniel Jones is No. 1 here. He’s the incumbent starter. But redshirt sophomore Quentin Harris is listed as Duke’s No. 2 quarterback ahead of redshirt senior Parker Boehme. If Jones is injured, would Duke really turn to Harris, who has only played in one college game, ahead of the more experienced Boehme?

Defensive end

Duke has amassed a solid group of young defensive linemen. They’ll need to be a positive impact this season. On the outside, sophomore Tre Hornbuckle is the starter at left defensive end while redshirt sophomore Twazanga Mugala is starting on the right side. Sophomore Terrell Lucas is Mugala’s backup and should push him for the starting job when practice begins July 31.

Bandit safety

One of three safety slots in Duke’s 4-2-5 defensive alignment, redshirt sophomore Jordan Hayes is the starter after a good spring. But two young players with big upsides are ready to fight for playing time in redshirt freshman Javon Jackson and freshman Marquis Waters, who enrolled at Duke in January.

Left guard

Last season Julian Santos became the first true freshman offensive lineman to get playing time in David Cutcliffe’s tenure at Duke. After playing in nine games as a reserve, he’s expected to be the starter the next three seasons beginning now.

Wide receiver

Duke has experienced starters in junior T.J. Rahming plus redshirt juniors Johnathan Lloyd and Chris Taylor. But watch for redshirt sophomores Keyston Fuller and Aaron Young and redshirt freshman Scott Bracey to work their way into key roles this season. All are listed as the top reserves behind the three veterans and all have shown the talent, when healthy, to be starters.

Kicker

Duke will also be using a young player at kicker. Redshirt sophomore Austin Parker, the team’s punter last season, enters fall camp No. 1 at kicker but freshman walk-on Jack Driggers is expected to push him for that job. This is after A.J. Reed only made 3 of 10 field goals as a freshman last season.

Cornerback

Redshirt senior Bryon Fields Jr. is Duke’s most experienced player on defense. But he’s starting opposite redshirt sophomore Brandon Feamster. Redshirt freshman Antoine Williams played so well in spring he’s listed as Fields’ top reserve ahead of sophomore Mark Gilbert, who started three games as a true freshman last season.

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