In 2016, the Blue Devils were cursed by an injury bug that seemed to touch every position on the roster. Presumptive starting quarterback Thomas Sirk hurt his Achilles and was sidelined for the season forcing redshirt freshman Daniel Jones to step up.
But the real causalities came on the defensive side of the ball. Senior captain and star cornerback DeVon Edwards went down against Notre Dame with a torn knee ligament and was out for the rest of the year. It seemed like almost every defensive back was playing with some sort of ailment and the defense suffered giving up 10 passing touchdowns in their last three games.
But the silver lining of so many injuries is that it gives younger players a chance to step up and show what they’ve got. True freshman cornerback Mark Gilbert started the last three games of last season due to the injuries and performed well along with Dylan Singleton who flashed potential at safety.
After a 2016 team that was heavy on seniors, especially on defense, Duke will likely only have three senior starters on defense this year. That means coordinator Jim Knowles will be in charge of a talented, but inexperienced group. Emphasis on the talent though, the Blue Devils have stepped up their recruiting in recent years and now possess solid depth at most positions.
Coming into the program is defensive end Drew Jordan, a highly sought after recruit that picked Duke over offers from programs like Clemson and Michigan State. He will be expected to be an impact player from Day 1 and will attempt to terrorize opposing passers this fall.
The linebacker core looks settled with Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris who were the Blue Devils’ two leading tacklers last season and look to take an additional step forward this season.
In short, while the injury issues of last year hamstrung Duke’s performance and helped contribute to a disappointing 4-8 campaign, they may have set the stage for improvement this year. Although that improvement may not be reflected in the Blue Devils’ record as they face a brutal slate of opponents in the rising ACC.
Even if there is no big leap forward this year, there are few seniors so most of the crew will be back in Durham again come 2018 where head coach David Cutcliffe may really look to make a run at the ACC Coastal Title.
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