By TOM SHANAHAN
Center Jack Wohlabaugh is back, but quarterback Chase Brice is not.
As strange as this might sound, Duke needs Wohlabaugh, an All-ACC honorable mention choice in 2019 that missed 2020 with a preseason knee injury, more than the turnover prone Brice. The Blue Devils need an anchor to establish a cohesive offensive line.
Duke opened spring practice last week as it tries to reshape its roster following a 2-9 season, 1-9 in conference play. The Blue Devils play their spring game on March 27.
Wohlabaugh has opted to return to the team, adding to an offensive line that returns three other starters, Casey Holman, Jacob Monk and Graham Barton.
Brice, who transferred in from Clemson, has transferred out after one season to Appalachian State. He finished last year with 15 interceptions to 10 touchdown passes and costly fumbles under pressure of a pass rush.
Duke has needed to improve its offensive line since the Daniel Jones matriculated to the NFL as a first-round draft pick following the 2018 season. Jones’ ability to run and throw hid some blemishes as a three-year starter.
In recent recruiting classes, the Blue Devils landed promising recruits and gained Wohlabaugh as a transfer from Ohio State, but the unit has yet to play with the cohesiveness to provide a steady ground game and consistent pass protection.
“We’re trying to get Jack back, he looks great,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe. “We’re trying to get him back healthy before we try to get him back playing. I think Jack is stronger and more fit. I told him the other day, I said, you’ve changed your body. It has been phenomenal what we’re seeing, this is also good for us.”
Duke produced explosive plays last year that included running back Mateo Durant, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior in the fall, compiling four 100-yard rushing games. He finished seventh in the ACC with 817 yards rushing and ninth in touchdowns. But the Blue Devils struggled with moving the chains consistently to stay out of second-and-long and third-and-long situations that led to turnovers or poor field position following punt exchanges.
Redshirt junior Gunnar Holmberg (6-3, 205) is the most experienced returning quarterback and is more mobile than was Brice. He completed 18-of-25 passes for 161 yards but without a touchdown and two interceptions. He had 64 yards rushing and one touchdown but 55 yards in losses, which includes sacks in college football, left him with only 11 net yards.
Redshirt freshman Luca Diamont (6-3, 180) saw limited playing time. Incoming true freshman recruit Jordan Moore (6-2, 180) enrolled early for spring football. Moore was a three-star dual-threat recruit out of Loyola Bakersfield High in Towson, Maryland.
Wohlabaugh (6-4, 305) was starting center in 2019 ticketed for 2020 All-ACC before his injury. He was on the Rimington Award watch list for the nation’s top center.
By the end of the season, true freshman Graham Barton (6-6, 315) started at center. Redshirt junior Casey Holman (6-4, 280) and true junior Jacob Monk (6-3, 310) returns as versatile third-year starters. Monk started at left tackle but can flip sides or move inside. Monk started 2019 as right tackle and shifted the right guard.
Another player with experience starting three games a year ago is Maurice McIntyre (6-2, 330), who enters his redshirt junior season.
There is added depth from redshirt sophomore center Addison Penn (6-3, 300) after a backup role and gradate transfer Kade Parmelly (6-3, 308) of Abilene Christian. Parmelly earned Academic-Southland Conference honors at the Football Championship Subdivision member. He started two of 40 games.
“I love the versatility,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re trying to roll linemen into different positions. There’s are two reasons. One, it strengthens your offensive line as a unit, but we’re creating more competition at more positions by doing that. Nobody should sit and think that they’ve got a lock anywhere. So, I’m excited about this group, the depth of this group and certainly the quality depth that we have creates a lot of competition.”
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