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Duke counting on offensive line’s continued growth

DUKE photo: Jake Wohlabaugh

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Duke returns senior running back Mateo Durant as a preseason All-ACC pick. That’s one reason they Blue Devils think they’re better than predictions of a last-place finish in the ACC Coastal.

Another is a belief the talent the wide receiver corps possesses is underrated talent: Eli Pancol, Jake Bobo and Jalon Calhoun.

At quarterback, Gunnar Holmberg has the dual-threat ability to open up the offense with the threat of the run and pass. He’s is in the fourth year of his program, having earned his teammates trust in the locker room. The next step is as the starting quarterback.

But it all comes back to Duke’s offensive line, which is an area head coach David Cutcliffe has focused on upgrading during the program’s recent slip. Duke has fallen to records of 2-9 and 5-7 after bowl trips in six of the previous seven. Duke wasn’t able to mount consistent drives a year ago, often falling into second-and-long holes.

“It’s an area we feel we have depth and competition,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s going to be interesting as we go forward.”

The Blue Devils feel they’ll be strong in the middle with the return of center Jack Wohlabaugh alongside guards Casey Holman and Jacob Monk. It’ a trio of third-year starters.

Duke opened practice on Thursday as it prepares for the season opener Sept. 3 at Charlotte.

Wohlabaugh, a 6-foot-4, 305-pounder, was an honorable mention All-ACC choice in 2019, but he was lost for the season with a knee injury in preseason camp a year ago. He’s in his fourth year in Duke’s program after after transferring from Ohio State.

The focus is on keeping him healthy. He started nine games in 2018 when he broke into the lineup and started nine games in 2019 before a season-ending injury.

Holman (6-4, 290) is in his third year as a starter, although he was a tackle the past two years. He was an All-Academic ACC choice in 2019.

Monk (6-3, 310) also started his career as a starting tackle in 2019 before he moved inside last year at guard.

Duke has better prototypical height at left tackle with Graham Bartom (6-6, 315)  entering his sophomore year. Barton gained starts last year at center as an emergency replacement. Redshirt sophomore John Gelotte (6-7, 3150 is competing at right tackle.

“We thought when Graham Barton came here that he was going to be a tackle,” Cutcliffe said. “Out of necessity he played center — when we lost two centers — he played well as a true freshman. We think he’s a natural tackle. He’s a 6-6, 315-pound guy that is athletic. We’ve got some transfer people in here and some young people. I think you’ll see difference combinations in the offensive line.”

Cutcliffe liked the energy and optimism he saw the first day of fall camp, considering it a good carryover from offseason workouts.

“I thought our spirit, energy and attitude is what it’s been since last January.” Cutcliffe said. “They are very willing to do what it takes to be successful. Do we have a lot of work to do? Absolutely. But, we’re in a new world of practice. That’s one down and 24 left and then you play football.

“We’ve got to have a sense of urgency about what we’re doing. We’re fortunate. We have most of our players out there. We’ve got a few that are still out. We got a few that are working at a little bit of a limited basis. But I like the way this squad looks and we got 110 people that are healthy and ready to rock.”


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