We move on in our series looking at the weakest and strongest positions on each team in the ACC with Duke.
Strongest position: Offensive line.
Duke leads the ACC with the most returning experience on the offensive line. For that reason, this group gets the nod over the returning specialists Ross Martin and Will Monday, who should be tops in the ACC this season. The four returning starters on the line have combined to start 104 games. Two were All-ACC honorable mention selections last season -- tackle Perry Simmons and guard Dave Harding. Guard Laken Tomlinson was a first-team freshman All-America in 2011. Given these returning starters, and the depth at running back, hopes are high that the Blue Devils can be consistently effective with their ground game this season. Last season, Duke’s top three running backs combined to rush for 1,401 yards on 283 attempts (4.95 average). The hope is for more in 2013.
Weakest position: Secondary.
The good news is All-ACC cornerback Ross Cockrell returns. The bad news? Not much in the way of proven or experienced players in the secondary. You have cornerback Garett Patterson, who has never started a game and played primarily on special teams. You have safety Jeremy Cash, who sat out 2012 after transferring from Ohio State. You have safety Corbin McCarthy, who had four tackles in two games in 2012 before season-ending shoulder surgery. And you have safety Dwayne Norman, who made 60 tackles as a freshman in 2012. Cockrell will be relied upon to provide a steady hand, especially early on, as the rest of the unit gains the experience it will need for the remainder of the season. If Duke wants to make improvements on its defense this year, the secondary has to grow up and fast.
For more on this series, click here.