It wasn’t that long ago that Duke’s running game was four backs by committee.
Now it’s down to two.
Juwan Thomas has graduated, and Jela Duncan, who rushed for 1,115 yards and seven touchdowns in the past two seasons, was suspended from school in December. He’ll be eligible to return in January 2015 with two seasons of eligibility remaining, but for now, starter Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell are the Blue Devils’ only experienced backs.
“It’s me and Shaq,” said Snead, who started 11 games last year and led Duke with 651 rushing yards. “I’m the old guy in the group; I’m the leader. Now there’s just two of us. We’re taking it on as a challenge, me and him. … He’s there when I need him, and I think he can get the job done whenever his number is called, just like I feel I can get the job done whenever my number is called upon.”
They don’t have much of a choice, as far as the spring roster goes.
Eric Adams had three carries last year and played in two games. Joseph Ajeigbe is a redshirt freshman. Jackson Conway and Eamonn Vain-Callahan are walk-on juniors. Last year, Snead and Powell combined to rush 169 times for 998 yards (5.91) and four touchdowns while catching 14 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns.
Snead said he and Powell are using this spring to try and get some of the younger players caught up to speed, particularly Ajeigbe, who was the No. 61 running back in the 2013 signing class.
“We’ve got Joe Ajeigbe, and this spring is very instrumental to his growing-up stage for next fall,” Snead said. “We’re trying to teach him the Duke way, how we go about doing things, and he’s learning day by day.”
This situation isn’t entirely new to Snead and Powell, though, as they learned of Duncan’s suspension before the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Snead led Duke in that loss with 104 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry against Texas A&M.
“It was disappointing to hear,” Snead said of Duncan’s suspension. “ We feel like we’re a team; we’re a family. If anyone needs help or anything, we feel like we can come to each other. We looked at it, and we felt like we could get by it. We had a bowl game we had to play in. It was sad we lost him, but we can’t cry over it so we came back out here and performed well as a running back unit in the bowl game. Now it’s me and Shaq, and we feel like we can get the job done this fall.”