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March 19, 2008
New coach David Cutcliffe nearly reached the Southeastern Conference title game while coaching Eli Manning at Ole Miss. Can he work similar magic with Thaddeus Lewis at Duke? Cutcliffe faces an extraordinarily difficult task rebuilding a program that has won a grand total of one game the past two seasons. Here's a look at the Blue Devils as they prepare to open spring drills.
New coach David Cutcliffe has his work cut out for him at Duke.
Offense—5: T Cameron Goldberg, QB Thaddeus Lewis, WR Eron Riley, T Fred Roland, G Rob Schirmann.
Defense—9: E Greg Akinbiyi, SS Adrian Aye-Darko, T Vince Oghobaase, E Wesley Oglesby, T Ayanga Okpokowuruk, LB Vincent Rey, LB Michael Tauiliili, CB Glenn Williams, CB Leon Wright.
Special teams—2: P Kevin Jones, K Nick Maggio.
CB Randez James (from high school).
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Lewis returns at quarterback after throwing for 4,564 yards the last two seasons. Lewis also has an experienced backup in Zack Asack. Lewis will throw to an experienced group of wide receivers that features Riley, who caught nine touchdown passes last season. Duke also returns four starters on the defensive line.
HELP IS NEEDED
The offensive line returns three starters, but Duke struggled in that area last season. Duke also needs to find more consistency at running back.
KEEP AN EYE ON
WR Sheldon Bell: Bell, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, has a chance to win a starting job. He caught just four passes last season, but he certainly would provide Lewis with a big target downfield.
WR Austin Kelly: After catching six passes in Duke's final three games last season, this 6-foot-3 sophomore enters spring practice as a likely candidate to move into the starting lineup. Kelly is hoping to inherit the spot created by the departure of Jomar Wright, who was a senior last season.
FS Catron Gainey: Although he wasn't a starter last season, Gainey still tied for seventh on the team with 49 tackles. He enters his junior season with a legitimate shot of cracking the starting lineup.
HIS TIME IS NOW
While it's tough to complain too much about a guy who collected 12 tackles for loss last year, DT Vince Oghobaase still hasn't quite been the dominant performer Duke fans were expecting when the four-star prospect signed with the Blue Devils. Oghobaase is perhaps the most talented player on Duke's defense, but the Blue Devils probably won't escape the Coastal Division cellar unless he starts playing at an All-ACC level.
New coach David Cutcliffe already has proved he could rejuvenate a downtrodden program when he won a Cotton Bowl title with Ole Miss, but he had the benefit of working with Eli Manning there. Cutcliffe's latest task will prove even more difficult. This spring should offer the first clues as to how Cutcliffe will try to develop a winning culture at a program that's grown all too accustomed to losing.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.