Interview with P.J. Lowman on Duke's upcoming season
Q: Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis made great strides in 2007, throwing 21 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions. Can we expect this signal caller to build on last season and possibly improve that 55 percent completion percentage?
A: Thad Lewis will have success throwing the ball in 2008, but ultimately his success depends upon how quickly he is able to grasp Coach David Cutcliffe’s passing attack. It appears that the offensive line, a weakness of the 2007 team, has been working extremely hard with the new coaching staff to give Lewis increased protection and hopefully open up some holes for what was a non-existent rushing attack last season.
With an emphasis on completing shorter passes, I would fully expect Thad’s completion percentage to make a jump.
Q: The Blue Devil running game was one of the worst in the country, rushing for only 64 yards per game last season. Can fans expect an improvement in the running game, and what measures have been taken in spring practice to improve the attack?
A: The emergence of Requan Boyette this spring was a huge shot in the arm to the rushing attack, as was Tielor Robinson receiving another year of eligibility from the NCAA after losing last season to injury. Clifford Harris is also very capable.
Again, the offensive line will dictate whatever level of success the Blue Devils will have on the ground. Duke will use the pass to set up the run, which will hopefully open up lots of running lanes.
Duke fans are very encouraged with the emphasis the coaching staff has on getting all of the players in shape, faster, and stronger. This should go a long way towards improving the offensive line and the running game.
Q: Wide receiver Eron Riley has been outstanding the last two years, with 643 yards in 2006 and 830 yards in 2007. Will Riley be a legitimate draft prospect come next April, and will another year with Thaddeus Lewis result in improvements in the overall passing game?
A: Eron Riley will be one of the storylines to follow this coming season. He is a legit talent and should thrive under the new offensive system. Because he will be the focus of opposing defensive coordinators, it will be difficult to put up monster numbers.
If he has improved his strength and speed during the offseason, there is no reason to think that he won’t be in an NFL training camp after his time at Duke. If Thad gets decent protection, Riley could very easily contend for first team All-ACC honors.
Q: Mike Tauiliili and Vincent Ray return at linebacker after both making 100-plus tackles in 2007. They lead an experienced unit that is arguably the team's most talented position group. How big are expectations for this group, and is the success of the defense put on their backs?
A: Duke’s LBs should be very good against the run as both Tauliili and Rey are sound tacklers. However, both need to improve in pass defense. Under the new coaching staff’s direction, both players have decreased their weights and gotten faster. This will go a long way towards improving their ability to cover WRs and TEs.
Marcus Jones is a great athlete and could occupy the other LB slot, while Adam Banks is a workhorse that will see time at the position as well.
Q: Last year's Blue Devil defense was ranked at the bottom in the ACC in most every statistical category. It all starts up front, and the defensive line was far from spectacular. Will former five-star recruit defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase live up to his hype, and how was the overall performance in spring ball from this defensive line?
A: In my opinion, the DL is the most promising group on the team. Duke has some very talented guys here, along with some depth. However, a pass-rushing DE must emerge from this group.
The biggest problem plaguing the Duke defense last season was the total number of snaps and lack of conditioning. This unit was on the field way too long in 2007, and improved offense will go a long way towards making the DL successful.
Vince Oghobaase is as good as advertised and could very easily be a first team All-ACC selection at season’s end.
Q: Is this Blue Devil squad ready to compete in the ACC in 2008? What are the expectations from the players and the staff?
A: Coach Cutcliffe did not come here to wait around. He and the staff fully expect to be in consideration for a bowl game, and that attitude has trickled down to the players. Duke is absolutely ready to compete in the ACC in 2008.
Looking back at last season’s results, the kicking game cost Duke a chance to win a few more games. That part of the team must be sound for Duke to win four to five games and even compete for bowl eligibility.