DURHAM Forty-six percent.
That’s how much rushing production Duke lost to graduation and a suspension in its running back corps in the offseason. Last season, the Blue Devils made use of four backs – Josh Snead, Jela Duncan, Juwan Thompson and Shaquille Powell – throughout the year and ranked fifth in the ACC with 178 rushing yards per game.
This year will feature a different approach, as Thompson is currently with the Denver Broncos and Duncan is wrapping up the second half of a year-long suspension starting last December. This places the load squarely on the shoulders of Powell and Snead.
“The role at running back, with me and Shaq, is going to be much more significant with us being the guys with experience,” Snead said.
Snead led the team with 651 yards on 106 carries last season and Powell ranked fourth with 344 yards on 62 carries. Powell, who spent the offseason getting into better shape and strengthening his core, is listed as the No. 1 option in the preseason depth chart and is poised to have a breakout year for the Blue Devils.
“(Losing Duncan and Thompson) changed my role a lot,” he said. “I have to be a lot better than I was. Physically, I have to be better, mentally, I have to be stronger. I’ve got to have more heart than I had before.”
But the duo will not be alone in the backfield, as freshman Shaun Wilson and redshirt freshman Joseph Ajeibe will join the pair as two viable backup options. Although nobody at Duke has seen Wilson in pads, both Powell and Snead were quick to sing the rookie’s praises. The pair also referenced how their roles have changed, with Powell making the jump to being the young guy in the rotation last year to one of the leaders of this year’s squad.
“We definitely lost a lot of experience from losing Juwan and Jela,” Powell said. “We’ve got two new young guys and I think me and Josh really need to bring those young guys along because they need to be able to come in help us when we get tired or if there’s an injury, God forbid.”
“I think the role that we have is more of leaders within our group… We haven’t put pads on so we don’t know how Shaun Wilson is in pads. I think he’ll be great.”
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