Ever since the Blue Devils football team delivered its breakthrough performance in 2012, there have been onlookers who have questioned if the success is sustainable.
For those who believe it is, one commonly cited reason is the continual rise of athleticism on the roster. With each incoming recruiting class, David Cutcliffe and his staff have felt like Duke has gotten bigger, faster and stronger, even if the star ratings don’t necessarily indicate that’s the case. But this year, it’s clear that the top of the class of 2015 is bigger, faster and stronger, more athletic, more skilled — however you want to say it — than their predecessors.
Five already made it onto the field for meaningful snaps.
True freshmen wide receiver T.J. Rahming, cornerback Jeremy McDuffie, defensive end Marquis Price, defensive tackle Brandon Boyce and linebacker Ben Humphreys performed strong enough in camp to earn first-half snaps in the win over Tulane on Thursday night. Rahming started, becoming just the second true freshman to start an opener in Cutcliffe’s eight years in Durham, and his six catches for 70 yards represents the biggest impact made by any member of the group. But he wasn’t the only true freshman to make an impression.
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Up front, Price recorded a tackle on the final play of the first quarter, and Boyce recorded a sack on the Green Wave’s final series. Humphreys was in pursuit of Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee in the second quarter and was part of a group of Blue Devils that forced him out of bounds for lost yardage (Humphreys wasn’t credited for anything in the stat sheet).
Then there was McDuffie, a talented corner who had a few welcome to college football moments that were obvious to onlookers. He was beat a few times, most notably on a 76-yard touchdown pass that saw Tulane receiver Devon Breaux beat him on a ball in the air.
"If he would have just gone up strong and played a little stronger — that Tulane player is good, too," Cutcliffe said, switching thoughts. "That’s good that’s over with for him. He has an opportunity to be a special football player."
Duke’s roster is full of veterans and redshirt freshmen, eight of whom made their debuts Thursday (linebacker Tinashe Bere, cornerback Johnathan Lloyd, running back Nico Pierre, defensive tackle Quaven Ferguson, defensive tackle Edgar Cerenord, center Zach Harmon and wide receivers Chris Taylor and Trevon Lee). But still, Rahming and the other true freshmen were able to come in and jump up the depth chart after just a few weeks of work in pads. That’s a promising sign of sustainable success for Duke.