The Duke Blue Devils football team kicked off spring practice trying to do two things. The first is to do what all teams are doing this time of year and that is to perfect the skills that will win football games. The second thing was more mental than physical.
“To be honest with you what we’re trying to do is just cut off 2020,” said senior wide receiver Jake Bobo. “In terms of looking back just cutting that off.”
In 2020 Duke turned in a record of 2-9 overall, 1-9 in ACC play. They finished second to last in the conference just ahead of Syracuse.
Add it all up and it was a year most would like to forget. Moving forward there is one problem the Blue Devils can’t ignore and have to address.
It’s a problem that plagued them all year, was key in each of their losses and one they could not figure out a solution for and that is protecting the football.
“We led the FBS in turnovers in the fall of 2020 so that’s something we definitely dove into here early whether that’s drills versus defense with them trying to punch the ball out and we got a protect or just look at the little things during team,” said Bobo. “We saw last year how awful that can be to be honest if you turn the ball over for five times a game, you’re not going to win those games so we’re trying to make a drastic change on that and that’s definitely the first thing that comes to mind when you think of switching some things up and correcting things.”
The Duke offense isn’t without a few bright spots.
They return 5 starters from last year’s squad including wide receivers Jake Bobo and Jalon Calhoun who led the team with 358 and 349 receiving yards on 32 and 39 catches.
They return three of their five offensive linemen in Casey Holman, Graham Barton and Jacob Monk. The Blue Devils’ biggest issue is who will be under center.
Duke will start their 4th signal-caller in as many years and are looking to former Heritage High school star Gunnar Holmberg or redshirt freshman Luca Diamont to step in the role with Jordan Moore making a push for playing time as well.
“All three of those guys are just people do you want to be around and I think that makes it a whole lot easier when you talk about transitioning quarterbacks,” said Bobo. “That’s got to be the captain of the offense so when the guys genuinely likable it makes it a whole lot easier so it’s not as difficult as I think many people would think that it is.”
The odds-on favorite to be the starter is Holmberg. He’s had to wait his turn behind Daniel Jones in 2018, recovering from a knee injury in 2019 and then sitting behind Chase Brice last season.
The extra time has given him a chance to learn the offense, to grow and mature as a football player and build the confidence necessary to lead players on the field.
“He has taken control of the huddle like I’ve never really seen him do before,” said Bobo. “We have been around each other for a very long time and I think this spring is the first time I’ve really seen him step in the huddle and command respect, command attention, that he is acknowledging that he is the captain of the offense which we expect him to do and we knew he could do but this is really the first time I’ve seen him do that.”
The team has already worked out three times with 12 more sessions scheduled before they close out the spring.