DURHAM – The graduation of center Bryan Morgan became a major area of concern for the Duke football team entering spring camp. The senior had started three years at the position and played an invaluable role on a young, burgeoning offensive line.
He departed and the Blue Devils shuffled personnel on the offensive line, moving redshirt junior Brian Moore from right guard to over the ball.
Moore, a two-year starter at guard, proved a quick study at center during spring camp and over the first week of fall camp. He is now sidelined indefinitely after fracturing his right arm in practice on Friday, leaving the Devils to find a new center to snap to junior quarterback Sean Renfree.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe has moved redshirt sophomore Dave Harding from left guard to center, while designating redshirt junior center Conor Irwin as his back up. The two will compete for the job throughout fall camp.
“We’re just going to go day-to-day with Brian Moore and see where it goes,” Cutcliffe said following the team’s first intrasquad scrimmage on Monday at Wallace Wade Stadium. He said the offense wasn’t as “crisp” as it has been, though he felt both sides of the ball had good moments.
“It was a great night to get Dave Harding work at center,” Cutcliffe said. “And we had no snap issues. That’s a celebration. We had no false starts with our one’s or two’s on offense. That’s a celebration."
The Devils will try to move beyond the disappointment of losing Moore, who had become a leader on the offensive line. They will turn to Harding, a native Orlando, Fla., to fill that role of “eyes” for the front line. He entered the starting line up at the end of last season.
Harding said he’s become more comfortable with the pace of the college game, something that will still be a challenge at center.
“I’m happy that the coaches trust me with this,” he said. “I know it’s a big responsibility. I’m just going to to pick it up.”
Strength and footwork are important for any center, who must first snap the ball before raising his head to block.
Yet the most significant part of the center’s job is the exchange with the quarterback, which takes precise timing and repetition.
“Knowing what to do isn’t an issue right now,” Harding said. “It’s just doing it with good technique.”
During Monday’s scrimmage, Renfree and Harding seemed to be in sync.
“The biggest thing is communication,” Renfree said. “Dave’s a great communicator, he’s a friendly guy. That’s the biggest thing: How’s that snap? We’ve picked it up pretty quick.”
The two began to practice together immediately the night Moore hurt his arm. “We’ve been doing it for three days and I already can’t tell the difference really,” Renfree said.
For the Devils, the center must snap the ball into the hands of the quarterback, as well as snap in the air to the passer operating from the pistol.
Duke runs a great deal of its offensive plays from the pistol formation, where the the quarterback is away from the the center.
Over the past two seasons, the Devils have lacked depth on the offensive line. The group has passed blocked better than run block in Duke’s spread offense. With 18 offensive linemen in camp, three of them returning starters, the team has addressed its deficiency, something coaches hope will lessen the sting of losing Moore.
Cutcliffe said freshman center Matt Skura will practice at center. Irwin received the most reps with the second team during Monday’s scrimmage.
NOTE – Duke associate head coach Ron Middleton tore his Achillies tendon in practice and will undergo surgery on Tuesday. His return is underdetermined while he recovers.