Brandon Connette is a touchdown-scoring machine, accounting for 12 touchdowns last season. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY
With football season just around the corner (practice starts Aug. 5), it’s time to turn some focus to the gridiron and what lies ahead for the 2013 Blue Devils. There are two major goals that need to be checked off the list to further separate Duke’s present and future from it’s disastrous past: clinch the program’s first winning season since 1994 and make back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time…ever.
To do that, Duke will need some players to step into new roles and others to take on larger ones. With that in mind, here’s a look at the 10 most important players for the upcoming season. Be sure to check back daily for the unveiling of the full list.
No. 5: QB/WR/RB/TE Brandon Connette
Age: redshirt junior
Last year’s stats: passing—5-of-13 for 38 yards and three touchdowns; rushing— 41 attempts for 91 yards and eight touchdowns; receiving—11 receptions for 85 yards and one touchdown
“Phantom” is the nickname head coach David Cutcliffe has given Brandon Connette, and it works as well as anything to describe the role he played for Duke last year. Connette lined up all over the field—at all the above positions in addition to taking a few snaps at safety, too (someone had to fill the void created by all the injuries). He didn’t show up on the two-deep depth chart, but as evidenced by his performance against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl (one touchdown pass for two yards and four catches for 31 yards) he was a factor that needed accounted for in the game plan, especially when the Blue Devils entered the red zone.
One of the major questions for the Duke offense this year is what, exactly, Connette’s role will look like. Backup quarterback Thomas Sirk ruptured his Achilles in spring practice, likely sidelining him for the entire year. With just one other scholarship quarterback on the roster with any type of experience (true freshman Parker Boehme was on campus this spring) backup quarterback duties fall to Connette, who came to Duke as a duel-threat signal caller.
Does that limit the snaps Connette can take at other positions? Conventional wisdom says yes, as the backup quarterback can’t put himself in a position to get hurt (and Connette has shown a tendency to do that, missing all but two games in 2011 with a shoulder injury and this year’s spring practice due to shoulder surgery recovery).
On the flip side, though, Connette has evolved into more than just a quarterback, and he has shown he can be one of Duke’s best playmakers. The Blue Devils need to have those guys on the field as much as possible—Cutcliffe is well aware of that fact— so it will be interesting to see where the phantom shows up next.