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En route to its recent success, Duke completely transformed itself on the offensive line, where its players are much bigger, way more physical and - perhaps most important of all - able to shoulder much more responsibility.
Lucas Patrick will get his shot to earn a starting spot on Duke's offensive line. Jeremy McKnight/Icon SMI
That is a big reason why 2014 presents such a huge challenge. The two most veteran starters on the offensive line must be replaced, testing Duke in a way it has not been tested in years. Left guard Dave Harding and right tackle Perry Simmons started a combined 91 games and laid the foundation for the improvement the offensive line has made.
Without them, Duke plans on turning to promising Lucas Patrick at guard and Tanner Stone at tackle, both having been groomed for the moment that awaits.
“It’s hard losing guys of that caliber on the offensive line, but I believe we have the talent that we need to replace Perry Simmons and Dave Harding, ” All-ACC guard Laken Tomlinson said in a recent phone interview. “We have athletes coming up, young guys who have been a part of our system for a while, and they’re biting at the chance to show the coaches what they’ve got.”
Patrick and Stone took the majority of first-team reps during spring practice. Stone, slated to be the backup to Simmons last season, missed all of 2013 with a broken ankle. When Simmons got hurt in the ACC championship game, Patrick played out of position and started at tackle.
“He’s the one offensive lineman you want on your O-line to keep it balanced, ” Boone said. “You might have your fundamentally sound ones, but then you have that one who’s a little edgy, a little chippy. That’s who he is, and he’s a great addition to our offense.”
Boone noted the “huge, tremendous progress” the line made throughout spring. Where Patrick was not much of a question mark to teammates because he got playing time a year ago, there was more uncertainty about Stone because he was getting back on the football field for the first time in months. But Boone said, “He’s big, he’s physical, and he understands what we’re trying to get done.”
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