I already previewed the running game last week with this feature on The Stable. So, I’m going to move onto the guys on the outside. Gone is Connor Vernon and his All-ACC pass catching, his records, and his fearless attitude. This gorge will have to be replaced by a handful of competitors as Jamison “The Man Who Made The Catch” Crowder seeks to improve upon his own achievements. Speaking of Crowder, I need to put something out there. Here are three ACC receivers last season:
Player A – 79 rec, 763 yards, 6 TDs
Player B – 57 rec, 708 yards, 3 TDs
Player C – 76 rec, 1074 yards, 8 TDs
All three of those guys return this season and two of them were All-ACC preseason picks by the media while the third didn’t finish in the top 4 for voting. Now, it’s probably dumb to whine about preseason all conference teams voted on by people who mostly only follow one team but I’m still annoyed that Player C was an afterthought. As you may have figured out, Player A is Michael Campanero of Wake Forest, Player B is Sammy Watkins of Clemson, and Player C is Jamison Crowder of Duke.
As it is, Crowder will have bulletin board material (Do they still have bulletin boards in locker rooms for this stuff?) to motivate him this season.
Joining Crowder in the starting lineup, as of now, will be Isaac Blakeney and Max McCaffrey, son of Bronco’s great Ed McCaffrey. Blakeney was a strong contributor last season as he hauled in 32 passes for 290 yards playing tight end. This year, the Blue Devils will use his massive 6-6, 235 pound frame on more deep routes and endzone lobs. His physicality coupled with impressive speed for his size will give Duke a dangerous mismatch advantage for QB Anthony Boone to exploit.
McCaffrey possesses obviously strong bloodlines as his father was an All-American at Stanford before becoming a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl Champion. Max is quite capable himself playing in all 13 games as a true freshman last season. He only caught two passes, both against Florida State, but has impressed enough through Spring practice to beat out Anthony Nash. McCaffrey won the Most Improved Player award in the Spring (along with lineman Cody Robinson) and displayed great technical skills and reliable hands, a needed skill with Vernon’s departure.
Aside from Nash, who redshirted last season, the depth at this position is rather shallow. Rising senior Brandon Braxton moved back to WR after a year in the secondary to help bring experience and depth to the offensive side of the ball. He’ll help solidify the second string with Nash and Erich Schneider, a sophomore who played in all 13 games last season as backup tight end. Schneider stands at 6-7, which means Duke will possess three receivers in the two deep next season 6-5 or taller.
Statistically, this group won’t improve as fewer passes will be available thanks to the zone read offense. Still, when Boone does elect to throw, he’ll have a variety of options with size, speed, experience, and skill. We’ll miss Connor Vernon running deep routes and reliably catching bubble screens and converting them into first downs but this crop has the potential sooth every remaining sore from the 2012 season.