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Duke Football Position by Position - Defensive Line

A young but talented group could help Duke return to bowl play in 2017

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NCAA Football: Duke at Virginia Tech
Oct 24, 2015; Blacksburg, VA, USA; The Duke Blue Devils mascot stands on the sidelines against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Lane Stadium. 
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Some impressive recruiting the past couple of years means Duke has of a lot of young talent on the defensive line and defensive line Coach Ben Albert has the players on hand to turn the front four into a force to be reckoned with. A bit optimistic?


This group could still be a year away from maturing into a dominant unit. The potential is there; it’s a matter of how quickly several players develop.

The defensive line must be able to demand double teams and create a consistent pass rush. Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles has had to gamble with blitz packages too frequently the past couple seasons because the defensive line could not consistently pressure the quarterback. When the opponent knows the blitz is coming, it’s easy for the offense to adjust up front and exploit down field.

Three of the four defensive line starters from last season have moved on so the young talent will need to step up quickly to complement the returning experienced players. The two-deep rotation will have to include multiple youngsters, especially at defensive end.

The lone returning starter is redshirt senior defensive tackle Mike Ramsay (6'2" 290) who has played 1,092 snaps in 38 games with 16 starts. He started all 12 games in 2016 and has 64 tackles in his career. He’ll also have lead the younger guys.

Redshirt juniors Edgar Cerenord (6'1" 300) and Quaven Ferguson (6'2" 305) are experienced defensive tackles who will compete for the second starting position inside. They have played 349 and 309 snaps respectively in 24 career games recording a combined 33 tackles.

Trevon McSwain (6'6" 275) is a redshirt sophomore who has played 104 snaps in 11 career games. McSwain started his career as a defensive end but he has been moved inside to defensive tackle.

The interior defensive line looks solid as three of four members of the two deep rotation will have played in excess of 300 snaps coming into the season.

The projected starters at defensive end are sophomore Tre Hornbuckle (6'4" 255) and redshirt sophomore Twazanga Mugala (6'3" 240). Hornbuckle played 156 snaps recording 15 tackles as a true freshman and was named co-Most Improved Defensive Player at the end of Spring Practice. Mugala barely saw the field playing five total snaps in 2016 but impressed the staff during the spring.

Redshirt junior Danny Doyle (6'1" 225) and sophomore Terrell Lucas (6'3" 235) are the leading candidates to be in the two-deep rotation entering fall camp. Doyle has played 188 snaps in his career while Lucas played 235 snaps as a true freshman. Doyle recorded eight tackles and one quarterback sack in 2016 while Lucas recorded 15 tackles.

Reserve Chidi Okonya (6'6" 225), who played 67 snaps last season as a true freshman, will push for playing time.

This year's incoming freshman class includes six defensive linemen with four listed as defensive ends and two as defensive tackles. A couple of these guys should compete to see action as true freshmen, continuing the youth movement on the defensive line:

* DE Drew Jordan (6'2" 255) - an ESPN300 four star recruit who might be too talented to keep off the field. With a 4.65 40 yard dash time, Jordan has both the speed and size to develop into an elite pass rusher.

* DE Victor Dimukeje (6'2" 260) - a consensus three star recruit who received offers from more than a dozen Power Five schools including Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Virginia and West Virginia. Dimukeje will compete to earn his way onto the field early.

* DE Chris Rumph (6'3" 220) - a consensus three star recruit whose father is the defensive coordinator at Florida. One has to believe he has been well coached growing up.

* DE Ben Frye (6'3" 255) - a three star prospect who picked Duke over Boston College.

* DT Derrick Tangelo (6'2" 305) - a three star prospect who picked Duke over Wake Forest.

* DT Axel Nyembwe (6'2" 320) - a three star recruit who received Power Five scholarship offers from Rutgers, Virginia and Wake Forest.

Duke has both talent and depth along the defensive line but limited experience, especially at defensive end. While linebacker will be Duke's strongest defensive position, defensive line performance may well be the most critical factor this fall. If the youngsters step up, the Blue Devils should be an improved defensive team in 2017.

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