While it’s difficult to know who the starting quarterback for Duke will be, one thing is certain: the Devils will be productive at the all-important position this fall.
Make no mistake about it: if Thomas Sirk is healthy, he’ll be the guy. Sirk thrived in his first season as the Blue Devils’ starting quarterback, completing 251 of 427 passes for 2,625 yards with a very respectable 16-8 TD-to-INT ratio. He also led the team in rushing with 803 yards, including a 20-carry, 155-yard performance in Duke’s 44-41 bowl victory over Indiana.
Unfortunately, he tore the Achilles’ tendon in his left leg, which means he could miss part of the 2016 campaign.
Ordinarily, a loss of this magnitude would cripple a team.
However, there are several reasons why this unfortunate injury won’t derail the Blue Devil offense this fall.
For starters, let’s remember that David Cutcliffe is one of the best quarterback coaches in college football. During his distinguished career, he’s helped develop several next-level signal callers, including Heath Shuler, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Thaddeus Lewis, and Sean Renfree. With a successful track record like that, it’s tough to see any situation where the starting quarterback – whoever it might be – would struggle this year.
Another reason for optimism is that it’s not a given that Sirk will miss any games this season. Sure, he missed the entire 2013 campaign with an Achilles’ injury to his right leg. Yet, David Cutcliffe said at the ACC Spring Meetings that Sirk was recovering much more quickly this time and that he was hopeful that Sirk would be ready for the season opener.
But, wouldn’t Sirk be less effective after the injury?
History suggests that he’ll be just fine. That was certainly the case the last time Sirk tore his Achilles’ tendon as he rushed for 238 yards and completed 71.4% of his passes – including the game-winner against Virginia – in limited action behind Anthony Boone in 2014.
Even if – and it’s a big if – Sirk can’t go, the Blue Devils are still in good shape. Parker Boehme played well when given the opportunity last year, rushing for 181 yards on 45 carries (4.02), while averaging 7.4 yards per attempt, which was slightly higher than Sirk’s (6.1). In addition, he nearly rallied the Devils back from a 22-point deficit against Virginia last season, guiding the team to two fourth quarter touchdowns and driving the team 57 yards in five plays before being stopped on fourth-and-two at the Cavalier 6 in the closing seconds of the contest.
Boehme’s valuable game experience and strong performance this spring would make him the most logical choice to take over under center in the event that Sirk isn’t available. The only way that he wouldn’t be is if Daniel Jones or Quintin Harris were to play so well that one of them was able to overtake Boehme on the depth chart. Duke can only win in that situation.
Regardless of how everything shakes out, Devil quarterbacks will produce this fall. Whether it’s Sirk, Boehme, or someone else under center, they’ll have one of the best quarterback coaches in the game to prepare them for the upcoming season. Given Cutcliffe’s ability to develop NFL signal callers and the talent that he has available, expect Duke’s passing numbers to improve in 2016.