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July 19, 2007

Position preview: Wide Receivers

Third in a series of 2007 Duke football positional previews

If you're beginning to think all of the names in the offensive positional previews are the same as a year ago, you are correct. Just like every other position on the offensive side of the ball, Duke returns all of its top wide receivers from the 2006 season.

Spring drills provided clear indication that they will be put to work in a major way this season as the Blue Devils will be looking to strike for big plays through the air on the arm of quarterback Thaddeus Lewis.

It will be up to the strong returning core of receivers to to handle the job on their end.

RETURNING

Jomar Wright

2006: 40 receptions, 561 yards, 2 TDs, 14.0 YPC

The senior leader of the receiving core returns for his final year in an effort to leave a legacy of winning at Duke. Despite solid statistics last year, Wright's junior season will always be haunted by a catch he didn't make when he found himself wide open for a would be touchdown against Wake Forest that bounced right off his hands. Wright's biggest game came against Miami in another near upset for the Blue Devils. The Byrnes (SC) wideout grabbed 10 passes for 176 yards against the Hurricanes, giving him a pair of 100-yard receiving games last year. As a senior, Wright has to show he can be a weekly presence in the passing game. With an improved offensive line to protect an experienced passer, this year will be his best chance he can be that kind of player.

2007 Projection: Wright's talent is undeniable, but his Duke career has so far been up and down. Part of that inconsistency has been out of his control though, and it is reasonable to expect that with all of his offensive mates returning around him, he can emerge to the rest of the ACC as a player to be reckoned with week in and week out. Injury troubles seem to be in the rearview mirror, giving Wright further momentum entering his final year.

Eron Riley

2006: 32 receptions, 643 yards, 3 TDs, 20.1 YPC

The best deep threat on the roster, Riley has big play written all over him, as his 20 yards per catch average from a year ago indicates. The junior is a deceptive big play threat though. He won't wow many ACC cornerbacks with his speed, but he has a knack for leaping above defensive backs and hauling in any pass he can grab above his head. That big play threat was on display nearly every week in 2006. Riley only had four games where he didn't catch at least one pass for 20 yards or more and he had six games where he had at least one reception of 30 yards or more. Improving his toughness over the middle and running more consistently tight routes will help him take another step as a receiver in 2007.

2007 Projection: Riley's big play production could be even better this year if quarterback Thaddeus Lewis can improve his consistency with the deep ball. There were some occasions last year where Riley or another Duke receiver got behind the secondary but Lewis uncorked a pass that was a bit too strong. With Peter Vaas promising an aggressive aerial approach, Riley can probably expect to be utilized a lot to help the Blue Devils stretch the field.

Raphael Chestnut

2006: 39 receptions, 375 yards, 2 TDs, 9.6 YPC

Entering last season, Ted Roof called on Chestnut to be Duke's much needed third receiving weapon to complement Wright and Riley. For the most part, Chestnut answered that call. He only had two games where he went without a catch and he had six games where he caught at least four passes. Chestnut's production over the final three games of the season could be a good springboard into the beginning of this season. In those three games against Boston College, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina, Chestnut caught 15 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. With continued development, Chestnut can enhance his already high value as a third down possession receiver. One of his best games last year was one of the team's worst. In the season opening loss to Richmond, Chestnut caught seven passes, several of which allowed Duke drives to continue.

2007 Projection: Chestnut had to endure some off the field adversity during the offseason when he was involved in a car accident that took the life of a passenger in another vehicle. The emotional strain of a tragedy like that is something that can linger, but Chestnut should be ready for a productive junior campaign. At 6-2, 190, he combines a very good blend of size and quickness. He needs to continue improving his hands and overall fundamentals, but he seems to work well under the tutelage of receivers coach Scottie Montgomery.

Ryan Wood

2006: Played in six games, no receptions

Wood contributed some last year as a punt returner but didn't catch any balls as a receiver. That could change this year as Wood showed good flashes of what he is capable of when he led the team with a 70-yard receiving effort in the annual spring game. However, Wood's game reps at receiver are likely going to be limited because of the players in front of him on the depth chart. He packs a lot of toughness on his 6-1 frame, but lacks the athleticism to regularly separate from defensive backs.

2007 Projection: Wood will see some time in certain offensive sets and may end up making some key short yardage receptions over the course of the seaon. Look for him to mainly contribute on special teams, where his good hands could help as a punt returner again, but will more likely be used for holding for place kicks.

Sheldon Bell

2006: Redshirted

The redshirt freshman enjoyed a solid spring and appears very optimistic about his chances to contribute in his first year of playing time. Bell stands every bit of 6-4 and is continuing to develop strength on his 200 pound frame. Bell isn't a speed burner, but he has long strides and can use his size to his advantage against nearly every defensive back he will encounter. He showed a knack in spring drills of making high concentration catches, such as balls that are deflected or tipped in traffic.

2007 Projection: Bell has red zone production written all over him because of his size and strength. He could potentially be a fourth wideout in some four wide sets, but his greatest contributions could very well come in the scoring zone, when his presence on the outside will have to be respected by defenses.

Jeremy Ringfield

2006: Redshirted

Much like Bell, Ringfield won't win any track meets, but his size makes him a promising prospect. He stands a little taller than Bell and is the more advanced of the two when it comes to route running and polished technique. He also had an impressive spring and has shown good ability to make catches on out patterns near the sideline.

2007 Projection: Ringfield probably has the inside track of being the fourth wide receiver when Duke goes to a four wide set, and he also has the same kind of red zone potential that Bell has when Duke gets near the end zone. At 6-5, Ringfield is big enough to go over the middle of hold off a defender breaking toward him on an out route. His good hands will earn him playing time this year.

Kris Stubbs

2006: Played in one game, no receptions

It's been a bit of a frustrating career so far for Stubbs, who has battled injuries for much of his Duke career and didn't participate in any major spring drills. He played in one game last year and has two catches for his college career.

2007 Projection: Stubbs appears to have been passed by Bell and Ringfield on the depth chart, so he will likely have to prove that he can stay healthy and show some productivity on the practice field before he becomes a major candidate for playing time.

ARRIVING

Austin Kelly

The two sport star in high school will focus on football in college. He is similar to Sheldon Bell and Jeremy Ringfield with his frame and strength, but he may ultimately develop more deep threat speed over the course of his career. Kelly spent most of his high school career playing quarterback, so he will be undergoing some extensive training with Scottie Montgomery on the finer points of technique and route running.

2007 Projection: Redshirt

Josh Trezvant

Arguably the best athlete in Duke's incoming freshman class, Trezvant was a huge pickup for the Blue Devils out of Arkansas. Though he stands only 5-10, Trezvant is very strong and is a touchdown threat when the ball gets in his hands.

2007 Projection: You can't sit speed, so it's very likely the coaching staff will find somewhere for Trezvant to fit in right away, whether that is at wide receiver or potentially at a devil back type position that has become well known because of Ronnie Drummer. Regardless, his speed will make it very hard to redshirt him.

OTHERS

James Brooks and John Phillips are slated to return as walk-on receivers. Neither has seen game action.


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