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July 22, 2007

Position Preview: Tight Ends

Fourth in a series of 2007 Duke positional previews

2006 wasn't a particularly productive year for Duke tight ends. The group combined fell short of 200 yards receiving for an offense that struggled in nearly every area.

2007 could be a different story as a solid senior returns at the top of the depth chart, along with talented youth in place that the Blue Devils hope will show a lot of growth.

With new offensive coordinator Peter Vaas in place, along with a returning starter at quarterback and the entire offensive line back in tact, the tight ends have much better circumstances to work with this year.

RETURNING

Nick Stefanow

2006: 10 receptions, 113 yards, 1 touchdown

Stefanow is the lone veteran in this group of youngsters. The senior will be counted on to produce and be a guiding influence for the talented underclassmen coming up behind him. Stefanow finished 2006 on an up note as he caught his only touchdown pass of the year in the season finale against North Carolina. He had three catch performances against Wake Forest and Virginia Tech in the early portion of the schedule.

2007 Projection: At 6-4, 235 pounds, Stefanow isn't a bulldozing tight end but he typically finds a way to get the job done in workmanlike fashion. Under new position coach Danny Pearman, Stefanow enjoyed a solid spring and will likely end the year as Duke's top receiving tight end. Other than just catching passes though, Stefanow will be a valuable component of the offense's blocking schemes in both the running and passing game.

Brett Huffman

2006: Redshirted

A key prize from the 2006 recruiting class, Huffman learned from the sidelines as a true freshman. Duke's overall biggest tight end at 6-5, 245 pounds, Huffman is evolving into a solid blocker who could be invaluable in short yardage situations. He has solid speed for a player of his size but had some struggles in the spring consistently catching the ball.

2007 Projection: It appears Huffman's biggest value over the course of his Duke career will be as a physical blocking tight end. With improved hands and footwork he could also contribute in the short passing game. This year though, most of Huffman's playing time will probably come in short yardage situations or as an extra pass protector.

Brandon King

2006: 7 receptions, 54 yards

A versatile threat, King can line up at tight end, fullback, or H-Back and be a steady contributor. Duke's highest rated recruit of the 2006 class, his biggest frustation in his first year with the Blue Devils was a troublesome ankle that became problematic at the end of his high school career. At his best, he can carry the ball, block, or run solid pass patterns.

2007 Projection: King will likely spend most of his time this season at tight end with the offseason departures of other tight end options William Ball and Norm Gee. How he will be used most is still largely a mystery. King was limited during some of spring drills and could be utilized in a couple of different way by innovative new offensive coordinator Peter Vaas. King likely won't ever pile up huge statistics, but he's one of the best pound for pound talents on the team, and he'll be a factor in Duke's success this fall if he can stay healthy.

ARRIVING

Danny Parker

One of the most talented incoming freshman in Duke's last recruiting class, Parker chose the Blue Devils over other offers such as South Carolina, Rutgers, and others. He has very good open field speed and is in the process of bulking his body up to about 230 pounds. He's only been playing organized football since 2005, so in some ways he is still a very raw talent, but he's shown a good work ethic and is openly eager to play a key role in getting Duke football on the path to winning.

2007 Projection: Sources close to Duke quickly mention Parker's name when thinking of which true freshmen could see the field in their first year. Parker is the best potential downfield threat of the tight ends on the roster. If he steps on the practice field this fall and quickly grasps the blocking concepts and route running techniques, it's not a stretch to think he could get a quick opportunity for playing time. Hopefully for Duke, the other more experienced options on the roster will step up and play well to help allow Parker to develop more gradually and with less pressure.

Garrett Utt

Utt has NFL blood lines and is coming off a prep school year at Hargrave Military Academy, where he endured one of the most rigorously structured and disciplined prep school athletic environments imaginable. That experience helped Utt bulk up from a skinny high school senior in 2006 to a 6-4, 220 pound strong tight end leaving prep school.

2007 Projection: With father Ben Utt having enjoyed a long NFL career as an offensive lineman, Garrett Utt has had plenty of tutelage in learning how to develop his blocking. Garrett made a position switch from high school quarterback to prep school tight end, and over the course of his Duke career he could grow into a very physical blocking tight end. His development probably won't be on the fast track with some other depth in front of him, but he brings a lot of toughness to the program that should pay dividends.


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