McSwain may join Wohlabaugh up front
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McSwain may join Wohlabaugh up front

O-line gains depth with Ohio State transfer and possible position switch

Photo: Jack Wohlabaugh in spring drills at center

The status of Duke’s most important 2018 priority – improved offensive line play – was the same following spring drills as it was after the Quick Lanes Bowl. Back then, the win over Northern Illinois in Detroit was the first look ahead from a 7-6 record enhanced by a three-game winning streak.

But in unusual circumstances for college football, two pieces have been added to the chessboard in just the past month.

First, on July 11 the NCAA approved Ohio State transfer Jack Wohlabaugh’s waiver request for immediate eligibility. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder is a redshirt sophomore with three years eligibility remaining.

“Jack is a powerful guy,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “What we’re doing now in practice is he’s our No. 2 center behind Zach Harmon. I want to commit our time right now to that area. As we move to game time, we want to have Jack ready to play all three positions inside.”

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But on Thursday Cutcliffe revealed another bulk addition.

The Blue Devils are experimenting with moving junior starting defensive tackle Trevon McSwain (6-6, 290) to offensive tackle.

“This right now is a look,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s not a definite move. I told the coaches it was something I wanted and our coaches have done a great job of making it work. Trevon has been tremendously unselfish. He’s a smart young man and he’s got two years left. He wants to use those two years to be as successful as possible in the classroom and on the field.”

Cuttcliffe explained the improved defensive line depth is the reason the Blue Devils think McSwain can help one side of the ball without his absence hurting the other.

And there are three true freshmen that Cutcliffe believes can contribute in backup roles to what could develop into the deepest O-line he’s had while entering his 11th Durham season. One, guard Casey Holman (6-4, 295) of Snellville, Ga., got a head start enrolling early for spring drills under offensive line coach Jim Bridge. The other two are tackle Peace Addo (6-6, 310) from Silver Spring, Md., and guard Maurice McIntyre (6-2, 320) is an in-state recruit from Jacksonville.

“I told coach Bridge I’m really pleased with them," Cutcliffe said. "Casey has been here (enrolled early for spring drills), Maurice has been really good in camp and Peace is a talented young man. So that’s as good of a four as we’ve had (added to the roster). We should all be excited about what these guys bring to us not only now but in the future.”

But the immediate demands on them are the 2018 season. Duke needs a more consistent running game and better pass protection. The Blue Devils believe they have enough skill position talent with sophomore running back Brittain Brown, wide receivers Johnathan Lloyd, T.J. Rahming and Chris Taylor and senior tight end Daniel Helm if the line can open holes and provide time.

“I think we’re off to a good start,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s something in a coach’s mind that is never good enough; we still have a great deal of work in that area. But I think Jim Bridge is a great teacher in that regard. I’m very pleased at this point with the improvement in the pass sets and techniques and knowledge of what we’re doing. Hopefully we can continue that trend.”

And it doesn’t hurt to add a big guy from Ohio State, a guy that can look forward to more playing opportunities while, coincidentally, controversy swirls in his rearview mirror over his former head coach’s future and how it will impact his old team’s season.

“Jack has made all the difference in the world in our depth and what we’re doing moving forward,” Cutcliffe said.

Football takes a lot of funny bounces in a season and a career.

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Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom has also written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego, Chargers.com, Rivals.com, and Gameday Central. He has won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003 and USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter its President’s Award in 2000.

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