New Duke football Mike Elk has competition at quarterback

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Duke quarterback Riley Leonard (13) passes as defensive end Jordan Moore (8) prepares for a drill during the Blue Devils’ first practice of fall camp in Durham. NC, Tuesday, August 2, 2022

ehyman@newsobserver.com

Three practices into his first preseason tenure at Duke, Mike Elka is no closer to — publicly or privately — naming the Blue Devils’ starting quarterback.

Duke opens its first season with Elko as head coach on Sept. 2 against Temple at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Regardless of who wins the job, the Blue Devils will have their fifth different starting quarterback in five seasons.

So, Elko said Friday, sophomores Riley Leonard and Jordan Moore should both factor into game plans regardless of who starts against Temple.

“I think in today’s world of college football, with the speed of the game, we worry about getting our third quarterback ready,” Elko said. “As much as we worry about getting one and two, we also worry about getting three because that’s how seasons are sometimes.”

Leonard started one game as a freshman last season when shooting guard Holmberg, who later transferred to Florida International, was injured. Moore is not a starter but played in 10 games last season for former manager David Cutcliffe.

The last time Duke had the same quarterback from season to season was 2016-18 with Daniel Jones of the NFL’s New York Giants.

Elko and his staff have Leonard and Moore taking turns working with the first team at practice. It could be Moore one day and Leonard the next.

“We kept everything even and balanced,” Elko said. “We did it in the scrimmages. We did it as evenly as we could to give them both an equal chance to see it happen.”

As with any football team’s practice, from high school to the NFL, the battle of the quarterbacks is key. But trying to turn around a Duke program that has lost 13 straight ACC games over the past two seasons, Elko is struggling for position all over the field.

That’s partly a product of a brand new staff that looks at each player with fresh eyes. But it’s also part of what Elko instills throughout the program with a challenging off-season strength and conditioning program.

“Some kids had an amazing summer this summer in terms of development, strength, fitness, speed, weight, all of that,” Elka said. “So not coming out to camp and giving them a chance to show what type of player they are now compared to where they were in the spring kind of diminishes why you did all that work. So for me, it’s always a blank slate, and then we let the movie kind of tell us who these guys are.”

Looking for more immediate improvement, the Blue Devils have seven transfers from other college programs on the field. Some, like cornerback Datron Young (Iowa State) and Chance Little (Colorado), came from other Power 5 conference programs. Others, like defensive back Darius Joyner (Western Illinois) or linebacker Cam Dillon (Columbia), were taken at a lower level .

The forwards in that group — Lytle, Jack Burns (Cornell) and Andre Harris (Arkansas State) — get a chance to show they can play significant roles this season.

“All three hitters were running between singles and doubles,” Elka said. “So I think all seven guys were what we hoped they would be. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about all of them is how they assimilated into our culture. The most important thing when you get to the portal is to make sure you don’t mess up your locker room. And I think we’ve been very fortunate that the kids that we’ve brought into the program have just bought into where we want to go.”

Four weeks after Friday, the Blue Devils will play their first regular season game with the 45-year-old Elko as head coach.

The work started in spring practice has continued into the present, and there is still much work to be done.

“I think the overall level of football there is higher than it was in the spring,” Elka said. “Obviously it’s the third practice and there’s still a long way to go. But the first three days were good.”

Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and the Raleigh News & Observer. In 2019, he was runner-up in both beat and news writing at the Associated Press Sports Editors National Contest. Steve previously worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, SC), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, MO), Charlotte Observer and Hickory (NC) Daily Record covering beats including The NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the SC General Assembly. He has won numerous state-level press association awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.



New Duke football Mike Elk has competition at quarterback

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