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Center Jack Wohlabaugh is ‘critical’ to Duke football’s plans on offense. Here’s why

Duke guard Jacob Monk (63), center, blocks N.C. State defensive end Terrell Dawkins (0) as quarterback Chase Brice (8) looks downfield for receivers during the Wolfpack’s game against the Blue Devils at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020.

Duke guard Jacob Monk (63), center, blocks N.C. State defensive end Terrell Dawkins (0) as quarterback Chase Brice (8) looks downfield for receivers during the Wolfpack’s game against the Blue Devils at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020.

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In an 8-part series, the News & Observer and Herald Sun will be examining Duke’s football depth chart, position by position, as the season opener on Sept. 3 at Charlotte draws near.

As Duke prepares an offense built around a rushing attack featuring preseason all-ACC running back Mataeo Durant and new starting quarterback Gunnar Holmberg, the return of a big man in the middle of the line is equally important.

Considered one of the ACC’s top centers entering last season, Jack Wohlabaugh suffered a torn knee ligament in practice before a game had been played.

That was the first of many unfortunate occurrences as the Blue Devils slumped to a 2-9 record in the pandemic-altered season.

With a new season beginning on Friday at Charlotte, Duke has Wohlabaugh back, healthy and ready to anchor an offensive front that’s of major importance.

“Jack Wohlabaugh is critical,” Duke co-offensive coordinator Jeff Faris said. “He’s obviously a great player and he’s an even better leader. He’s been really good at bringing those young offensive linemen along. He’s done a really, really good job with his rehab and strength work.”

Wohlabaugh had reconstructive right knee surgery last Sept. 15 to repair a torn ACL. So Duke will play two games next month before he hits one year post-operation.

Still, as he prepares to open the season in the starting lineup, Wohlabaugh is feeling strong and comfortable about his repaired knee..

“I’m really focused on just getting my knee to feel better and stronger and get back to my old self where I’ve almost forgotten about having to trust it,” Wohlabaugh said.

Even after missing all of last season, he’s started 18 games while playing in 22 during his Duke career. He joined the Blue Devils in January 2018 after transferring from Ohio State, so he’s one of the few players on this year’s team who has experienced a bowl game with Duke.

Since the Blue Devils beat Temple 56-27 in the 2018 Independence Bowl, they’ve gone 5-7 and 2-9 over the last two seasons.

“I think the main thing that I took, and the other guys took, from last season is — winning is fun and losing sucks,” Wohlabaugh said. “When you are winning everything is better. Everything is just more fun and more energetic. I think we all want to get back to getting that feeling back, hopefully putting COVID behind us — although it’s come back a little more now. But having fans in the stadium and getting that energy and winning some games.”

Having Wohlabaugh at center gives Duke an experienced middle of its offensive line. Redshirt juniors Maurice McIntyre and Casey Holman have worked at left guard with junior Jacob Monk at right guard.

Holman has also taken repetitions at center when Wohlabaugh was held out during August some practices and scrimmages to protect his healing knee.

The question marks come on the edges where Duke has young tackles working with the first team. Sophomore Graham Barton, who is 6-6 and 315 pounds, started five games at center last season due to injuries there but he’s at left tackle now.

Redshirt sophomore John Gelotte, at 6-7 and 295 pounds, is the expected starter at right tackle.

“I think it’s safe to say that the middle of the line has the most experience,” Wohlabaugh said, “but the outside guys are obviously younger guys but have come a long way and are definitely right there with us.”

Duke added three graduate transfers in guard Kade Parmelly (Abilene Christian), tackle Carson Van Lynn (Pitt) and guard Brian Foley (Holy Cross) who provide depth.

Redshirt freshman Addison Penn can also help out at center or guard.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe felt so good about the numbers along the offensive line he moved redshirt sophomore tackle Ron Carr over to the defensive line.

But keeping Wohlabaugh healthy is important if the Blue Devils are to churn out yards on the ground to keep drives going and perhaps open up the field for more downfield passing.

Duke left tackle depth chart

STARTERHeightWeight
Graham Barton (SO)6-6315
RESERVE
Carson Van Lynn (SR)6-6290

Duke right tackle depth chart

STARTERHeightWeight
John Gelotte (SO)6-7295
RESERVE
Peace Addo (JR)6-6345

Duke left guard depth chart

STARTERHeightWeight
Maurice McIntyre (JR)6-2330
RESERVE
Casey Holman (JR)6-4290

Duke right guard depth chart

STARTERHeightWeight
Jacob Monk (JR)6-3310
RESERVE
Kade Parmelly (SR)6-3305

Duke center depth chart

STARTERHeightWeight
Jack Wohlabaugh (SR)6-4305
RESERVE
Casey Holman (JR)6-4290

Previous Duke preview installments

Running backs

Defensive line

Linebackers

Defensive backs

Wide receivers

Special teams

Other Triangle ACC previews

Offensive line

Running backs

Defensive line

Linebackers

Defensive backs

Special teams

Wide receivers

Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. He placed second in both beat writing and breaking news in the 2019 Associated Press Sports Editors national contest. Previously, Steve worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), 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 S.C. General Assembly. He’s won numerous state-level press association awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.

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