Duke football 2023 positional preview: Quarterbacks

By Elliott Jarnot
With the 2023 season on the horizon, the Blue Zone breaks down each of the eight major position groups for this Duke squad: Specialists, defensive line, offensive line, linebackers, defensive backs, receivers, running backs and quarterbacks.
There will be no questions at the quarterback position for Duke to begin 2023. The Blue Devils will have the same Week 1 starting signal caller in consecutive years for the first time since 2017-2018 when Daniel Jones played his final two seasons in Durham. After starting every game of 2022 and posting a remarkable campaign, junior Riley Leonard will once again take the reins of the Blue Devil offense under offensive coordinator Kevin Johns. The Fairhope, Ala., native will look to find success both in the air and on the ground in his second season as Duke’s starting quarterback.
Key players lost: Gavin Spurrier, Ty Lenhart
The Blue Devils lost two backup signal callers from last season in Spurrier and Lenhart. The former — who is now working as an offensive quality control coach on the Duke staff — saw action in the first game of the season in a blowout win against Temple, though he did not attempt a pass in four snaps. Lenhart, a graduate transfer from Columbia, only got minutes in the Blue Devils’ Military Bowl victory against UCF. He also did not record any attempts. Duke, however, is set at the most important position in football and is not losing any production from 2022.
Projected starter: Riley Leonard
The decision is easy for head coach Mike Elko. There was no spring ball competition or fall camp controversy. There is no need to declare a starter before Clemson comes to town on Labor Day. This is Leonard’s team.
The 6-foot-4 quarterback was announced the starter this time a year ago, beating out Jordan Moore, who subsequently changed positions and went on to experience a breakout year at wide receiver for the Blue Devils. Leonard quickly made the most of his opportunity, jumping out to a hot start and maintaining his play throughout the season.
The junior accounted for seven touchdowns through the first three weeks as Duke cruised to a 3-0 start, albeit against weaker competition. As the quality of opponents ramped up, however, so did Leonard. The high school two-sport star was excellent in the ACC slate, putting up some monster performances, including a 391-yard, four-touchdown showing in the Blue Devils’ win against Wake Forest in the final game of the regular season. Even in a couple of Duke’s losses, Leonard put forth his best effort to will his squad to victory. He posted statlines such as 290 yards, three passing touchdowns and a rushing score in a loss to Pittsburgh, as well as 324 yards and a score in the Blue Devils’ defeat at the hands of Kansas.
By the season’s end, Leonard amassed 2,967 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air to go along with 699 yards and 13 scores on the ground. He was named the team’s Most Valuable Player and was tabbed Honorable Mention All-ACC. Prior to the upcoming season, he was named to a plethora of award watchlists including the Maxwell Award, presented to the best player in college football, and the Manning Award, an honor given to the premier quarterback in the country.
Many people in and around the Duke program have high hopes for the 2023 season. Despite the challenging schedule, the Blue Devils believe in their chances to ascend to the peak of the ACC, and that starts and ends with the man under center. Leonard was impressive last year, but there is still room for growth. For Duke to reach its lofty aspirations, the Fairhope, Ala., product will need to take a substantial step up.
Dark horse: Henry Belin IV
Leonard is the guy for the Blue Devils, but Belin will be the guy behind the guy. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound product out of Cardinal Hayes High School also played the backup role last season but was able to conserve his redshirt thanks to Leonard’s health throughout the year. The redshirt freshman played in one game, completing five-of-six passes for 43 yards against North Carolina A&T. He has performed well in the offseason too, leading impressive drives in the Blue and White game in the spring and continuing to take the second-team reps in fall camp.
If Leonard were to get injured or be unable to play for any reason, Duke would feel confident running Belin out to lead the offense. The New York native was the 34th-ranked quarterback in the 2022 class, and he is talented enough to lead the Blue Devils to wins in the worst-case scenario where Leonard goes down.

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