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2013 College Lacrosse Preview: Duke's Midfield Situation is Best Described as "Huh?"

This is what I know: Duke will have midfield lines. Everything else? I have no idea.

Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

Duke's midfield situation is pretty solid compared to a lot of teams in the country: The Blue Devils may struggle a little to replace midfield contributions from graduated players, but Duke's issues with that personnel unit are more akin to Aesop's fable "The Fox and the Cat." The fable is built upon the premise that a host of options in a crisis or dangerous situation is less effective than a single option; fate, as a consequence, is often determined by the appearance of self-imposed confusion. That's kind of what the Devils are staring down this season -- with a myriad of players that could fulfill various roles in Duke's offensive midfield, John Danowski is staring at a situation where he and his staff may need to weigh the "best" option in a sea of confusion.

Replacing the production of Justin Turri and Rob Rotanz isn't without consequence -- both were strong presences in the Devils' overall offensive approach (especially Rotanz, who sported the team's highest usage from the midfield a season ago and basically turned his crosse into a weapon of mass destruction) -- and losing those two contributors from the team's first midfield line -- a unit, in totem, that often paced Duke's offensive success -- necessarily carries with it production concerns. For the Devils, though, there are options that can step forward and contribute with aplomb; the question is whether -- and how -- Duke pursues that situation. There is a ton of midfield and midfield-like talent that John Danowski has at his disposal, yet the pressure of finding a rotation and consistent value from the unit has added pressure and concern this season for the Devils for two reasons: (1) With the expectation of increased transition play this year under the new rules (and how Duke likes to push pace), midfield play carries additional importance in 2013; and (2) The blended talents that Duke has at some attack positions, combined with some heralded freshman that may have contribution capacity this spring, creates an additional layer of decision-making for the Devils' staff.

As of right now, Duke has a situation where there is a large basket of players -- David Lawson (Sr.), Jake Tripucka (Sr.), Josh Offit (Sr.), Will Haus (So.), and Deemer Class (Fr.) -- that are in a position to contribute in some form or fashion to the first two midfield lines with a handful of other players -- Tanner Scott (So.), Kyle Keenan (So.), and John Shaffer (Fr.) -- noted in other publications and places as potential options for the Devils on the offensive side of the midfield. Given that, there are some questions that arise relative to what Duke is going to do with this situation:

  • Tripucka and/or Lawson could anchor the first midfield line, but do the Devils allow Tripucka and Lawson to work in tandem on the first line or do they break them up? Each has different kind of value and impact the game in different ways. Combining the two on the same line creates a dynamic look to operate with Duke's exceptional attack, but is there more value in splitting the two to provide balanced value on different lines? That's not a question that I'm in a position to answer; if I was, this would be a much shorter piece of Internet writing.
  • Depending on what happens with Tripucka and Lawson, Offit's position could ultimately be determined. Offit is a nice righty counterpoint to Lawson's left-handed shot, but he could play well off of Tripucka's all-around play. Of course, if Duke goes with a Lawson-Tripucka-Offit line there is all kinds of destruction inherent in that, but if Lawson and Tripucka are split, Offit's role as to where -- and with whom -- he runs is undefined (right now).
  • Will Haus, Deemer Class, and the rest of the players in the mix are going to have roles in the midfield, but where they run is up for grabs. Both Haus and Class look like near locks to contribute to the second midfield, but how that second midfield is constituted could ultimately determine what kind of seasons they have -- Haus, a converted short-stick defensive midfield, is going to need some shepherding and Class, while immensely talented, is a freshman and a seasoned linemate like Lawson or Tripucka could show him the way.
  • With a talented attack that has more bodies than positions at this point (if you look past how players blend their roles a bit, especially in Duke's approach), Duke could move an attack or two back to the midfield, providing further support to a unit that could use it (and, consequently, also making any projections about Duke's midfield situation even more opaque). Jordan Wolf is rife with the qualities of a strong midfielder, and if Duke goes into inverted postures he could attack from "X" while allowing the Devils to still run some combination of Christian Walsh, Josh Dionne, Case Matheis, Kyle Keenan, Eddie Loftus, and Josh Offit in the attack. If Case Matheis is able to step in and contribute as a freshman as many anticipate, the option of bumping Wolf back becomes more attractive (if not in totality, at least in selected opportunities). If Wolf doesn't get midfield runs, Matheis could see some time in spots running with the midfield unit, although he does look most comfortable dodging and playing from an attack posture; as a freshman, it may be putting too much on his plate to assume a midfield role at this point in his career. But the overall concept remains: With a deep attack with players holding hybrid-type skills, Duke' midfield situation is clouded by options that come from without rather than just within.

None of this is etched in stone, and a lot is going to be determined as the Blue Devils start to push through their 2013 campaign. There are worse problems to have, I suppose, but this is still an issue that will need to be addressed.