Duke Football opened up its fall training camp for the 2013 football season Monday and it is hard to say that the mentality of both players and head coach David Cutcliffe was anything but businesslike.
Granted, the players appeared confident as they addressed the media with questions ranging from how one player would replace another, to how they felt about being picked near the bottom of the ACC Coastal Division again. All the players talked about the consistency it would take to get Duke back into contention for a repeat bowl appearance.
That was a sentiment expressed by quarterback Anthony Boone who said it was the team’s goal to prove that last year’s 6-7 season and Belk Bowl appearance wasn’t just a fluke.
“Consistency. To go back and show people that we can go out and consistently win games year by year,” Boone said of the team’s goal. “That we can go out there every Saturday, every year and compete with the best teams in the ACC.”
Boone also addressed the lack of confidence in the program from outside. He was not terribly worried that Duke was picked to finish near the bottom of the division.
“We don’t play for the media. We play for each other. At the end of the day the media doesn’t play,” Boone said.
Consistency and finishing the season strong was apparently a theme as offensive lineman Dave Harding talked about that as being something Duke needs to do in 2013 to ensure a better finish than in 2012.
“We want to finish the season obviously with a winning record but as many wins as possible. We weren’t satisfied with the end result of last season. Yeah it had some serious ups that we hadn’t seen in a long time,” Harding said. “We want to see continuity. From game one through game 13 or 14.”
Cutcliffe addressed a number of areas in his pre-practice press conference including the mixture of experience with inexperience, the concerns with the youth especially in the secondary and the need for his team to try and stay healthy, the biggest obstacle he feels still facing the Blue Devils’ program. Overall he was excited about the start of the season.
“You are anxious to see your squad but it takes a week to figure out what you’ve got,” Cutcliffe said. “We had good meetings this morning as we started our install.”
Cutcliffe praised his team’s off season work ethic, especially in the weight room and talked about how his players are already growing into a team even before practice starts.
“The thing I like most about this team is that they like each other. They enjoy working. We have more natural leadership than we’ve ever had,” Cutcliffe said.
Cutcliffe talked about how important it would be to have the program take its next step by winning game in November, a month that has not seen the Blue Devils be very successful at all. However, he feels that the start of the season will be of the utmost importance with many young guys high on the three-deep roster.
“I think August is going to be really critical. We’ve got some veterans. We’re going to have to blend some young talent. I’m interested in the secondary and how that is going to blend.”
Cutcliffe said senior corner Ross Cockrell did a lot of coaching in the summer trying to help bring the younger secondary players along. Cockrell will start at one corner along with Garrett Patterson while Jeremy Cash, Dwayne Norman, and Corbin Mcarthy will start at safety. After that Cutcliffe said that the secondary would be an “interesting circumstance.” He did feel, however, that some of the younger players could compete to win either spots as twos or even ones in some spots, something he said he hasn’t seen before at Duke.
Cutcliffe also addressed the offense as well focusing on Boone who replaces a three-year starter in Sean Renfree at quarterback.
“Anthony Boone has got to prove he can put the entire body of work together. Figuring out what we’re going to look like behind Anthony is extremely important.”
Boone said he feels up to the task and is ready to lead a revamped Duke offense that will feature a slightly different look with him under center. But he is confident that the Blue Devils offense won’t miss a beat.
“I think my game experience has fed that (confidence). I haven’t really felt the pressure,” Boone said. “Obviously Saturdays the story will change and the pressure of the win and loss column will gang up on me but as far as being nervous I’m fine.”
Boone praised Cutcliffe and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper for preparing and teaching him how to be a good quarterback and allowing his skills to help shape the offense.
“They’ve done a good job of evolving our offense to fit my playing style,” Boone said.
Duke is expected to run more of a read options style with Boone being more mobile than Renfree. Cutcliffe went as far as comparing Boone to former Tennessee quarterbacks Tee Martin and Heath Shuler, who were both known for their versatile style of play.
Cutcliffe said that he is looking at every thing he can do to help the team be better in November. He said that depth and injuries have been an issue as well as a tougher schedule in the waning parts of the season. Though injuries are the thing that Cutcliffe feels has kept his team back and could keep them back this season if they creep up with the regularity they have been.
“I feel great about our systematic approach. Our preparation. I feel great about our staff. I feel really really good about or recruiting,” Cutcliffe said.
“I would love to be one of those teams that everyone is irritated by that when you look at it and it has the same starting lineup for 12 games. We haven’t even come close to that. We’ve had 32 guys on this team who have started at least one game for Duke. That means too many people have gotten hurt over the last two to three years. We need to slow that down a little bit.”
Cutcliffe talked also talked about the progress he has seen the program make in every facet and he is pleased with how far they have come but doesn’t like the idea of having to wait to get to where they want to be.
“I don’t want to be patient. I want to do it now,” Cutcliffe said. “That is what we want our fans to feel, that is that we want our players to feel.”
“I think we are ahead of where I thought we might could have gotten to at this point,” Cutcliffe said of the program’s progress. “If you look at five years of accomplishment there is no team in America that has the percent of production beyond what the previous five were. Nobody has changed their environment anymore than we have.”
That drive to get Duke back to a respectable and winning program has been a driving factor for all of the players including Boone.
“That’s the reason I came here. I could have gone to any other big school that had a winning tradition. I wanted to go to a place that was a struggle and I wanted to be on a team that you had to work to get their respect back,” Boone said.
Duke opens up the season Aug. 31 at home against North Carolina Central. Stay tuned to Duke Report for more coverage from the start of the Blue Devils 2013 season.
Thomas Sirk’s long term status for this year is still uncertain, though Cutcliffe didn’t definitively say he would be out for the entire season. Second-team defensive end Jordan Dewalt-Ondijo will not be available to practice for the time being as he recovers from an injury. His availability for the season opener is unclear but he is expected to be back at some point this season.
Defensive end Justin Foxx is also going to be limited due to injury but is expected to practice. Other than those players, Cutcliffe said everyone else is ready to go.