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Duke Football’s Offense Turns to New Leaders

KCD2013Duke Football’s offense has been the backbone of the program since David Cutcliffe took over the program 5 years ago.

It isn’t a shock considering that the Blue Devils head coach is a known offensive guru and has a special talent picking out and grooming quarterbacks. For the last three years, Duke has had the luxury of having one of the programs best quarterbacks ever at the helm, in Sean Renfree.

Now Renfree is gone and his former backup, Anthony Boone, has to step up and fill the roll. Boone has played in spots during his first two seasons and played well, especially in Duke’s victory over Virginia last season. But can Boone do it for an entire season?

“My game experience has fed (confidence). I feel like Coach Roper and Coach Cut have done a really good job of teaching me the ways of the game,” Boone said.

Boone discussed the tweaks made to the offense saying that he expects the move to more of a zone read option to allow the experienced offensive line to set the pace.

“When we first came here we passed a lot. With us going to the the zone read our run style has given a chance for the line to set the tempo and go out there and hit somebody in the mouth,” Boone said. “This is the strongest fastest biggest O-line  that we’ve had since coach Cut has been here.”

One of the big concerns with Boone being a mobile quarterback is that he may get hurt. That possibility gets complicated due to the injury to projected backup quarterback Thomas Sirk. Boone, however, says the injury won’t change the way he plays the game.

“I’m just going to go out there and play hard. I’m not going to let the thought of injuries take away my competitive edge,” Boone said.

Should Boone go down, that leaves backup duties to Brandon Connette, who has seen his roll change over his career from quarterback to an all purpose type back. Boone called Connette  the best utility players in the ACC.

Connette has been used primarily as a short yardage and gimmick play type quarterback though he has played tight end, been used in special teams, played some running back and has even took some practice reps at safety. Cutcliffe nicknamed him the Phantom because he never would know where he’d be at any given point in a practice. It is a role that Connette has come to embrace.

“The main area for me is in the short yardage type of area. I’m having so much fun right now,’ Connette said of his use in multiple positions. “The only thing that matters to me is the team’s success. One of the ways I can help the team be successful right now is doing all those roles. Its a lot of fun.”

But with the injury to Sirk, Connette is listed on the depth chart as the second string quarterback behind Boone. Should something happen to Boone, Connette was pretty confident when asked if he’d be ready to take on the quarterback role.

“Yes, 100 percent. Coach Cutcliffe and I, we’ve had numerous conversations about that role. The amount of film I’ve been able to watch and grow comfortable as a quarterback. I feel completely comfortable being just a quarterback, a mobile quarterback, but a quarterback and not the whole slash thing,” Connette said.

Boone also talked about the experienced stable of talented running backs the Blue Devils have and how they take the pressure off of him.

“Our backs want the chance to be a hammer. It almost makes me feel like I just have to mange the game and not have to be a huge playmaker,” Boone said. “I’m not pressed to make that huge play every time. I have four great running backs that will get job done.”

It isn’t just the quarterback situation that is new for the Blue Devils. They are having to replace two of their three top weapons at wide receiver in Conner Vernon and Desmond Scott.

To do that they will be turning to Issac Blakeney, who saw a decent amount of action last season. They will be turning to Max McCaffrey, who only saw limited action last year but is going to be expected to step up and be a g0-to-guy. Many have tried to compare him to Vernon, and while he may be asked to fill that roll he says he is a different kind of player.

“This season I’m definitely a lot more confident. I’m use to the system.  I feel prepare for it,” McCaffrey said. “I don’t necessarily feel any pressure. Conner was a good role model. He kind of helped me ease into this. I think we are a lot different players actually. Its definitely another role. I feel like I need to produce now.”

McCaffrey will not have to work too hard to get comfortable with Boone as his quarterback as he spent a lot of time in practice as a second team wide receiver. He did note that their is a bit of a difference between Renfree and Boone.

“Boone and Renfree are definitely two completely different quarterbacks. I think Boone will be able to make plays that aren’t there necessarily. I’m used to passing with him, just because he was the guy going to me during practice all the time (last year).”

The one thing the offense should be able to count on is the consistency in the offensive line who returns all but one starter from last years team. Only center Matt Skura is new to the line, but veteran Dave Harding feels like he will do just fine.

“Matt is an awesome guy, hard worker and extremely talented. It has been a lot of fun to play along side of him this summer. There really hasn’t been much of a drop off,” Harding said. “He got some game action last year and did fairly well.”

Harding is optimistic that the veteran line combined with some talented younger guys make for a bright future for this season and the seasons to come.

Stay tune to Duke Report for more reports from Duke Football’s preseason camp.