Adversity welcomed by Duke's Cutcliffe
Posted August 14, 2014
Coming off the best season in Duke football history, expectations are abnormally high for the Blue Devils and head coach David Cutcliffe.
One year after finishing 10-3 and as ACC Coastal Division champions, Duke was picked to finish second in the Coastal Division this season.
However, the team was dealt a blow to the secondary on Monday when redshirt senior linebacker Kelby Brown was lost for the season when he tore his left ACL. Even though Brown was one of Duke’s defensive leaders in 2013 when he was named to the All-ACC first team, Cutcliffe told Adam and Joe on 99.9 The Fan Brown’s injury will not stop him from impacting the team.
“From an on the field standpoint, he was an irreplaceable player,” Cutcliffe said. “I was with Kelby after the surgery, and he is so incredible, but he and I kind of started outlining his new role. He can’t do it on the field, but he’s also one of the best off the field leaders I have ever been associated with. We’ll find a way to make this a stronger unit with the right kind of people.”
Duke has many options to replace Brown’s on-field leadership. Redshirt senior CJ France, coming off successful offseason shoulder surgery, and Deion Williams are two returning players that Cutcliffe said will have to step up in Brown’s absence.
Redshirt freshman Chris Holmes, out since the first day of training camp with a hamstring injury, true freshmen Zavier Carmichael and Tinashe Bere, who have had strong camps, are three new players Cutcliffe named as potential replacements for Brown.
When Cutcliffe took over the head coaching position at Duke in 2007, he inherited a team that had won just 22 games since 1994, the last season the Blue Devils played in a bowl game. Since that time, Duke has gone 31-44 under Cutcliffe.
The drastic improvement has been greeted by fans as well as Cutcliffe could have hoped.
“It’s an explosion, and it should happen,” he said. “People who have watched us have seen us continue to get better. Does it mean we’re a great one yet? No, you’ve got to prove that every Saturday. I love the day-to-day challenge, but wow has it been embraced.”
While the Blue Devils were predicted by much of the local media to perform well this season, most of the national media is expecting the team to revert back to the Duke of old as Cutcliffe’s seventh team is currently not ranked in any of the major polls.
That does not bother Cutcliffe in the least.
“I love it,” he said. “People told us we were crazy for coming. People laughed at us. We’ve turned down a number of jobs along the way. We’ve got a job to do and we’re not here for a short term fix. If they can’t see it nationally, they will.”
While Anthony Boone is the unquestioned starter at quarterback, one of the biggest holes Cutcliffe has to fill is the loss of his backup, Brandon Connette, who accounted for 25 total touchdowns last season before transferring to Fresno State during the offseason.
Redshirt sophomore Thomas Sirk and redshirt freshman Parker Boehme are the players to take over that role. Both quarterbacks have run live in practice, something Duke doesn’t do very often.
“It gives us a chance to evaluate our ability to do what Brandon did well for us,” Cutcliffe explained. “I’m pleased at where we are. We’re not where we need to be. We’re not Brandon Connette just yet, but I’m really encouraged.”
Other than the loss of Connette, the Blue Devils have a new offensive coordinator in Scottie Montgomery, who replaced the departed Kurt Roper who accepted the same position at the University of Florida.
“One of the biggest thoughts in my mind is how appreciative I am of Scottie and how great a job he’s doing,” Cutcliffe noted. “I want him to put his signature on this, and he is starting to do that. He and I are working together and filtering this to do what we can do best.”
The low point of Duke’s 2013 season was back-to-back losses to close out the season, which is one thing that hasn’t left Cutcliffe’s mind all offseason.
“If it’s on my mind, I can guarantee it’s on the players’ mind,” he said. “We better be hungry.”
Duke opens the season at home against Elon Aug. 30.