Blue Devils go back to basics to prepare for 2017

Posted July 14

— David Cutcliffe believes his Blue Devils are ready for the start of 2017 at a level that they hadn't reached entering last fall. The preparedness and maturity of the Blue Devils roster this year equip what Cutcliffe calls the most gifted team he’s had in Durham.

“I believe, in my heart of hearts, this team is the deepest, most talented team we’ve had at Duke yet,” Cutcliffe said. “We are young in certain spots, we have concerns in certain areas, but this team will display what we’re capable of being at Duke.”

The program got to a point, in 2013 winning a Coastal Division Championship, where contending for a championship was the expectation, and Cutcliffe wants this season to be the first step back in that direction.

Daniel Jones returns as the starting quarterback, giving the team experience in a role where few other ACC teams have returners this year.

“It gives you confidence: you’re able to understand a whole lot more and focus on more specific things,” Jones said. “I’ve developed (a lot of things) to a point where they’re not a cognitive process.”

“It’s helpful for a quarterback to be able to think less and play more.”

Jones set new records in 15 single-season rookie categories last year, but his development in the offseason puts Duke in a position to execute more consistently than it did.

“Knowledge, Xs and Os – all of that’s better, but the biggest difference is confidence, leadership, the knowledge that he’s capable of doing what he’s doing,” Cutcliffe said. “His consistency is going to be outstanding based on his spring performance.”

For Jones, “there’s an understanding aspect to it” after a year running the offense.

“You have the experience to know what the play is designed to do,” he said. “There are conversations about it beforehand, and you can see it on film, but having done it yourself and being in there live and in person is different. That’s helpful.”

Jones enters the season with 173 pass attempts without any interceptions, although he threw eight picks in the first five games last season. The redshirt sophomore is joined by last season’s leading rusher, Shaun Wilson, and the Blue Devils’ two leading receivers, TJ Rahming and Johnathan Lloyd.

Fifth-year senior Bryon Fields Jr. emphasizes that Duke returned to the basics in the offseason, harping on details and discipline at a heightened level to prepare to erase the 4-8, 1-7 ACC season from their minds.

“Any time you have a tough season like that, you have to re-evaluate and take it back to the basics, back to discipline and conditioning,” Fields said.

Revamped conditioning structure and added weight room routines make Duke a “bigger, faster, stronger football team.” The Blue Devils are also more mature after the disappointing 2016 season.

Cutcliffe’s ownership of not having last season’s team ready (amidst injuries and thinning depth charts, no less) is replaced with confidence in talent and development, positioning the team to return to winning ways.

“We believe we can compete for championships every year,” he said. “The only way to prove that is to win games.

“No reason to talk about it – just go play.”


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