We will take the comments and reflections from the players and coaches, mix them all together and try to best decipher what took place on the field on Saturday. Our first offering is titled – “Game Week”
GAME WEEKDURHAM -- It’s the best time of the year for college football players.
“It’s time to go play some football,” exclaimed Blue Devil redshirt junior quarterback Anthony Boone, as he walked off Brooks Practice Field following the final day of preseason camp.
That means its game week. A time Duke football players have been working toward and focused on since last January.
They have suffered through conditioning workouts at six in the morning in the cold of winter, labored through spring practice, sweated through summer workout sessions and battled each other in August preseason camp.
It’s now time to do what football players enjoy the most – play football.
“This season started back with our first meeting in January,” explained head coach David Cutcliffe, now in his sixth season with the Blue Devils. “There was a hunger with this team. They tasted success last year but wanted so much more.”
“This is what we work and train for,” said junior receiver Jamison Crowder. “It’s time to settle your nerves, get yourself in the right frame of mind to go win some football games. We have done all the physical preparation, this week we begin preparing to play North Carolina Central.”
“This team had a really good summer and preseason,” added Cutcliffe. “They are an experienced team, but they still have to execute, tackle, block, and excel in the fundamentals of the game in order to be successful.”
This may well be one of the more experienced teams to be at Duke in a number of years. The Blue Devils have a veteran offense with a junior quarterback that led the teams to victories last year, an older experienced offensive line, four solid running backs and talent at the receiver positions.
“We are further along this year than we were at this time last year,” explained senior receiver Brandon Braxton, who moved over from the defensive side of the ball to a wide receiver spot, giving the Devils greater depth. “We worked really hard beginning with conditioning workouts in the winter, right through spring practice and summer workouts. Last year we learned a lot about what it actually takes to be a winning football team and we are ready to build on that knowledge.”
“As a team I feel like we are really on track,” explained Boone. “Personally, I feel that I am in a great spot. I’m pleased with where my game is right now, but not satisfied. I know there are a number of areas where I can improve and some of them will take place when we begin playing games.”
With the loss of a record-breaking quarterback like Sean Renfree, now playing with the Atlanta Falcons, you might expect a drop off at the position, but Cutcliffe feels very confident about Boone’s ability to lead this team to victories.
“He adds a lot of energy and enthusiasm to our football team,” said Cutcliffe. “His leadership ability is what first impressed me about Anthony. He has shown great leadership during camp and has a very strong grasp of our offense.”
Boone will be backed up by redshirt junior Brandon Connette and freshman Parker Boehme.
One player on the offensive side of the ball that has been impressive to Cutcliffe is 6-5 redshirt freshman receiver Anthony Nash. Cutcliffe said that Nash may be as fast as any receiver he has been around, comparing his speed to former Tennessee receiver and Olympic hurdler Willie Gault.
While the offense has its veterans, the real difference in this Duke football team will be seen on the defensive side of the football. Last year, the Blue Devils gave up 36 points and over 469 yards per game. Those numbers must improve in order for the Blue Devils to come close to repeating or improving on last season’s six victory total.
“What I like most about our defense is that we have enough healthy players to have competition at several positions,” said Cutcliffe.
Heading into the Belk Bowl last year the Blue Devils basically had just five experienced players they could play in the secondary. This year there are 10 players competing for playing time. The secondary is led by senior corner Ross Cockrell, but watch out for guys like Anthony Young-Wiseman, Corbin McCarthy and Dwayne Norman to make an impact.
The players we talked with on the team also mentioned the play in camp of Breon Borders in the defensive secondary. Borders is a 6-0, 175 pound freshman from Statesville, N.C., who Crowder described as a guy that makes a lot of plays and has a knack for finding the ball and then making a big play.
When ask about other players that fans might not know about, but have made an impact in camp the players all quickly said to watch out for the play of Ryan Smith. A freshman from Las Vegas, the first thing you will notice about Smith is his size at just 5-7 and weighing 165 pounds.
“Ryan is very quick and shifty,” explained Crowder. “He just gets open with his speed then seems to catch every ball thrown his way.”
Also mentioned were freshman receiver Johnell Barnes from Florida and sophomore running back Shaquile Powell from Las Vegas.
While a number of the outstanding newcomers are freshmen, Cutcliffe said that he wasn’t really concerned with red-shirting at this point in the season and if a player could help the Blue Devils win games, especially during the critical month of November, they would be playing.
In order to make the month of November critical, Cutcliffe knows not to overlook any opponent, including his Durham neighbor N.C. Central University, which the Devils defeated last year 54-17 and open up with again this Saturday.
“They found a way to move the ball on us,” said Cutcliffe, who watched his defense give up 377 yards in last year’s victory. “In any first game you have to be focused on being the best you can be. There is no preseason in college football, so you have to be ready right from the first play of the first game.”
There was a time when the enthusiasm for the beginning of the Duke football season would be dampened by the reality of having an inferior product.
That is no longer the thought process on the Duke campus.
Duke is coming off a bowl trip for the first time in 17 years, season ticket sales are up over last year and if just sheer enthusiasm is any indication the football team had their largest attended autograph day in the school’s history on a raining Saturday afternoon two weeks ago.
Senior tackle Perry Simmons expressed a feeling that seems to permeate throughout the team.
“Every year you feel at the start of the season that you can do something special, this year we don’t think we can do something special, we know we can do something special because we have. We know what it takes to win games and be successful and we want to be better.”
If you have any questions or comments about Duke football or my column “Monday Mornings” be sure to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It will be very helpful to understand what you would like to know about the Blue Devils.