DURHAM, N.C. - The Duke football team opens training camp today, Monday, August 6, with the first of 24 scheduled workouts at the Brooks Practice Facility. In advance of the opening practice, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe and select players spoke with the media on Monday afternoon.
"We have reported in great condition, really great condition. I think physically and mentally, this is a squad that's ready to start today," said Cutcliffe, who enters his fifth season at the helm of the Duke program.
Duke returns 43 letterwinners and 17 starters, including the ACC's active leader in passing yards and completions, Sean Renfree, and senior wide receiver Conner Vernon, who has a chance to break the ACC's all-time receiving yards and receptions records.
"This team is the best of a lot of things - the best looking squad we've had, it's the strongest squad we've had and it's the fastest squad we've had," Cutcliffe said. "So regardless of what people say or don't say about our team, we go in with great expectation, not anticipation - there's a difference. And I want our team to clearly understand what expectation means. The camp theme therefore is 'Make plays that win games.' Period. It's the only way you're going to win."
Duke will have experience on both sides of the ball with seven offensive starters and nine defensive starters returning. Offensively the Blue Devils return four of five starting offensive linemen, an experienced running back unit that includes senior Desmond Scott, junior Juwan Thompson and redshirt sophomore Josh Snead, and one of the top quarterback-wide receiver duos in the league in Renfree and Vernon. With Renfree and Vernon locked into the passing game over the past three years, Duke has annually finished among the top two in the league in passing yards per game and completions per game.
"As you look at who we are, you obviously have five offensive linemen and you have a quarterback. And then you've got five positions surrounding the quarterback that have to be playmakers," Cutcliffe said. "We think we've got competition and quality in that regard, in spite of losing 40 percent of what were your starters. So that's encouraging. We couldn't always say that here."
Defensively the Blue Devils are experienced at every position, especially in the secondary where safeties Walt Canty and Jordon Byas and cornerbacks Ross Cockrell and Lee Butler have combined to play 121 games. The Blue Devils also anticipate the return of redshirt senior defensive end Kenny Anunike, who was the ACC leader in sacks and tackles for loss through the first four games of 2011 before he went down with a knee injury and missed the remainder of the season.
"We have competition everywhere," Cutcliffe said. "I'm anxious to evaluate our lines of scrimmage. The game still starts there, the ball is snapped there, the initial contact of the game will occur up there. If you had to look over a period of time of four years, that's where you have to continue to grow and get better. We have better size, better physical strength and I believe better athletes there on both sides of the ball. I'm really anxious to get past this 'shorts' period and get pads on to see our lines of scrimmage compete. That should be fun."
Duke opens the 2012 season on Saturday, Sept. 1, in Durham, N.C., against FIU at 7 p.m. Tickets are available online at www.GoDuke.com/Tickets or by calling 1-877-375-DUKE.