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Courtesy: Duke Photography
Monday Mornings: Game Week
Thursday 08/25/2014  -  Johnny Moore, GoDuke.com
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Monday’s are stuck with being one the most maligned days of the week. Back to school, back to work, staff meetings, projects, the beginning of another tough work week - no one looks forward to Monday. But this year during the college football season we will give you at least one reason to look forward to Monday with a reprise of Saturday’s Duke football game and a early week look at the next opponent in an offering titled “Monday Mornings.”

GAME WEEK

DURHAM -- Once again it is late August and time to crank up college football.

For a second consecutive August, Duke fans are looking forward to the college football season. Blue Devil fans no longer have to sit on the sideline while others talk about fun-filled Saturdays, exciting games, and outstanding players in the fall.

The Blue Devils have all of those elements plus 16 wins over the last two years, a Coastal Division championship in the ACC and back-to-back bowl appearances.

Duke fans can jump right in the midst of water-cooler, lunch time football discussions with anybody. Wins over N.C. State the last two times they have faced the Wolfpack, wins over nationally-ranked Virginia Tech and Miami last year, five wins in the last six meetings over Virginia and back-to-back victories over North Carolina – reviving an almost dead rivalry have made Blue Devil fans a very proud group.

Duke fans no longer pine for the middle of October and the start of basketball practice. They are still very proud and true blue Duke basketball fans, but they now look at October 15 to see who they are playing in football instead of if basketball practice has started. Plans for holiday trips are put on hold to see where the Blue Devils might go to a bowl game during Christmas and internet sites are full of Duke football chatter.

David Cutcliffe, as the head coach, CEO and doctor of reincarnation of not just Duke football on the field, but of the Duke football program has given fans a chance to be proud of their football team.  Football now has the monetary wherewithal to compete with anyone in the ACC, and the university, after watching the program flounder through 0-fer seasons is now as proud of their football program as they are of their nationally-renowned basketball program.

As we enter year number seven with the Alabama graduate at the helm of this program we have all been witness to the growing pains. The 5-7 season in 2009 that could have easily been the first bowl season with just a couple of plays turning the other way, the soul searching following the back-to-back 3-9 seasons of 2010 and 2011 and the break-out 2012 bowl season have all been building blocks.

“What we want to have here is a sustainable program,” explained the two-time ACC Coach of the Year. “We want a program that competes for championships each and every year.”

We have watched brick-by-brick, stick-by-stick as Cutcliffe has remolded a once very proud Duke football program into a legitimate college football program, with top-notch assistant coaches, a big time staff around him and state-of-the-art practice facilities.

He has done almost all of this with people. It was certainly the belief and support monetarily of former Blue Devil All-America halfback Bob Pascal, along with K.D. Kennedy and Steve Brooks that allowed Duke to build such an outstanding practice facility.

Cutcliffe has been able to show these men, plus numerous young high school players, the vision he has for Duke football. He is a tremendous people person. To put it in simple terms, he cares about his people and his people care about him. From the players, to coaches, to equipment and student managers, he makes them all feel like not just a part of the program, but an integral part of the success of Duke football.

He inspires and develops leadership. He structures the success of this team on the mantra of getting better each and every day.

“One of the reasons we have improved as a football team is that we have developed great habits,” he explained. “How we improve on those habits is how we improve as a football team.”

The improvement of those habits comes from deep within players. These habits are taught to the younger players by the older players. That’s why leadership is so key to the success of any athletic team endeavour and this year Cutcliffe may well have his best group of leaders.

Anthony Boone, Jamison Crowder, Laken Thomlison, from the offense and Kelby Brown and Jeremy Cash from the defensive side of the ball were recently named as team captains for 2014.

Yep, Kelby Bown, the All-ACC linebacker who suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp is a team captain.

Usually you would go and sit down with Kelby and ask him what it meant to be named a team captain even though you weren’t going to be playing.

Don’t have to do that, it would be a waste of mine and his time. I know how he feels. It may well be the top honor he has received as a football player. For your team to feel you are such a strong leader and part of this team that even if you are not on the field we need your leadership, says volumes about the young man as a person.

Along with developing strong leadership qualities among the players, Cutcliffe has improved recruiting to where he has some depth on the team.

With Brown’s season ending knee injury the Blue Devils have moved senior David Helton to the mike linebacker position and senior C.J. France has moved to the will linebacker spot. While the loss is tough the Blue Devils are very fortunate to have some experience in the linebacker unit with France having started in 12 games in his previous three seasons and a total of 103 tackles.

“We always try to prepare every season to play all the linebacker positions,” explained France, a native of Columbus, Ga. “In fact as a linebacker, we are the leaders of the defense and know all the positions on the defensive side of the field.”

The same is true for the tight end position with Braxton Deaver sidelined for the season as duties switch to junior David Reeves and sophomore Erich Schneider.  While players usually talk about filling big shoes, at tight end it is more of a vertical size that these young men will be filling. Size will be the rule with both of these tight ends. Reeves tops out at 6-5, while Schneider is 6-7. Each possess the skills to be solid players at tight end, Reeves caught three passes last year with one touchdown catch, but as usual we will have to see what happens when they turn on the lights and start playing.

RUNNING BACK COMMITTEE

Last year the Blue Devils used the law firm of Snead, Duncan, Thompson and Powell to handle the running back duties. The foursome made up of Josh Snead, Jela Duncan, Juwan Thompson and Shaquille Powell put together 1,905 yards rushing with eight touchdowns.  The running back duties will once again be a committee situation led by veterans senior Snead and junior Powell and newcomers Joseph Ajeigbe, a redshirt freshman from Riverside, Calif., and true freshman Shaun Wilson of Charlotte who rushed for 1,800 yards and 32 touchdowns last year for West Mecklenburg.  Last year the carries were split with Snead taking 107, Duncan 113, Thompson 64 and Powell 62. Watch for much of the same this season out of the new running back firm of Snead, Powell, Ajeigbe and Wilson.

NFL NOTES

The Blue Devils currently have nine players on NFL rosters in training camp.  This will be a big week for these players as roster cuts take place today at 4:00 p.m. down to 75 players then on Saturday August 30 down to the 53-man squad.  The nine on current rosters are Patrick Bailey at Tennessee Titans, Vincent Rey at Cincinnati Bengals, Juwan Thompson and Kenny Anunike at Denver Broncos, Thad Lewis and Ross Cockrell at Buffalo Bills, Sean Renfree at Atlanta Falcons, Cooper Helfet at Seattle Seahawks and Matt Daniels with the St. Louis Rams.

SPURRIER AND 1989 ACC CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM IN TOWN SATURDAY

The 1989 Duke ACC Championship team will be honored Saturday at the Duke-Elon game. Coach Steve Spurrier and his Blue Devils will return for a reunion and honoring during the first half of the game.

Remember to let me know how you feel about these ramblings....you can reach me with questions or comments at johnny.moore@img.com.


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