DURHAM, N.C. – With the spring practice session hitting the home stretch, the Duke football program makes its final preparations for Friday evening’s Spring Showcase. The Blue Devils will have one more practice, on Wednesday morning, prior to Friday’s 6:30 p.m. start at Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium.
REMINDER OF SPRING SHOWCASE DETAILS
Friday’s free event will start at 6:30 p.m. with the Science Drive Garage (no tailgating) and Grounds Lot (ADA Parking and Blue Devil Tower guests) parking lots opening at 5 p.m. The Bostock Gate (North) and Powers Gate (West) will open at 6 p.m. with all seating on the west side of the stadium. Highlights inside the venue for the showcase include:
• Open seating on the west side of the stadium, in the blue chairback seats
• Concessions open and Duke Merchandise on sale
• Interactive inflatable games set up on the concourse throughout the event
• Face painters on hand during the event
• Representatives from the Duke Ticket Office on hand to answer any questions
Following the showcase, at approximately 8:25 p.m., the Blue Devils will hold a meet and greet with the student-athletes and coaches on the field. At around 8:45 p.m., Duke will host a Family Movie Night at Wallace Wade Stadium, showing Remember the Titans. Fans are encouraged to bring a blanket and sit on the field or in a stadium seat to watch a movie on the video board. No chairs are allowed on the playing field.
BLACKWELL’S INCREASING COMFORT AND CONFIDENCE
Rising redshirt sophomore cornerback Josh Blackwell played in all 13 games last fall, starting five after the season-ending injury to All-America corner Mark Gilbert. Blackwell, a native of Buford, Ga., totaled 28 tackles, six pass breakups and one caused fumble during the 2018 season.
Blackwell saved some of his best play for late in the season, setting the Duke bowl game record for PBUs with four against Temple in the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl.
“It was definitely a good experience for me,” Blackwell said of playing so much as a redshirt freshman. “It was new playing at the college level. The speed is different. It’s definitely a learning experience and was a great opportunity for me. The experience is helping me prepare for next season. From the first start last fall, it was fun. I was definitely nervous. I had a couple of plays in the Virginia Tech game that were rough for me. It was definitely helpful for me to know that everyone will have good days and bad days. It’s all about getting better and chasing the next day.”
As one of 11 lettermen returning among Duke’s defensive backs, Blackwell and company comprise one of the most experienced on the squad. This spring Blackwell’s goal is to focus on being more of a leader for the cornerbacks.
“I’m the oldest in terms of the most playing time,” Blackwell said of his group. “I want to be a leader, hold other guys accountable, come in and work every day to be an exceptional person and player. I’m trying to be the best I can be on and off the field.”
“Maturity is the key aspect for Josh,” associate head coach/defensive backs Derek Jones said. “I’ve known since we recruited him that he had the chance to be special. Josh is now combining the technique part of playing the position with his speed. It’s showing up. He’s better than he’s ever been since he arrived here.”
SECONDARY MOVING PIECES AROUND
With Gilbert and rising senior safety Dylan Singleton missing spring practice due to injury, it has been upon the other members of the Duke secondary to prepare themselves for action. Part of that preparation has included position changes within the unit.
“In some ways, I think it has been good for us to have both Mark [Gilbert] and Dylan [Singleton] out,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “We have to build a secondary that is ready to play right now. There have been a few position changes there. Leonard Johnson is at cornerback and has had a special, special spring. We have Josh Blackwell and Jeremiah Lewis, who are young cornerbacks with talent. Tony Davis and Jalen Alexander, who are true freshmen, have also jumped in the scene. There are folks all over the place.”
Johnson was a first-year starter in 2018 as he played in all 13 games and started nine of the final 10 contests of the year at safety. The Hayden, Ala., product totaled 59 tackles, 6.0 tackles for lost yardage, 2.0 sacks, one interception, three pass breakups, one caused fumble and two quarterback pressures last fall.
“He’s vastly improved from day one to now,” Jones added. “We looked at that last year when we had injuries. You’re thinking to yourself, ‘If we can put Leonard Johnson outside on some of these guys, we’d have a chance.’ But he had never practiced at that position. That’s one of the things that we collectively, with Coach Cutcliffe, agreed that we would do. He’s been nothing but satisfactory.”
HELPING THE QUARTERBACKS TRANSITION
This fall, Duke will be breaking in a new quarterback as Daniel Jones declared for the NFL Draft. The entire Blue Devil offense will be helping its new signal caller. Rising redshirt senior Quentin Harris has the leg up on the starting job at this point after starting a pair of games in 2018 while Jones was healing from a fractured clavicle.
“When you talk about Quentin Harris, he is a veteran who understands our playbook,” assistant coach/running backs Re'quan Boyette said. “He has been around, is a leader and has the respect of his teammates. That’s where our leadership and experience as running backs can help, too - just taking a load off of those guys sometimes if they need it.”
Rising junior tight end Noah Gray also knows his group will be helping in the transition process.
“We work really hard in practice and through the offseason, trying to get on the same page with the timing and our responsibilities,” he said. “Once we get on the same page with the timing, everything else comes naturally. We try to build a relationship even off the field, when we’re out eating, in class or just hanging out off campus. We’re just trying to build a good relationship with the quarterbacks.”
Rising junior offensive guard Rakavius Chambers’ unit will be responsible for protecting whoever is behind center this fall.
“One of the things that’s great about Duke is that we always have that next man up mentality,” Chambers said. “Daniel was amazing as a quarterback. I absolutely loved blocking for him. He made my job easier. But when Daniel went down last year, Quentin stepped up. It was an easy transition then. It has been easy for us now. Transition is really not the problem. It’s just more of us working out kinks sometimes with offensive line play and quarterback play – how he responds to our play and how we respond to his play.”
CUTCLIFFE ON QUENTIN HARRIS
Cutcliffe will be guiding his new signal caller this fall and has been pleased with how Harris has adopted to the role. Cutcliffe mentored two Super Bowl MVPs in Peyton Manning (Tennessee) and Eli Manning (Ole Miss) and has coached 11 quarterbacks who either earned all-conference honors or directed their respective school to a bowl game victory.
“The key is you can either be handed the reins or you can take them,” Cutcliffe said. “Quentin is accomplished right now in running our offense. He knows what he’s doing and how to do it. He has taken command of that operation. He is throwing the ball really well. There will be some adjustments and changes in how we approach things. We’ll be playing to Quentin’s strengths.”
Last fall, Harris completed 34-of-68 (.500) passes for 437 yards and seven touchdowns in addition to rushing 46 times for 195 yards (4.24) and five scores.
RUN, RUN, RUN
During the spring sessions, one of the primary focuses of the Blue Devils has been running and finding a new level of fitness.
“The identity is going to be conditioning,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re going to be fit. We haven’t run like this since our first year at Duke. I told our coaches that for every drill we do, I want to know the conditioning element of it. That’s going to be the theme of this team. That has to be a way to form the chemistry of this team.”
With the Major League Baseball season starting last week, Blue Devils offered their 2019 predictions.
Daniel Karlin: Red Sox over Brewers in the World Series. Mike Trout and Juan Soto for MVPs
Ryan Wolitzer: Yankees and Dodgers in the World Series. Aaron Judge as MVP
Koby Quansah: Red Sox will win the World Series. Bryce Harper as MVP
Tristan Westover: Dodgers will win the World Series. Corey Seager as MVP
BOWL & BASKETBALL SUCCESS
With the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in full swing and the college football season complete, Duke and Ohio State are the lone programs to have made the basketball main event and win a bowl game in each of the last two years.
The Blue Devils joined Auburn, Kentucky, LSU, Oregon and Virginia as the only institutions to capture a bowl title and advance to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Sweet 16 this spring. Duke, Auburn and Kentucky were the only squads to secure bowl victories and march on to the Elite 8.
PRO DAY REWIND
Last Tuesday, eight former Blue Devils performed in front of NFL scouts during Duke’s annual Pro Day. Linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, offensive tackle Christian Harris, tight end Daniel Helm, quarterback Daniel Jones, tight end Davis Koppenhaver, wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd, running back Nicodem Pierre and wide receiver T.J. Rahming were all back in Durham for the event.
This year’s Pro Day brought 31 NFL organizations with total representatives that numbered in the mid 60s to campus.