DURHAM, N.C. – Head coach David Cutcliffe began his 11th fall camp with the Duke football program on Thursday morning with a two-hour workout in helmets. The Blue Devils have 22 practices during fall camp and open the season at home against Army West Point on Friday, August 31.
FIRST PRACTICE IMPRESSIONS
The Blue Devils conducted their opening fall practice and were pleased with the work that was put in since the end of the 2017 campaign.
“I thought our effort was really special,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s been part of this team going back to January in winter workouts.”
Redshirt senior center Zach Harmon thought Duke’s underclassmen did a good job adjusting from the summer to the first full practice.
“Our second and third teams had a lot of younger guys,” he said. “I was really surprised with how they looked coming out of the summer. I thought there would be a much larger learning curve, but they really excelled today.”
Cutcliffe also saw room for improvement as the group goes forward.
“I thought our performance level was inconsistent,” he noted. “That’s OK on the first day, but it can’t stay that way. That’s one thing we have to continue to push on our players – to practice like a game. We will gain some consistency there.”
“A lot of inconsistency and a lot of up and down,” Lloyd said. “But that’s part of the first day. A lot of our guys are anxious and out there for the first time. We’ll continue to grow, get back in the film room and get back into the rhythm of practice as things smooth out.”
“I loved the effort out of everybody,” Humphreys said. “It’s what you’re looking for on day one. Obviously you want to compete and have sound technique. Inconsistencies will decrease as practices move on.”
NEW OFFENSIVE LINE ROLES
For the first time since 2009, Duke will break in three new starters along the offensive line, replacing the graduated Gabe Brandner (left tackle), Austin Davis (center) and Evan Lisle (right tackle). This year’s line will be centered by Harmon, who started at right guard the last two years.
Harmon and company will be protecting redshirt junior quarterback Daniel Jones, a preseason third team All-ACC selection by Phil Steele’s College Football Preview.
“We know how capable he is,” Harmon said of Jones. “He can take us where we want to go if we take care of him.”
This year’s offensive line will also have a new position coach in Jim Bridge, who spent the 2016 and 2017 seasons overseeing the team’s tight ends while coordinating Duke’s special teams units.
“During our first meeting of the spring with coach Bridge, we watched all of our sacks from 2017,” Harmon said. “Everyone gave up one and you saw yourself letting your quarterback get hit. It kind of gets you, but it motivates you to not let it happen again. I think it’s safe to say our main focus is keeping him [Jones] off the ground.”
Looking to replace the Blue Devils’ two lost tackles are redshirt senior Christian Harris and redshirt sophomore Robert Kraeling. Following spring practice, Kraeling shared Most Improved Offensive Player honors with running back Deon Jackson.
DANIEL JONES IN 2018
Jones returns for his third year as Duke’s starting quarterback in 2018. He is one of just three returning quarterbacks among Power 5 schools to amass 2,500 or more passing yards and 500 or more rushing yards a season ago, joining Clemson’s Kelly Bryant and Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke.
“I want to see consistency,” Cutcliffe said when asked what to expect from Jones this season. “Daniel’s role is not just to play better, but to ensure we don’t have penalties. His role is to minimize sacks himself. His role is certainly to throw and complete balls, but also make sure he’s on the same page as the receivers. I’m excited.”
A preseason watch list selection for the Maxwell Award and Davey O’Brien Award, Jones will open 2018 as one of two active quarterbacks nationally with 5,500 or more career passing yards and 1,000 or more career rushing yards, joining Syracuse’s Eric Dungey.
Duke returns a veteran linebacker corps with Humphreys and redshirt junior Joe Giles-Harris entering their third years as starters. Giles-Harris has been named to a trio of preseason All-America squads while Humphreys is a preseason All-ACC selection by Lindy’s Sports (3rd team) and Phil Steele’s College Football Preview (3rd).
“Joe [Giles-Harris] looked better than any point last year,” Cutcliffe said. “He has gained strength and speed while Ben [Humphreys] looked healthy, which has been important to him.”
Beyond the two starters, Duke also has additional depth in junior Koby Quansah, who started the two games Humphreys missed due to injury in 2017 and shared Most Improved Defensive Player honors with cornerback Myles Hudzick and safety Marquis Waters following spring practice.
“Koby [Quansah] looked great,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re going to have some surprises. Our young people at that position are good.”
DEFENSE CONTINUES TO GROW
In addition to two returning starters at linebacker, the Blue Devils welcome back six other defensive starters from 2017. Last season, Duke held seven opponents to 20 points or less and ranked 21st nationally in scoring defense at 20.23 points per game, the program’s lowest total since 1977 (20.09).
“I am excited for every single guy on our defense,” Humphreys said. “I am excited for our unit and our coaches. We’re just going to have a good year and work every day, week-by-week, to focus on one game at a time.”
“Our safeties are deep,” Cutcliffe said of his defense. “[Co-Defensive Coordinator Matt] Guerrieri loves to play many safeties. I think we can. We have a lot of things to shuffle around defensively. Here’s an interesting thing – we have three scholarship seniors defensively. It’s pretty interesting when you feel experienced and that’s what you’re looking at.”
VETERAN WIDE RECEIVERS
The Blue Devils’ pass catching group will be one of the program’s most veteran units this season. Duke features six scholarship upperclassmen who are wide receivers and a pair of redshirt senior tight ends in Daniel Helm and Davis Koppenhaver.
“We are pretty old across the board,” Lloyd said. “T.J. [Rahming], Chris [Taylor], Aaron [Young] and me are guys who have played a lot and been here for multiple years. We are able to just jump in and coach the young guys. We have been through it, done a lot and learned a lot so we can step up to be leaders.”
“One of the things I liked best about our receivers is that their habits are naturally really good,” Cutcliffe said. “Our older guys have natural, good football habits while our young ones have displayed the same thing. I heard our older guys coaching during practice and I would like to see more of that across the board.”
LOOKING FOR AN OFFENSIVE EXPLOSION
A trend from the Blue Devils’ offseason goals was to find a way to create more explosive plays. Thursday gave a good indication the squad was on track, completing a number of deep balls.
“We want to keep doing that,” Lloyd said of throwing deep. “Last year we needed more explosives. If we continue to stretch the field we will have a better offense. We have to continue to push the ball down the field. Even on incompletions, stay with it and trust it. You just have to keep practicing so it will translate.”
A FIRST FOR THE LAST TIME
For Duke’s senior class, Thursday marked the final first practice of their Duke careers. Lloyd, who has been a part of the football program since December of 2013, tried to take in what it meant to begin his final season.
“For me I’m just trying to take it all in,” he said. “It’s my last ride so I am just trying to embrace the last journey and make the most of every day, every practice and every rep. I can remember being a young guy sitting on the bench and waiting my turn. This will be my third year starting and I just want to embrace that last journey and leave it all on the field.”
Lloyd is one of 10 redshirt seniors on this year’s squad. Duke also has seven true seniors.