I'm ready for some football? Trust me, there will be a lot of newness tomorrow. New Coach, new hope, new attitude, new uniforms, new cheerleaders in new uniforms, new Devil (you'll see), new entrance, new traditions born, new closed end scoreboard, new sounds, new promotions, new student section, new programs ... you get the picture yet? Folks, this is the dawn of a new era, so be there early to greet the team during the Blue Devil Walk and soak in the new traditions. As always the Blue Devil Nation is on the scene and here are a few pictures that may just get you riled up. That said, be loud, be proud and wear DUKE BLUE!
[private]1- Wear Blue! -The word is out and the word is blue! Coach Cutcliffe spent the summer doing all he could to promote Duke Football. The latest, if you haven't already hear is to show up for the game wearing your Duke Blue. "I expect to see a sea of blue," said Coach Cutcliffe during his most recent press conference. What to watch for- The students have been moved back to the home side and will be behind the players for the first time in years. It will be interesting to see if the cheers are coordinated in the sea of blue.
2- Get there early! Duke is expecting a big crowd and more traffic than usual. Duke will have a team walk from the Chapel to Wallace Wade, where fans are invited to get involved. Duke will also have kid activities and music. It's always fun to walk about the multiple tailgates too. It's a new season and a new tradition and it starts with you, the Duke fan! What to watch for- Coach Cutcliffe has promised a new game day experience. This includes a secretive new way of the team entering the stadium. Stay late for fireworks and at halftime Coach K and Duke Olympians will be honored. Also, the students are notoriously late in years past. Will this change?
3- Concessions- Sounds odd? Well, Duke has not been prepared for large crowds in the past and this year studies have been made to keep this from happening. What to watch for - Will they run out of H20 before halftime in what might prove to be a humid evening?
4 - Atmosphere and Emotion- It's clear that Duke wants the typical game day atmosphere you get at some other schools. Much work has gone into the planning and you can bet there will be changes, perhaps even a little noise to elicit cheers. This is not an opera folks! So, don't worry about the polite claps and feel free to let out a scream or two. Bring your yahoo in and leave your worries of what others might think at the gate. Crowd emotion drives the players, player emotion drives the crowd. Let's get emotional! What to watch for - When it's third and one on offense or defense, will the crowd be passive or a little amped up?
5 - James Madison- JMU has been known to hit a team square in the mouth from the outset. They possess quickness and confidence and desperately want this win. The Dukes are ranked no lower than 3rd in the country in any Division I-A poll and 1st in two. Last years edition was one of the youngest under Coach Mickey Matthews and they all return. This team lost by one point to Appalachian State in last seasons Championships and had it won if not for a late turnover. What to watch for- Will JMU come into the game with a swagger? More importantly, will they leave with one?
6 - James Madison on offense- Expect to see an offense that spreads the ball around a lot. Their backfield runs a lot of motion and fakes and is as hard to prepare for as the option. Quarterback Rodeny Landers will run and run and run. He's big and hard to tackle and will be the center of attention at all times. JMU has several players capable of making big plays with their speed. What to watch for -If Duke shows the ability to contain the run, how accurate can Landers be in the air? He completed 63% of his passes last season and threw for 12 scores. Will Eugene TB Holloman run roughshod over the Duke defense?
7- James Madison on defense -These guys like to stack the box and try and shut down the run. In last seasons loss to UNC, JMU effectively shut down the run, ultimately losing the game to turnovers. This team will play a lot more physical than many expect. What to watch for -JMU feels their secondary is a strength. Can they shut down a Duke team that will likely pass more this season?
8 - Duke on offense -There is a new sheriff in town and he his own deputies in tow. Duke will spread the ball around tmore this season and go to Eron Riley often. Thaddeus Lewis has shown the ability to be a leader and the offensive line has improved. Al eyes will be on the running game where there are depth issues and freshman or newcomers slated to get reps. What to watch for -Coach Cutcliffe wants to see a crisp offense ran to precision. Can Duke run the ball enough to take pressure off Thaddeus Lewis in the pocket and will the offensive line hold up?
9- Duke on defense- Duke has a pretty good starting lineup, but will be breaking in a new safety which is a critical position. Depth as always is an issue. Tackling has been better than I remember in the pre season and a slimmed down unit should be quicker to the ball. During the pre season, Coach told the players to treat the ground like a hot stove. "You can't make a play if you are on your back," said Cutcliffe. The defense will be the most interesting said that it was not the attention of the media in the pre season. What to watch for -Coach Cutcliffe knows there is little depth on the front and in the linebacker positions. Will this unit hold up for an entire game?
10 - Special Teams -It got to the point last season where I would close my eyes on field goals and extra points. Nick Maggio has proved to be consistent in practice and will get the call. Punting has been a pleasant surprise in the pre season. As for coverage, it will make or break a team in close contests. What to watch for - Will Coach call upon Maggio in short yardage situations or elect to go for it. This is one area that needs consistency for the teams confidence and to win close games. How improved will this unit be under Coach Middleton? A good kickoff or punt return could prove to be a huge spark. As important, will they allow JMU good field position or the big play on the other end.
11- The fourth quarter - Much has been made about off season conditioning and Coach has alluded to having enough in the tank to be able to win a game in the fourth quarter and or finish. What to watch for -A score. Fourth quarter points were as scarce as sell outs for the past several seasons. Can Duke take a game from beginning to end?
12- Intangibles -This category is perhaps the most important. (A) Turnovers - This might decide the game on Saturday evening. Duke must protect and value the ball. (B) Clock Management - This always applies, but the NCAA has a new rule and Duke must get up to the ball in a timely manner (C) Penalties - Face it, Duke has not been disciplined in the past and shot themselves in the foot on many occasions. Precision and attention will be important all season long. (D) The sidelines - All too often in the past, the Duke sideline looked emotionless with many players hanging around talking about classes and after game affairs. (E) Resilience - This is a key to being a winner. Can Duke bounce back after being down? Can they drive the nail into the coffin when they are up? What to watch for - All of the above![/private]
Yes sir! Real pumped up and ready to get out there and go play some football. We're tired of going up against each other in practice.
Have you been watching a lot of film on James Madison?
I mean they've got a real good quarterback coming back from last year, very physical tough runner. But as long as we execute our game plan, we'll be fine.
I know everybody wants to mention weight loss all the time, but can you tell me how has it effected you? Has your game improved and what ways has it improved?
I think from one standpoint, I'll be able to play more snaps and catch my breath between the plays. It's really helped me out in that area. As far as my speed and my quickness on my feet, that's way, way better than what it was during the spring. We'll keep at it real hard in the weight room and working on on our conditioning.
So, you feel like you guys are going to be ready to go in the fourth quarter?
Oh yeah! Most definitely. The fourth quarter conditioning is not even a question this year. Even when we get tired, we can push through that fatigue.
Do you consider yourself to be the leader on the defensive line?
Definitely. I'm a third year starter and I've got to take those guys under my wing. We've got Wes Oglesby and Akinbiyi on the front and I've got to make sure those guys are ready to go.
You've been going up against the offensive line all pre season. Last year they had a hard time and didn't quite come together. What do you think of them this year?
They're a lot better. Coach Luke has them working hard and we are making them better. This is alll about having heart. If you have a great technique and a will to block a big lineman you can do it.
Vince, a lot has been said about the support around campus, can you just tell me a little about that?
The reason there is a lot is because what Coach Cutcliffe has done with going out and getting the community involved, speaking to students and getting them involved. Coach Cutcliffe has really made the students and the staff (Administration) buy into the program. He;s all over Durham in an effort to put Duke Football back on the map.
Talk of building a new culture ...
Winning is not easy. If winning was easy, everybody would be doing it. Coach Cutcliffe has really go this home opner set for that to happen. With all the people coming to the ball game, it's going to be a record crowd for a home opener.
Coach Cutcliffe says he wants you to go in and enjoy the game. Despite that, is there pressure to win this opener against a tough team?
You have to want to win and have the will to win. It's been so long since we've had a win. It goes back to the win over Northwestern last year. I think our guys want to have that feeling again. I know I do.[/private]
[private]The Blue Devil Nation was once again on hand after this mornings practice and we chatted briefly with Coach Cutcliffe. This was the last time the media could talk to him during opening game week. All of the question were asked by Brian Strickland of the Herald Sun and myself.
It's just over fifty hours before kickoff on Saturday. What are your feelings at this time?
I feel like we're prepared. Today's practice looked that way. I thought defensively, offensively and the kicking game had people where they were supposed to be and knew what to do and were pretty crisp and focused. This is your dress rehearsal every week on Thursday and you find out a lot about your team. It's the first time they've seen the way we do things, so I was pleased with it for the most part.
Do you get nervous before the games?
Not really. I get butterflies like anybody does on occasion from the excitement. I wouldn't call it nervousness. There's too many things to do to be nervous with last minute things going on. I enjoy game day and try to enjoy that experience and I want the players to enjoy it. We're pretty intense as you guys know that are around here during the week. On game day, I am going to be intense, but if they're not ready after this, it's not their fault, it's mine.
Absolutely! I think we'll see that Saturday night. I think we'll see more than a full house. I don't say that to keep people from coming, but to encourage them to come for I think it's going to be mpore fun than they've had in Wallace Wade Stadium in a long time.
Coach K had some nice things to say about the program during his press conference yesterday. Can you give me a brief comment about that?
Certainly! I appreciate his support from the start, the very beginning. Here's a guy bringing home the Gold and he sets his press conference on Wednesday. I know he's still tired and just to make the comment that he want's the press conference out of the way and everything to be focused on the football team is just unbelievable. It doesn't surprise because of who he is. I sat and kind of measured him up during the press conference ... here's a guy who is a graduate of West Point who played for the winningest coach of all time. He's won over 800 games himself, three national titles and now Olympic Gold. I'm just kind of looking at him saying, "whats next?"
Can you talk about OL Kyle Hill and what he's done?
He's done a really nice job to come out and start in his first game as an offensive lineman. He takes a lot of pride and he is athletic. I think it gives us one of the most athletic sides of the line with him and Cameron Goldberg. I like athletes, you guys know that. Neither one of them have an ounce on them. I look forward to seeing Kyle compete. I'm sure he'll make some mistakes, but if you are going to make them, do it is full speed which is one of my motto's.
You will be back on the field as a head coach this weekend which is something you wanted to get back to ...
I'm not going to be arrogant, but I will tell you that I feel very natural doing that. It's what I prefer. When I have coached as an offensive coordinator, I'm the head coach of that offensive team and I'm focused. From a competing (as an OC) standpoint, we had a plan from the get go. I mean no disrespect to the coaches I've coached for, but (being in charge) is my nature and I'm very, very comfortable around this staff. I look forward to really going out and competing with them.
We've had quite a bit of rain of late. How might that paly into field conditions?
The field will drain. It's a sand based field and I think it'll be fine. I'm not sure what's coming up, but we might have a couple of thunder busters between now and the game. We all surfed in here yesterday. It was the largest amount of water I've ever dealt with in a practice situation. I really don't care what the fields like. If we play well and take care of the football and do the things we've got to do I will like watching our team compete.
An aside, the field was being painted as I left and the North Carolina sunshine started to burst between the clouds. The field looked to be in good shape. It's been a crazy week of coverage where this site has been burning the candle at both ends. Next week should allow us to get back to more writing, instead of the interview formats we've adopted for times sake. Lastly, wear blue and turnout foe the game on Saturday evening. I've been tipped off about some new experiences that should please Duke fans. You will want to get into the stadium early to catch the full effect.[/private]
[private]Eron Riley has the potential to score on any possession when he's on the field. Riley hauled in a career high 9 touchdowns last season to go with a 20.8 average. Riley took the time to talk about his team and the enthusiasm surrounding Duke Football going into the season opener against James Madison.
This is what we’ve been waiting for since our loss to Carolina in November. All these off season workouts we’re running will pay off. We’re ready to hit somebody besides our own teammates.
Coach Cutcliffe said Duke just wants to concentrate on Duke and not so much James Madison. Is that the way you feel?
We can watch tape and prepare, but we will control what we can go and we’ll go out there and play our game and we feel like things will take care of themselves. It’s my last season and we have a new coach and a new enthusiasm around campus, so I’m excited and hope we have a good crowd this Saturday.
What changes will fans notice that is different than in years past?
We’ll play a lot more people and run a lot more formations. We’ll spread the ball around – a lot of people will have the ball in their hands.
You have a new offensive system. Do you feel like you’ve got it down pat?
When he got hired, we had our playbooks first thing. We spent a lot of time in our playbooks mentally. So by the time took it to the field we picked up pretty quickly on it.
Is there a noticeable difference in the excitement level on campus?
A lot more! Even on our first day of class, people were asking are you ready for the game. Many said we’re going to be out there … just words of encouragement.
The students have moved back to the home side, in well, several years. How will it feel to have the Duke fans and students together?
I think it is really good to have the students behind us and hearing them cheering and yelling for us.
Do you like the new offense?
Yes, I really like it. I get to line up as a slot sometimes. It’s versatile and I really like it. We use each others talents to make us better.
Is it important to win this game? Do you feel any pressure to win?
It’s always important to win. Yes, especially with all the promotions and enthusiasm around campus. If we go out there and lose, people can say same old Duke. I feel like we have to go out there and make a statement.[/private]
Opening statements - We are going to have a Blue Out. So, we want everybody to wear blue to the game. We want to see a sea of blue in the stadium.
Just evaluating our team, there are three phases that have happened already. There's winter conditioning, there is spring practice and summer conditioning work. All three phases, we've gotten better. Is it good enough? I'm not saying that. But we're at a point of being so far away, that we have miles to go before we sleep, so to speak. The fourth phase is the season. It's very obvious we are better as a team. I can give some specifics.
We are much better in the kicking game. Again, consider where we were! So, much better is not good enough to this point in my opinion. But we are much better! Our punting, our place kicking ... our kickoff has been excellent. I like our ability to be a good return team! Our coverage has been much better than what it's been. I think we can make some things happen. I think we can block some kicks.
As far as throwing and catching the ball -- I was very concerned after spring practice. They (team) struggled with that. Our throwing and catching was really poor. It has now reached the point where it is much better. Again, it's a little too inconsistent than what I like, but I'm pleased with the progress.
One of the areas I'm most pleased with is the pass coverage. I think our secondary has done a tremendous job at this point. I hope it is an indication of them improving, not our receivers not being able to separate. There has been a tremendous job done by Coach Jones and Coach MacIntyre in that regard.
Our tackling has been better. You can't play good defense ... the scheme doesn't matter if you can't tackle. Our tackling is not where it should be at this time, but it is better than any point in spring practice. If I had to lift something quickly right now, I would pray for great tackling.
The biggest concern I have, although there is improvement are both fronts. Our front on defense is much better, but I have a major concern about depth there. The offensive line is the same thing. There has been drastic improvement, but it's still not where it needs to be and the depth is horrendous at this point.
Overall, the thing that has helped us get better is better practice habits. I knew the first time I saw this team that was an issue. We sometimes try to revert back to 0-12, 1-11 habits. That's what we're here for is to make them understand you practice with the same intensity and the same execution which never waivers and we lose focus. Our jobs as coaches is to immediately correct that. If we continue to do that through the season, by the time we get to November, we can be a good football team. We are not the most talented team in the conference, but we need to be a good football team and if you are a good football team you can carry into the fourth quarter and win the game.
On the importance of a good showing on Saturday night ... Thank goodness there's expectations. I like that. Obviously I know of the importance of going out and playing well and people coming back. The biggest challenge is to generate the interest have some expectations. If you don't go in expecting to do well, you generally will not.
On changing the culture and the mentality of players - We have them everyday since last January and we've made progress in that regard. The thing we had to do was get the people enthused, get them in the stands, sell the stadium out. There has been too much finger pointing when it comes to Duke Football. We all have to take responsibility.. Our Administration has been a part of this and very supportive and they've declared that they want to change the culture of football at Duke and we are taking that serious. I'm not going to be afraid to challenge people. If it's not good enough on their end then I need to let them know. They can be mad if they want, but we are serious about changing the football program.
Part 2 is coming soon. Pictured is Coach David Cutcliffe and new Athletic Director, Kevin White. (copyright BDNP)[/private]