Category Archives: Duke Football

Game Week – Coach Cutcliffe talks of a new beginning and more

[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.

Coach, you've been doing a lot of promotion in the off season. Do you think that's been a success?

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]

Game Week – Eron Riley Interview

[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.

It’s game week! What are your thoughts on Saturday’s game?

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]

Game Week – Cutcliffe talks to the media, part I

[private]Coach Cutcliffe addressed the media today with the emphasis on changing the culture of Duke Football and asking the fans to be in the stands early.

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]

Game Week – Thaddeus Lewis Interview

[private]

copyright BDN Photography

Who is your biggest fan or the one who encourages you the most during your career?

My Momma! She's my biggest fan. So I have to give a shout out to my Mother. My big brother too. He's kind of like my idol. My brother is nine years older than me and everything he's done in sports, I'd like to follow.

What was it that you liked about Duke when making your collegiate choice?

Duke is somewhere you can be comfortable at. You want to be somewhere where somebody wants you. I wanted to contribute right away and there is a family atmosphere here amongst the coaches.

Some in the media are saying Zack Asack is pushing you in practice. How do you feel about that? Does it make you a better player or do you just try to be the best Thad can be?

I don't like to read the media, but I'm glad he is. That's the type of thing you want. God forbid anything happen, but you would want someone behind you that can lead this team if something was to happen to me. So, it's a good thing, it makes me a better player making me compete everyday. I wouldn't have it no other way.

What do you think of Coach Cutcliffe so far?

Coach Cutcliffe is a great man! A guy that's going to push you to your limit. He wants the best out of you everyday and will not let you settle for less. That's the type of man you want around.

How about Coach Roper the OC?

Coach Roper is a fun guy. He stays on you! He's a good teacher.

I noticed during the opening day with the media that your body looked a little different than last season ...

They brought in Coach Durfey as the strength and conditioning coach. He has a good weight program and works us hard. If you come into our locker room you are there to be in pursuit of excellence, so if you are not ready to work, well ... It took a lot of hard work, plus the challenge that Coach told us he wanted us to drop weight and get to a certain level of body fat.

Do you have a different gel going into this season than last year? What's your general feel?

More mature. Confident in what you can do. This is my third offense in three years, but being a leader you have to adjust. It feels kind of good in that you have a lot of players around you who have that game experience.

Tell me a little bit about being a leader for this season's team ...

I'm not a real vocal leader, but I try to show it through my actions. You do everything to the best of your abilities and let the guys see your working hard and they will follow.

I assume you have a good relationship with Eron Riley. Have you two developed ...

Definitely! Since me and Eron have been connecting with each other ... sometimes the two of us will come out here and throw some balls together trying to get our timing down. Just going to his house and playing games and hanging ... it's a relationship we are all in on here.

What are your goals for the coming season? Any personal goals?

No personal goals, just a team goal. Every time you hear us shout it will be "We are Duke." We're going to take it one game at a time and do whatever it takes to fill up that stadium out there. (interview on practice field)

Tough question here ... In the recent past Duke hasn't fared well at home. You have four consecutive to open the season starting with James Madison. What will you do to turn it around?

People want to see you win. If we go out there and get that first "W," we know they'll want to come back to see you. But they will want to see if we can repeat the success as well. If you give the fans what they want, you definitely are going to get that support. You've got to earn it.

What is Thad's message to Duke fans going into Saturday evening's opener with a tough JMU team?

We hope to see you there. We're going to go out there and give it our all and try to give them a show. Our guys will always come out and give it our best and no matter the results we'll come back hard in our pursuit of excellence. People say that winning isn't everything, but actually it is and we want to get a win.[/private]

Duke Football: Freshman of Influence

[private]I asked Coach Cutcliffe which freshman looked as if they were ready to contribute right away this season. The following is the list he gave BDN.

DB Matt Daniels #40 (6-1, 195)- "Matt Daniels looks like he will be able to contribute on defense," sad Coach Cutcliffe after a recent practice. Daniels will compete for time in the secondary. Set a single game rushing record of 348 yards while at Fayette County HS in Georgia. Tallied 268 tackles in his career and pulled in 7 interceptions.

DB Lee Butler #36 (5-10, 180)- Coach Cutcliffe also mentioned Butler as a player who could step in right away. Butler most recently had 4 tackles and cause a late fumble to seal a South Carolina victory over North Carolina in the annual Shrine Bowl which is an all star game. Had 1263 all purpose yards and 11 touchdowns last season for Westside High in Anderson, S.C.

ST, LB Trent Mackey #20 (5-10, 220)- "I expect to see Trent Mackey get some time on special teams and eventually make it at the linebacker," said Coach Cutcliffe. There has been a buzz around Mackey during early practices. Had 103 tackles, 13 for losses as a senior at Carnecro HS in Louisiana.

WR Johnny Williams #37 (5-10, 190)- "Johnny Williams has certainly set a strong pace at receiver. He's been one of our leading receivers in every scrimmage we've had," said Coach Cutcliffe. Williams is a very talented youngster capable of making big plays. He ran first team more often than not in many drills. Was a do all athlete at St. Stephens HS in Alabama. One of the true gems in the class of 2008.

RB Jay Hollingsworth #27 (5-10, 185)- With injuries to tailbacks, Hollingsworth will be depended upon to carry an early load. Looks like a pure running back in practices. Was rated the number three running back in the state by RIvals. Played his ball locally at Lee County H.S. in Sanford, North Carolina. "Hollingsworth is getting a lot of snaps at running back. We have major concerns in that area. I think that Jay continues to get himself ready to play," said Cutcliffe.

There are a handful of others who could make this list. It'll be interesting to watch the 08 guys develop as the season moves along.[/private]

Quick Hitter – Vincent Rey talks leadership and JMU

[private]I caught up with LB Vinnie Rey, having a bit of one on one time with him after an intense practice.

Looks like you guys are going at it hard and preparing for James Madison ...

"We're working hard. It's like two jobs. It's a job in the film room and it's a job out here. The film room is a job to understand and learn the schemes. Out here you just have to run to the ball and finish."

You are going up against a multi-faceted quarterback. How do you prepare for that?

He's a very good quarterback ... good on his feet and throwing the ball also. We have a big job to do, but we can't forget that there is ten other guys out there on his team who can play as well.

You stepped up big time last year. Have we seen the best of Vincent Rey yet?

No sir! I feel like I've gotten a lot better physically. I'm learning the game a lot better under the new coaching staff. I feel that I just have to keep doing my job on defense. The better I do my job, the better I help my team.

You've been named team captain! What does that feel like in that the other three are seniors?

It's one of the biggest honors I've had in my life. And it's definitely a responsibility on and off the field.

What do you bring to the table as a leader?

I bring hard work. Every time I come out here I want to be the hardest working guy on the field.

Do you have a message for Duke fans?

Come to the game and you will be entertained. It's going to be a good game and we want your support.[/private]