Practice starts today for a Duke team looking to show the college football world they are for real, the 2013 season was not a fluke it was an indicator of a program that has turned itself around and is on the move up. Coach Cutcliffe will conduct a press conference at 12:30 pm and the team will conduct their first practice starting at 6:15 pm at the Brooks Practice Facility.
Optimism abounds these days in Durham. There is good reason for the optimism. Coach Cutcliffe is the National Coach of the Year, the team won a school record 10 games last season with 16 starters returning from that team, the Blue Devils have been to bowl games in back-to-back seasons, and recruiting is flourishing. To reiterate, there is good reason for the optimism. However, only viewing the future through rose colored glasses can be limiting, so with this article the question is asked: what’s keeping you awake at night?
There are three concerns affecting my sleep pattern:
Number One – Quarterback Play!
Anthony Boone throws too many interceptions. Moreover, he has a tendency to throw multiple interceptions in a game. Last season Boone threw a total of 13 interceptions, he threw interceptions in six of the 11 games in which he played. In four of those six games, he threw multiple interceptions: four against Virginia Tech, three against N.C. State, two against Florida State and two against Texas A&M.
Behind Boone, the quarterbacks listed on the roster have combined to take zero snaps at the collegiate level. Thomas Sirk, Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre are all talented prospects who the staff is very high on but they have no experience. If Boone struggles or is injured, the quarterback situation becomes tenuous at best.
Coach Cutcliffe has stated he intends to stick with the two quarterback system which has been so successful the past couple of seasons with the departed Brandon Connette taking over at quarterback in short yardage situations. This means at least one of the young quarterbacks will be seeing action from the start of the season in short yardage situations. The experience the select quarterback gains during early season games could be critical before the season is over.
Number Two – Defensive Line!
Duke yielded 26.6 points per game in 2013 a 9.4 points per game improvement over the 36 ppg allowed in 2012. Can the defense maintain or better the improvements achieved? Play along the defensive line will go along way in answering the question. Three of four DL starters from 2013 have graduated, which leads to the question: are the new guys more talented?
Defensive tackle Jamal Bruce was last season’s fourth starter so he is back to anchor the interior along with junior Carlos Wray who has played lots of snaps. The major concern is at defensive end and the ability to generate a consistent pass rush. Will projected starters Dezmond Johnson and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo prove to be every down players who can both defend the run and pressure the quarterback? Can the staff devise a rotation at defensive end that takes advantage of all the players available to achieve success? The answers to those two questions are very important to the level of success the defense will be able to achieve in 2014.
Number Three – Injuries!
Injuries are an intangible so worrying about them is irrational. But no one ever accused sports fans of being rational so I opt to worry. A big part of the team’s success in 2013 can be attributed to a lack of injuries. The team was relatively injury free in 2013 so key players were consistently on the field at key times. In contrast, the 2012 team was decimated by injuries. Will 2014 fall somewhere in between? Hopefully the number of injuries incurred is a lot closer to the 2013 numbers than the 2012 numbers.
Obviously, the objective is for no single player to be unavailable due to injury at any point during the season; however, this is football so injuries are a reality.
The objective of this article is not to attempt to counter the optimism surrounding the program. That optimism is both real and deserved. The objective is to infuse a bit of self reflection. The program is in great shape due to a lot of hard work on the part of the players and the staff. A lot of hard work remains to be accomplished in 2014.
As far as the fans go, it is imperative they fill up Wallace Wade Stadium and cheer the team to victory starting on August 30 with the Elon game and continuing through to the Wake Forest game on November 29.