Posted by Chip Patterson
College Football has no offseason. Anyone will tell you that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice. So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers. Today, we look at Duke - the first FBS team to open Spring Practice.
Spring Practice Question: Can David Cutcliffe finally make the Blue Devils a contender for bowl eligibility?
For the second year in a row, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe has the Blue Devils on the field earlier than anyone in the ACC. He doesn't do it to steal any thunder from Mike Kryzewzski and the men's basketball team, but in order to start answering the many questions heading into the 2011 season.
The bar was set pretty low when Cutcliffe took over in 2007. Duke had only won four games in their last four seasons under the direction of Ted Roof, and the coach of SEC fame at least brought some excitement to Durham. But eventually excitement will turn into expectations and in order to put a mark on his time at Duke, David Cutcliffe needs to get to the postseason. It's something that Duke has not done since 1994, and the closest they came was their 5-7 record in 2009.
That was the last season that Duke's career-passing-leader Thaddeus Lewis played for the Blue Devils, and the focus for 2011 begins with his replacement. Sean Renfree showed great promise at times in 2010, throwing for 3,131 yards and 14 touchdowns. Unfortunately the sophomore signal-caller also tossed 17 interceptions, though he only threw two in the final five games. There was a steady improvement throughout the season, as Renfree became more comfortable with Duke's crop of talented wide receivers - led by All-ACC junior Conner Vernon. But the passing game is not the number one concern for Duke's coaching staff here in spring practice.
“It all starts in the line of scrimmage right now for us,” Cutcliffe said about his focus for spring practice. “Our capabilities up front allow us to make all the decisions on what we’re going to do. If we can’t stop the run and hold up defensively, it’s very difficult to play quality defense. That’s been the biggest challenge. We are reloading a group that we think runs better and is going to be bigger and more talented, but they’ve got to show us this spring. And offensively, first is to settle on the right five. For the first time, we really have some competition in the offensive line. With the mix of younger and older guys, it’s going to be pretty interesting. My absolute focus is going to be more on the interiors of both lines.”
Rebuilding that defense will be especially difficult without graduated senior linebacker Abraham Kromah, the ACC's second leading tackler in 2010. Safeties coach Jim Knowles moves up to defensive coordinator, trying to turn around a unit that ranked 109th nationally in scoring defense, and 104th in rushing defense.
Despite all the poor statistics looking back at Duke's 2010 campaign, a few bounces in conference play could have significantly changed their season. Duke lost four ACC games by six points or less last season, leaving revived Blue Devils football fans shaking their heads once again.
There was bound to be a drop-off from 2009, but with a rebuilding year behind them it is time for Duke to make their move in the ACC. Excitement has turned into expectations in Durham, and if Cutcliffe can't deliver in 2011 there will be several more questions for 2012. Most notably: how many more losing seasons can the head coach last?
Duke will play their annual Spring Game on March 26 in Wallace Wade Stadium
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