Spring Practice Primer: Duke Blue Devils
David Cutcliffe looks to lead Duke back to the postseason after reaching a bowl for the first time since 1994.
College football never ends, and during the next few weeks teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the Duke Blue Devils and what they'll be working on this spring.
Spring practice begins: March 4
Spring game: April 13
2012 record: 6-7 overall, 3-5 ACC
Returning starters: 14 (nine offense, five defense)
The Least You Should Know about Duke This Spring
-- Expect more option in the Anthony Boone-led offense. Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe already identified the run -- both being able to move the ball on the ground and stop it on defense -- as a key focus in preparation for 2013. Rising junior Anthony Boone moves into the starting quarterback position after four years behind Sean Renfree. Boone appeared in 12 games last season, mostly in a specialized package to utilize his dual-threat potential. The staff will use this spring to install more option-based packages for Boone to run as the starting quarterback. Duke should be set to provide plenty of dangerous options in the backfield, with running backs Jela Duncan (553 yards, 5.07 yards per carry), Juwan Thompson (352 yards, 4.69 yards per carry) and Josh Snead (496 yards, 5.01 yards per carry) all back for 2013. Quarterback/wide receiver/running back/tight end/you-name-it junior Brandon Connette is also back, but he will miss spring practice with an injury.
-- Improvements, along with new starters, needed in the secondary. Duke's pass defense gave up 267.2 yards per game and allowed an ACC-worst 8.9 yards per attempt in 2012. Cutcliffe frequently talks about limiting explosion plays -- runs of 12 yards or longer and pass completions of more than 16 yards -- on defense. Duke's 4-2-5 multiple scheme can put stress on the secondary, particularly when injuries lead to a shake up in the rotation. Safety Brandon Braxton returns to the wide receiver position this spring, leaving All-ACC cornerback Ross Cockrell on an island as the sole returning starter. Keep your eye on redshirt freshmen DeVon Edwards and Corbin McCarthy; two players who have earned first string spots on the first depth chart of spring practice.
-- Expectations are changing in Durham. Reaching a bowl game for the first time since 1994 made for a great story, but no one around the program is talking about "how great last year was." Defensive end Kenny Anunike, preparing for his sixth season after season-ending knee and ankle injuries, explained that their job at Duke is not done.
"Yeah, we got to a bowl game, but we didn't win. And everybody knows that," Anunike told the News & Observer. "And we know that we're not done yet. We're not here. We made major steps for this program, but we haven't arrived."
One way to secure a winning record is to have a stronger finish to the regular season. After earning bowl eligibility with their sixth win on Oct. 20, the Blue Devils lost four straight ACC games and played their way out of contention in a wide-open ACC Coastal Division race. Luckily for Duke, the team will not have to leave the state of North Carolina in November 2013.
-- Familiar faces added to the Duke coaching staff. David Cutcliffe earned 2012 ACC Coach of the Year honors thanks in part to some assistants who were with him at Ole Miss. Cutcliffe added some Duke blood to the staff in the offseason, hiring former wide receiver Scottie Montgomery (1996-99) as well as former running back, and team captain, Re'quan Boyette (2005-09). Montgomery spent the last three seasons on Mike Tomlin's staff in Pittsburgh and will serve as associate head coach and passing game offensive coordinator. Boyette, a graduate assistant for the last two seasons, will coach the running backs.
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