Duke Football: Spring Practice Has Begun

The ink has not even  dried yet on the Letter of Intent forms and Duke football is already out on the practice field. While I am sitting in a few feet of snow, at least these guys can enjoy the warmth and soak in a little bit of the sun as their pre-season practice gets underway in Durham. If you happen to follow Duke’s recruitment process you can see that they are not just rebuilding their program but rebuilding Wallace Wade Stadium as well. Could this be a rebirth of some sorts for this team? Are we looking at a football team that could be as good as their basketball team? I will let you decide on that one, as for me I am a firm believer in “seeing is believing” so I guess I will have to wait till kick off in the fall to make my decision.

Spring practice is here and I am sure no one is more ready to hit the ground running then the Blue Devil’s head coach David Cutcliffe. After having one of their most successful season to date, 9-4 overall, I would have to say they have a reputation to maintain. After taking over a pretty much hopeless football program in 2008, I am sure not one team in the ACC saw them coming out of left field. This past season they came off key wins against ranked opponents such as Pittsburgh and Syracuse, and even though they lost by a point almost upsetting Virginia Tech this was a team that played and at some points looked like a top-tiered team. But for now it is back to the drawing board when it comes to this new Duke team.

The first phase of building back their program is the reconstruction of their current stadium. I like to call this phase one just because sometimes it is not enough to just build the program through the players and the staff but through the building they call home all season. Their current stadium holds roughly 33,000 people, a track and a press box that sat at the top of the Sports Medicine building. In some ways you could say that it felt more like a high school football stadium, rather than a NCAA Division I home field. Now all of that will change. The new stadium will strictly be used for football. There will be luxury suits, more concessions, restrooms and dining options. The track will be removed, which will allow the playing field to be lowered and the fans be closer to all the action.  Finally the open end of their horse-shoe shaped stadium will be bowled in to bring the new seating capacity to just under 44,000 people. Can we say major facelift? This 100 million dollar project is expected to be completely finished by the start of the 2016 football season. Maybe this new stadium will be the era of new Duke football.

Now lets talk players. Easily the most important part of any program, but with a decent recruiting class under their belt, the Blue Devils will have 51 lettermen returning to the team, 15 starters and 17 newbies that are ready to hopefully help Duke get to another bowl game. The Duke team that is currently on the practice field is looking a lot different then the one that reached a bowl game last season and ended up being disappointed once the time expired. Despite many of their players returning to the field, they managed to lose some key components to their success last season. The loss of Anthony Boone, their starting quarterback, Jamison Crowder, Laken Tomlinson, David Helton and three other defensive linemen definitely made Cutcliffe rework his recruitment strategy. Last but not least two of Duke’s starters, Jeremy Cash and Kelby Brown, will not be in spring practice due to knee injuries. Looks like the team will be starting from scratch. Cutcliffe is going to have to find someway to piece together all the puzzle pieces he has laying at his feet to come up with a team that can compete with the Florida State’s and Clemson’s of the ACC.

The one thing Duke will need to really capitalize on this season is the offense. Making sure they have playmakers on the field at all times and guys that can run the ball. It is not enough to have a good quarterback who can throw the ball, but they need guys that will be able to handle the pass and gain yards. I will be curious to see how the redshirt junior Thomas Sirk handles the pressure of being in the quarterback position. Now I could not solely say the offense was the only order of business the Blue Devils have to focus on, but the defense as well. Yes they had a great run last season, but there were moments when a few games slipped from their fingers due to a lack of defense. They managed to score some key recruits who maybe able to add some excitement, energy and aggression into the mix. Cutcliffe definitely has his work cut out for him, so I guess starting now is not such a bad idea.

One player to look out for is early-enrollee Reno Rosene. This 6’7, 330 pound offensive tackle will be an important replacement for Tomlinson. His size and strength will do wonders on the front line and give Duke much success. Rosene is already suiting up in Duke practice gear and hitting the field early. I think Justin Cates said it best when he said this kid was a monster. If Rosene can pick up Duke’s style and really show his abilities on the field we could see him suiting up come their first exhibition game at the end of the month.

Since defense an area of the Duke roster that seemed to take quite a hit, another early enrollee that will be essential to this new program will be defensive lineman Marcus Price. Price is one of many recruits Duke was able to snag out of Georgia. Just like Rosene his need was especially high after losing three defensive linemen last season. Price comes in with five other defensive linemen, so he will definitely need to establish his spot early in spring practice if he hopes to wear the Duke Blue come game day.

Rosene and Price will definitely have a leg up  when the rest of Duke’s recruits make their way to campus, but they will still have to work against returning players who know the program well and have a lay of the land event better then these two. The Blue Devils are a program attempting to reinvent themselves in a conference that is a tough nut to crack. The energy, enthusiasm and work ethic that can already be seen on the practice field, should give the fans, the coaching staff and everyone watching some much needed confidence.

Duke will have their first spring exhibition match at the end of the month. While we do not know who it will be against, all we know is that it will be on ESPN3 and I will definitely be watching to see who starts, if they managed to put together a team that meets all the needs they had to fill and if this team will be the team to beat. Now since Duke has started spring practice so early, they only have a handful of days left to break the ice and see what sort of team they are dealing with. After watching a few after practice session videos, Cutcliffe seems confident in this new Duke team. So far he seems impressed with the eagerness  to get back on the field and get the ball rolling early if they want to secure that ACC Conference Championship that has eluded them for so many years.

Do you think this new field will mean a new era in Duke football? Not to say what Cutcliffe has done with the program this far is amazing, but maybe this will be the era of an unstoppable Duke team. Could we be looking at a team almost as good as their basketball team? I might be getting ahead of myself, I mean Coach K is a legend and we saw how long it took him to take that team from zero to hero. I can dream can’t I? All I can say is with the recruits that have signed to play and the ones who are already there, it looks like Duke has filled in the gaps pretty well. But the season is still young and only time will tell if they are ready as they seem.

Duke will officially kick off their season on September 3rd, against Tulane.

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