Duke First To Spring Into Spring Practice

There was no student section cheering, no flags flying, no opposing team warming up and no pep band playing the Duke fight song in Pascal Field house this morning. Instead half of the team was suited up in white, half the team in blue, the coaches with their whistles ready to begin and a few spectators, are all that lined the field in today’s spring practice session.

While some probably think Duke was out of their minds to get the ball rolling just two days after National Signing Day, for Duke head coach David Cutcliffe it has been on the calendar since last year. For those of you looking ahead to 2016, Cutcliffe has this spring practice session/scrimmage already set in stone. Just to make the spring kick off a little sweeter, Duke is the first college football program to start spring practice. So the haters might hate, but Duke certainly will not when they come out ready to play. Today’s session, which was aired on ESPN3, gave fans, prospective players, their families and opposing coaches a chance to see just how far Duke has come since their heart breaking loss to Arizona State last season in the Sun Bowl.

This morning I saw an energized, determined and well oiled football team. They did not look like a team that had lost nine starters and had a handful of freshmen suiting up for the first time. The team was very eager to get back on the gridiron for this special spring practice and really make their final four days until summer ball begins count.

Despite this being a practice game, the players came out like it was a real ACC match up. They came out quick on their feet, moved the ball well and really exceeded the expectations Cutcliffe has at this point in time. The freshmen made their appearance during today’s session and it appears they have picked up the Duke style pretty quick because they were out there passing, catching, tackling, running, jumping, soaring just like the veterans. It was nice to see freshmen on the second string working hard, getting touches on the ball and really pushing the envelope on this newly developed team. They definitely have a lot to prove but were not intimidated by everything going on around them.

One of the most impressive aspects of today’s practice was the strategy Cutcliffe has put together. He is making sure whether you were on offense, defense or special teams you know how to tackle, maintain ball security, pass the ball, catch the ball, recover fumbles and make key plays when you have to. I really cannot think of a team that focuses not just on whether you play offense or defense, but making sure those guys can play on the other side of the ball as well. That really struck a chord and it makes me have a little more faith in this program, knowing that any guy you put in any position can rise to the occasion and play well.

In my last article I mentioned some stand out freshmen that would be shaking things up, and if you can recall I talked about Georgia native Marcus Price. Well today Price was suited up in white and came out with the second string defensive team. Pretty impressive for just 11 days of practice under his belt. Cutcliffe mentioned that he was really making strides in practice and showing the coaches why he is the perfect man for the job. During team drills and scrimmage time he was rushing the ball extremely well, pressuring the quarterback and not being afraid to dive into the drills and scrimmaging head first. If he continues on this path I think he could make an appearance in a few games this season. Job well done Price!

Before practice could come to a close today, Cutcliffe recognized five Blue Devils for their outstanding performance during spring practice. On offense, wide receiver Terrence Alls. In the practice video from today he was very sharp, quick on his feet and moved really well. He is a redshirt sophomore and played a total of 13 games last season for the Blue Devils. During the commentary Cutcliffe said he was quite impressed with what he saw from Alls. But during the scrimmage he really made it known why he deserved to be recognized; in a red zone situation, Alls right up the middle is connected with a pass from quarterback Thomas Sirks. The play gained nice yardage and just like Cutcliffe wanted his offense caught the ball and secured it. Also on the offensive end we have redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Gabe Brandner. Brandner played in five games last season and was on the field for a total of 58 snaps on the season.

Defensively, sophomore Alonzo Saxton II and redshirt junior defensive tackle A.J. Wolf were honored as co-most improved players. Saxton II played in only eight before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. He came out today looking like he never left the game at all. He ended his 2014 campaign with 12 tackles, one pass break up and one quarterback sack. Wolfe played in 13 games recording 23 tackles, one fumble recovery and 1.5 hits for lost yardages last season. Today he did what he does best by getting to the quarterback and made a huge rush today which was exactly what Cutcliffe wanted to see. Finally wrapping up the awards for the day is senior cornerback Jamie Cockey. Cockey received the Blue Devil Heart Award. Nicely done gentlemen, cannot wait to see that kind playing come kickoff time.

Cutcliffe did say there is still plenty of more work to be done before their official kick off in the fall, but so far he is impressed with how far his team has come so far. He saw freshmen really stepping up and doing the little things well, which is what helps you win games; as well as watching his returning players really taking that leadership role and showing the new guys how it gets done. Cutcliffe also mentioned that they are still looking to find who the playmakers are going to be, who is going to really keep the tempo up and going while looking for the little details that still need some fine tuning, which hopefully they can find in the four practices they have left. But so far they look very strong, both physically and mentally. Cutcliffe and his staff really evaluated last season and looked at their weaknesses to see where they needed to recruit and build up. If they continue into the summer and fall like they have this spring we could be looking at a bowl-winning Duke football team.

Duke officially kicks off their season on September 3, 2015 against Tulane.

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