Cutcliffe wants Blue Devils getting after it in scrimmage
With less than three weeks until the blocking and tackling counts for real, Duke will hold its first preseason scrimmage tonight at Wallace Wade Stadium.
While the event is closed to the public, it is an important tool for the coaching staff to see where the Blue Devils stand in advance of the season-opening game with Elon (Aug. 30, 6 p.m.)
“You are just looking at all the combinations of players and personnel, really, going into this scrimmage,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “The first one is an evaluation of your people. You’re not worried about schemes or what we are doing. I just want to see our habits continue to be great. I want us to line up well. I want us to know what to do. I want us to compete at a crazy-high level. If we can do that, we can fix all the other things that come up.”
Coming off setting a school record for wins in a season while going 10-4 last season, the Blue Devils return 17 starters across their offense and defense.
The first-team offense features plenty of experience in quarterback Anthony Boone, wide receivers Jamison Crowder, Max McCaffrey and Issac Blakeney and running back Shaquille Powell.
Redshirt senior running back Josh Snead, the team’s leading rusher last season, may be held out of tonight’s scrimmage. Both he and projected starting left guard Lucas Patrick were out of practice on Saturday. Cutcliffe said both are being evaluated by the medical staff for concussions.
Braxton Deaver, the starting tight end last season, will also not participate in the scrimmage.
On defense, returning starters include linebackers Kelby Brown and David Helton along with safety Jeremy Cash. They were Duke’s three leading tacklers last season, and they’re ready to after it again.
“No mistakes,” Cash said of the defense’s goals for today’s scrimmage. “Create numerous turnovers. Get off the field.”
The deal with Deaver
Deaver rejoined his Duke teammates on the practice field Saturday, marking the first time this preseason the redshirt senior tight end was allowed to do so.
That doesn’t mean, though, that the Blue Devils tight end is on the same level as the rest of the team.
Cutcliffe kept Deaver out of the first five days of practice for an unspecified reason. The move was not related to an injury, and Cutcliffe said from the start that Saturday would be the first day Deaver would be able to practice.
“He just had to accomplish some things I felt like he needed to do,” Cutcliffe said. “He did them well. So it’s good in everybody’s life to overcome some adversity occasionally.”
Deaver, who was not allowed to speak with reporters on Saturday, still has plenty of catching up to do. While the rest of the Blue Devils were taking part in their first full-pad practice of the new season on Saturday, Deaver was limited to wearing a helmet while being held out of contact.
All players have to go through an acclimatization period which limits full contact when practice begins. While that started for the entire team last Monday, Deaver began his on Saturday at his first practice.
So he's not allowed to engage in full-contact situations until the middle of next week, and that's why he's not scrimmaging today.
The 6-5, 240-pound Deaver started all 14 games for Duke last season when the Blue Devils went 10-4 and won the ACC Coastal Division championship. He caught 46 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns. Only all-ACC wide receiver Jamison Crowder (108 catches, 1,360) had more catches or yards receiving for Duke.
But Deaver did not take part in offseason conditioning with his teammates or the players-only practices that were held over the summer. He did stay in contact with Cutcliffe during the first week of practice.
“I talked to him regularly,” Cutcliffe said. “I wasn’t banning him from talking to me.”
More on Snead and Patrick
Regarding Snead and Patrick possibly having concussions, Cutcliffe said, “Josh got banged up a little bit. So did Lucas Patrick.
“That’s two guys you’d like to see out here. I don’t know when they are going to return. We are letting them settle down. Both of them took blows that shook them up," Cutcliffe said. “We have a protocol, and they are going to go through the protocol.
Running back rotation
With Snead unavailable, the Blue Devils will be working with three scholarship running backs in Powell, redshirt freshman Joe Ajeigbe and true freshman Shaun Wilson.
Powell and Snead are both considered equally capable of starting. Ajeigbe and Wilson have yet to play a snap of college football.
Wilson, the least experienced of the four running backs, is getting the most additional exposure in practice.
That’s good for him but still something the coaching staff has to monitor.
“The problem when a back’s out is we have to watch how many reps, or snaps, we get,” Cutcliffe said. “We are right now sitting with three scholarship backs practicing. We have some nice walk-ons that help us a bunch. They are not underappreciated. But they are not running with the 1s or the 2s right now.”
Saturday’s first day of full contact agreed with Zavier Carmichael, a freshman linebacker from Eight Mile, Alabama.
Cautioning that it was only one day of work, Cutcliffe came away impressed by the newcomer.
“Zavier Carmichael had a big-time day,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s one of those players that got better when contact became real. That was good to see.”
Players always enjoy the first day of full-contact, full-pad work.
That’s particularly true for Duke since the Blue Devils held their spring game on March 1, before many college teams had even started spring practice.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been able to go in pads,” Cash said. “So to be able to go out there and tackle somebody felt good without them (the coaches) chewing you out a little bit.”
The Blue Devils took part in drills with live tackling on both their indoor and outdoor practice fields.
“I thought our contact was really crisp,” Cutcliffe said. “The thing maybe I like the most now is it goes back and forth our offense and defense. Pretty competitive right now.”
The first-team offense, though, appeared to get the last laugh.
“At the end of our practice,” Cutcliffe said, “I thought our 1 offense executed at a pretty high level, which is good to see.”