Cutcliffe, Blue Devils look to add depth
David Cutcliffe told many of his veteran players to sit out Monday’s scrimmage so he could take a look at some newcomers.
The Duke coach saw plenty to be happy about.
Freshman cornerback Breon Borders intercepted a pass, and redshirt freshman wide receiver Anthony Nash caught a touchdown pass during the Blue Devils’ 100-snap scrimmage at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The scrimmage was Duke’s first since practice opened on Aug. 5. The Blue Devils will have another on Friday and their final scrimmage on Aug. 20.
In those final two dress rehearsals, Cutcliffe plans to work on the schemes the Blue Devils will use when the season opens on Aug. 31 against N.C. Central.
Monday’s scrimmage, though, was all about evaluating personnel.
“What we did was look at a lot of different personnel groupings,” Cutcliffe said. “We took portions of our starters and mixed in twos and mixed in freshmen. We wanted to see how people responded, best versus best.”
On offense, Nash flashed his athleticism by catching a 15-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Connette.
Nash (6-5, 200) sat out last season as the training staff worked to bulk up his body to allow him to better compete with Division I defenders.
With Duke having lost two starting receivers from last year’s team in Conner Vernon and Desmond Scott, the search is on for replacements. Nash, who caught four passes for 41 yards Monday, is working to earn some of that playing time.
“He’s a matchup problem,” Duke starting quarterback Anthony Boone said. “He’s a basketball player, so he’s got good speed and he can jump. We are going to try to use that explosiveness.”
Ryan Smith, a true freshman from Las Vegas, caught five passes for 84 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown catch from classmate Parker Boehme.
“I think everybody saw Ryan Smith,” Cutcliffe said. “He has short-area quickness that’s incredible. He’s going to make plays.”
Said Boone: “Ryan Smith really showed us today that he is a playmaker.”
Boone, taking over the starting quarterback job from Sean Renfree, completed 12 of 25 passes for 139 yards. Two of his passes were intercepted.
Connette, Boone’s backup, had 219 yards of total offense. He ran 47 yards on one play to set up his own 4-yard touchdown run.
“We saw a lot of players who showed big-play ability, and we have some depth,” Cutcliffe said.
On the defense, Borders and redshirt freshman cornerback Devon Edwards each had interceptions, while redshirt freshman cornerback Michael Westray had a fumble recovery.
Like the situation at wide receiver, Duke is looking for younger players to emerge to handle playing time in the secondary. The Blue Devils lost Walt Canty, Lee Butler and Tony Foster to graduation from that group.
“I was really glad to see our defense take the ball away some,” Cutcliffe said. “And they actually took it away. There were forced turnovers out there — three of them that can win games for us.”
Borders, from Statesville, has impressed in practice so far after arriving on campus this summer.
“He just continues to make plays,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s one of those guys with really, really good size and speed and a blend of athleticism. He has shown up since he’s been here. I think he has gained the respect of a lot of players. It was just fine to see him continue to make plays.”
Duke held out or limited the playing time of a host of veteran players who are expected to play significant roles this season, including wide receiver Jamison Crowder, running back Josh Snead, defensive end Kenny Anunike, linebacker Kelby Brown, cornerback Ross Cockrell and safeties Dwayne Norman and Jeremy Cash.
“A number guys we that we just didn’t feel like needed the work,” Cutcliffe said. “They weren’t hurt. You start inserting some of those guys in with what we saw, it’s encouraging where we can go.”