Boone, young receivers step up in Duke spring scrimmage
With Duke’s spring football season drawing to a close, the Blue Devil offense missing so many stars from last season saw the stars for next season make some big plays during Wednesday’s scrimmage.
Quarterback Anthony Boone, stepping into the starting role in place of Sean Renfree, fired a pair of touchdown passes.
Wide receiver Jamison Crowder, projected as Duke’s top receiver this season with ACC all-time receptions leader Conner Vernon off to the NFL, caught a 56-yard touchdown pass from Boone.
Issac Blakeney and Max McCaffrey, helping make up for the graduation losses of Vernon and Desmond Scott, caught five passes each in the scrimmage.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe singled out McCaffrey, a sophomore, as one player who has improved this spring.
“We have a lot of individual players that are getting better and getting better quickly,” Cutcliffe said. “I’ll mention is Max McCaffrey. He’s had a tremendous spring and a tremendous quick growth.”
McCaffrey played in 13 games as a true freshman last season, but caught only two passes. He has moved up the depth chart for his sophomore season and had 76 receiving yards in Wednesday’s scrimmage at Wallace Wade Stadium.
“We’ve all got a lot better from last year,” McCaffrey said. “I’ve seen everyone, including myself, develop and feel a lot more confident heading into this year.”
With McCaffrey and Crowder currently the starters at the wide receiver positions, Blakeney and sophomore Eric Schneider are filling in at slot receiver, where Scott played during his senior year last fall and caught 66 passes.
Schneider came to Duke last season as a tight end in his true freshman year. He caught one pass in 13 games.
Like McCaffrey, his production is set to ramp up dramatically.
Blakeney, who has also lined up at tight end for Duke, caught a touchdown among his five receptions on Wednesday.
Boone likes the progression of the revamped receiving corps.
“They are solid,” Boone said. “They are still learning. It’s still a growing process. We are throwing them into the fire to learn on the fly. The more reps they get and the more we work with them this spring and summer will be good for those young guys because they have a lot of speed and they are smart.”
Crowder, of course, proved himself last season as a sophomore, catching 76 passes for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns. His most notable catch went for the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left as Duke beat North Carolina 33-30 on Oct. 20.
Still, this season will be different as he will be the featured receiver now that Vernon’s and Scott’s college careers are over.
“I think things are going pretty good,” Crowder said. “We lost great receivers from last year. We have some good young receivers coming in this year. Most definitely, I’m going to have to step my play up being a so-called veteran. But we have some good young talent coming in so it’s going pretty good so far this spring.”