Boone steps up as Duke opens spring football
For the first time Monday, Anthony Boone stepped into a Duke football huddle as the team’s undisputed leader at quarterback.
The Blue Devils held their first spring practice, gathering on the field for the first time since the difficult 48-34 loss to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27.
The senior leaders of that team, quarterback Sean Renfree and wide receiver Conner Vernon, have moved on to pursue their NFL dreams.
Boone, who will be a junior next season, is left to assume an important leadership role in the offense. In one breath, Boone said he doesn’t feel any different about things this season; in another, he admits there is more pressure on him.
“I have to be the most accountable player in the offense,” Boone said.
Boone, a backup behind Renfree for the past two seasons, appears ready for the job, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. During Monday’s practice, which involved only non-contact drills, Boone showed the ability to lead the offense and take command of the huddle.
“He handles that extremely well,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s one of his big strengths is he is a natural leader.”
Boone is Duke’s clear No. 1 at quarterback with redshirt freshmen Thomas Sirk just behind him on the depth chart. Redshirt junior Brandon Connette, expected to miss spring practice with an injury, will continue in his role as a versatile player on offense, filling roles at quarterback, tight end, wide receiver and running back.
Cutcliffe said it is up to Sirk to decide how much of a quarterback competition the team will have.
“We are going to give every player at every position a chance,” Cutcliffe said. “But we have a definitive No. 1. We’ll ask Thomas on April 11 or 12, ‘What are you doing to make this a battle?’ and to Anthony, ‘What have you done to keep it from being a battle?’”
Boone said playing behind Renfree the past three years, two active years and one while he was redshirting in 2010, have prepared him well for this assignment.
“It helped me a lot,” Boone said. “Knowing how to operate, how to be serious at times, how to joke around at times and how to crack the whip on guys at times to get them to straighten up and at the same time praise them but not give them too much praise. That healthy balance of when to do things and when not to do things.”
The Blue Devils are adjusting their offense to utilize more zone-read option sets that will take advantage of Boone’s athleticism and the team’s overall strength in the running game.
Duke returns four starting offensive linemen, losing only center Brian Moore to graduation. Guards Laken Tomlinson and Dave Harding return, as do tackles Takoby Cofield and Perry Simmons.
Cofield and Harding are injured and are limited for the early portions of spring practice.
At running back, Duke returns Juwan Thompson, Josh Snead and Jela Duncan.
“We’re going to keep it more fast tempo,” Boone said. “A little bit more zone read. Play the space game. Have them make tackles out in space and make them go sideline to sideline.”
On the sidelines
In addition to Connette, Harding and Cofield, several other Duke players will miss all or part of spring practice because of injuries.
Brandon Braxton, who played safety in 2012, is moving back to wide receiver but is out after having ankle surgery. Freshman linebacker Dominic McDonald is out after needing knee surgery. Justin Foxx, a returning starter along the defensive line, also will not participate this spring.
In addition to Harding and Cofield, players who are limited but could return this spring are quarterback Parker Boehme, defensive end Kenny Anunike and safety Anthony Young-Wiseman.