Thaddeus Lewis, Duke’s career passing leader, has NFL experience and is working toward more.
Daniel Jones set a Duke freshman passing record last season and could join Lewis in the NFL as soon as next year.
Together, they broke up football’s offseason monotony this spring at Duke.
Throughout May and June, with Lewis at Duke rehabilitating the injured knee that sidelined him for the entire 2016 season, he and Jones worked together. In the film room and on the practice fields, the experienced professional tutored a player destined to be Duke’s next NFL quarterback.
“That was helpful for me,” said Jones, who threw for a Duke freshman record 2,836 yards last season. “Having played in Coach Cut’s system he’s able to help me with a lot of those same things. It’s tough to meet with the coaches all of the time because they are always out and about. But having Thad around, I feel like I’ve taken a few steps this summer and will continue going into camp.”
David Cutcliffe’s first two seasons coaching Duke were Lewis’ final two in a Blue Devils uniform. He finished his Duke career in 2009 having thrown for a school record 10,065 yards. Since then, Lewis has bounced around as an undrafted free agent with seven teams, playing in seven NFL games with six starts.
After a torn knee ligament in preseason with San Francisco kept him out last season, he was able to watch as Jones played 12 games as a redshirt freshman for Duke.
“He’s an athlete,” Lewis said. “He has great arm strength, great accuracy. He has really, really good feet, and he can run.”
Though Jones will enter the new season as the ACC Coastal Division’s lone returning starting quarterback, he’s still relatively young in the college game. Lewis took it upon himself to help Jones build on last season’s success and learn from his failures.
“I’m trying to get him to see if it’s not there, have a backup plan,” Lewis said. “If Coach said they are going to give us this coverage, but if they don’t give us this coverage where am I going to go with the ball? It’s having that background knowledge so he can play fast. Not take a sack and either get to your check down or get out of dodge as quick as possible.”
The 6-5, 215-pound Jones learned the hard way on many Saturdays last season. He threw eight interceptions over Duke’s first five games.
He threw only one interception the rest of the season and will enter his sophomore season having thrown 173 passes without an interception – the nation’s longest active streak.
“The best thing for him was repetition,” Lewis said. “You can’t simulate game reps. The guy got better and better as the year when on. It reminded me of my freshman year. I turned the ball over a lot at the beginning, but I got better and better as the year went on. I talked to him about that. Limit the turnovers but have command of the offense. Know where the ball is going. Have a pre-snap read and be able to adjust on the fly. You can see the growth and development from year one to year two.”
This spring, Jones and Lewis watched game film and then took the lessons to the practice field where Lewis watched as Jones threw passes to his receivers. The NFL veteran monitored everything, down to Jones’ footwork and mechanics.
“Having someone out there who has been there and done all those things and knows what they are looking for has really helped me,” Jones said. “The timing, how to time the route with the footwork is a big thing we thought about and focused on.”
Lewis is back to full health with his knee and has a workout scheduled for NFL scouts later this month. He’s hoping to land in yet another training camp in hopes of continuing his NFL career.
Jones has the NFL in mind as well but it’s in the back of his mind. As a redshirt sophomore, he’s eligible to leave Duke and enter the NFL Draft after this season if he so chooses.
Sitting in Duke’s Yoh Football Center in a room adorned with photos of recent Blue Devils-turned-NFL players like Jamison Crowder, Laken Tomlinson and Ross Cockrell, Jones said he has work to do at Duke before considering an early jump to the NFL.
“I mean as a kid, or here, everyone dreams of playing in the NFL,” Jones said. “That’s an opportunity we all kind of strive to achieve. But looking forward now, it’s a long way away and lot of work away from where I’m at and where this team is at. I’m focused on making sure these next three weeks of practices and (making sure) what we have going into camp is as good as it can be. That’s something we all strive for and think about, I guess. But I know I’m with everyone I’ll say I’m all in getting ready for the next three weeks and going into camp.”