Daniel Jones enters his second season as Duke’s quarterback mentally stronger — but also physically stronger because of intense summer work with his teammates.
“He physically different,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “He is stronger, I believe faster. No question, there’s a big difference in that year that has occurred physically.”
A year ago, Jones had yet to play a college game and was in line to be a reserve behind senior Thomas Sirk. But when Sirk suffered the third torn Achilles tendon of his career — and second in six months — in August, Jones had to step in and play.
Jones started 12 games, throwing for a Duke freshman record 2,836 yards while rushing 141 times for 486 yards. He threw for 16 touchdowns and ran for seven more.
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Those 12 games made it easier for him to work this offseason to refine his play.
“As for knowledge of the offense,” Jones said, “I think personally I feel like I’m able to look back now and see things better now as opposed to just being in the moment.”
That’s important as Jones is expected to develop into one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks this season.
But the work he’s done to get in even better shape is just as important.
Duke tweaked its offseason conditioning program, taking advantage of a change in NCAA rules that allow the coaching staff to work with players more in the offseason outside of spring practice.
Players went through intense weightlifting sessions during the first four weeks of June.
“We have committed in the summer to more true conditioning, what old-fashioned people would call winter workouts,” Cutcliffe said. “We did those with the staff in June. I want the strength staff and the coaches to interject more toughness, more conditioning level. We haven’t played a down, but I’m expecting the most conditioned team we’ve had.”
Jones is a firm believer that the changes worked for him and his teammates.
“Physically I feel great,” the 6-5, 215 pound sophomore said. “I think I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I think a lot of guys feel that way. Conditioning tests were a little different this year, the way we did that. Guys responded to that great.”
All that said, offseason work and confident talk don’t mean much if things start going sideways when games start. Duke experienced that last season when it went 4-8 overall and 1-7 in ACC play.
It was Duke’s first season without a bowl since 2011. Many see that as Duke beginning to regress to its days of mediocre or poor football.
The Blue Devils, though, say 2016 will prove to be an aberration.
“The biggest way to gain respect is to win football games,” Jones said. “We’re certainly aware of that and working toward that every day. In terms of how we’re viewed outside, it’s less important than how we see ourselves. I know we have a confident group of guys that are excited for what 2017 has in store, so that’s probably the most important thing, and hopefully that translates onto the field, and as a byproduct maybe gain some more respect.”