Duke's Cutcliffe: 'I believe in my heart of hearts, this team is the deepest, most talented team we've had at Duke yet'
Duke completed its third practice of the new season on Friday morning. Here are some observations from the Blue Devils following their first week of work:
Searching for a kicker
The competition for a new starting kicker is fierce. Walk-ons Jack Driggers (5-11, 170 pounds), Jackson Hubbard (6-4, 180) and William Holmquist (6-0, 175) are showing well. Sophomore punter Austin Parker (6-1, 190) remains involved in the kicking derby just as he was in the spring.
“It’s a four-ring circus right now,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said.
Cutcliffe is closely monitoring the kickers as they go through their drills.
“If a guy drops his head, if a guy stumps his toe, I’m looking at everything we’ve got,” Cutcliffe said. “Because I will have a hard time living the way I lived last year. I occasionally had acid reflux, and I don’t want it worse.”
Sophomore kicker AJ Reed (5-11, 180) made just 3 of 10 field goals last season, giving Duke the lowest number and worst success rate among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. While Reed remains on the team, someone else will have his job this season.
Potential holders are senior reserve quarterback Parker Boehme (6-2, 220) and junior starting wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd (6-0, 190). Redshirt freshman Ben Wyatt (6-1, 225) looks like the leader for the long-snapper job.
Depth developing all over, especially at wide receiver
Friday was Duke’s first day in helmets and shoulder pads. The players were restricted to helmets as their only protection in the first two practices. The first full-pad practice is Sunday night.
Cutcliffe likes the depth he sees on the roster, especially from the juniors and redshirt sophomores in their third seasons.
“I see what I thought I would see from a depth standpoint,” he said. “We’ve got some battles going at most every position. If not for the 1s, for the 1 or 2s where you are talking about you’re going to be involved in playing time. That’s good.”
Wide receiver is one area, in particular, where Duke figures to have plenty of options. Veterans junior TJ Rahming (5-10, 165), junior Chris Taylor (6-1, 185) and Lloyd are back. Players will little or no game experience, like redshirt freshman Scott Bracey (6-2, 210), redshirt sophomore Keyston Fuller (6-0, 190) and redshirt sophomore Aaron Young (6-2, 205) are getting their chances. Keep an eye on freshman Damond Philyaw-Johnson, wearing No. 85, as well.
A three-star recruit from Pensacola, Florida, Philyaw-Johnson (6-1, 170) drew a late January offer from Ohio State. But he kept his commitment to Duke.
“There’s a really nice mix of competition that’s going on there,” Cutcliffe said. “When you wonder why, a receiver doesn’t just catch a ball. They run routes when they don’t get it. They block. They fake. They do a lot of things that you have to do to be great. You can be good and catch a ball well, but we’re hunting a whole other level.”
Cutcliffe on problems with conditioning, consistency
“Consistency I don’t see,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s on me. The other thing I’m concerned about more than I thought I would is our conditioning level. At this point, that remains to be seen. But that is a concern. We’ll know a little more as we get into the next week of practice.”
Defensive end Chidi Okonya was the lone Duke player unavailable for the start of practice on Monday. The 6-6, 225-pound sophomore had foot surgery in the offseason and is still working his way back.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Brandon Hill (6-3, 230) suffered a muscle injury during Monday’s practice and remains sidelined.