Desmond Scott first heard that he was switching positions on Twitter. The day before Duke opened its preseason practice, though, the senior who had been listed at the starting running back on the preseason depth chart received the official word.
Coach (Kurt) Roper said, youre no longer a running back, you play wide receiver, and that was that, said Scott, adding that he had worked a bit at the position in the spring. No reluctance at all. I embraced it with open arms. I played it in high school. Of course theres a difference between playing in high school and playing in college, but with this move, goals that I have are so much closer.
Scotts position change was the biggest surprise at head coach David Cutcliffes opening press conference, which took place before Dukes evening practice. The move does give one answer to one of the Blue Devils biggest questions this fall: other than Connor Vernon, who catch passes from Sean Renfree?
Injuries to projected starters Blair Holliday and Braxton Deaver left Duke thin at the position. Other than Vernon, who is 35 catches and 843 yards shy of becoming the ACCs all-time leading receiver, and Jamison Crowder, who caught 14 passes as a freshman, the rest of the Blue Devils on the preseason depth chart had a combined one catch for minus-3 yards.
In contrast, Duke is still nine players deep at running back without Scott on that list.
Thats a full meeting room, coach is earning his money, Scott joked about the depth at running back.
Cutcliffe said Scott, the Blue Devils second-leading rusher last season, will still line up in the backfield, sometimes in a Wildcat position. Third-string quarterback Brandon Connette will also line up in a variety of positions.
My whole thought process from January on is to find people who are going to make plays, finding our best six, if you will, counting the quarterback, playmakers, Cutcliffe said.
Vernon expects two of those playmakers may be incoming freshmen receivers, Max McCaffrey and Anthony Nash. McCaffreys father, Ed, had a 13-year career in the NFL and collected three Super Bowl rings with the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos. And Nash brings size he is listed at 6-foot-5 and athleticism. In addition to football, he also earned all-county honors in basketball.
Its my job to get them ready, Vernon said of the two newcomers. Theyre definitely capable, it just comes down to whether they can physically handle it.
Scott, who said he expects to line up most often in the slot position, has also used Vernon for inspiration by watching game clips on his new iPad (every Duke player received one, as the team is paperless and completely digital this season). Prior to receiving his virtual playbook two weeks ago, Scott and quarterback Sean Renfree ran routes for a little more than an hour every Sunday morning. And the players organized Tuesday and Thursday practices throughout the summer that focused more on football than on conditioning, a change from offseasons past.
Coach called me and said, get Desmond reps, Renfree said. Hes been learning the fine details of running routes.
The preparation feeds into the teams preseason motto: make plays that win games. The Blue Devils have come close they lost four games by a combined 14 points last season but feel this year can be different.
This is the best looking squad weve had, the strongest squad weve had, and the fastest, Cutcliffe said. Regardless of what people say or dont say about our team, we go in with great expectations, not anticipation.
Add urgency to that list.
Weve got to do those things to take that next step, to put us over the hump, Scott said. Were ready to win those close games.