Duke opens spring football practice with option offense

lkeeley@newsobserver.comMarch 4, 2013 

— Duke head coach David Cutcliffe made his name coaching Peyton and Eli Manning, two of the best traditional dropback passers in the NFL.

Now, preparing for his sixth year at Duke, he’s embracing the option offense.

“The game has changed,” Cutcliffe said after Duke’s first spring practice. “The field is the same size that it has always been, and the defense is bigger, faster and stronger. We’re reverting right back to single-wing football is what we’re doing, where you have these weapons at your disposal, misdirection, anything you can do.”

Cutcliffe and his staff have been preparing for a more option-based attack for a few years, as evidenced by their recruiting of dual-threat quarterbacks like Anthony Boone and his backup, Thomas Sirk. And now that Sean Renfree is gone, it is Boone’s time to take control of the offense-with his feet and his legs.

“I can get the necessary yards, which after a zone read is like four or five yards,” Boone said. “I don’t have the Johnny Manziel breakaway speed, but I definitely have enough to outrun some linebackers.”

Boone, a rising redshirt junior, spent the past three years behind Renfree on the depth chart. But when Renfree went down with an elbow injury late in the third quarter at Wake Forest with the game tied at 20-20, it was Boone who led the Blue Devils to the win. And in the next week against Virginia, he made his first career start, completing 18-of-31 passes for 212 yards and four touchdowns as Duke won 42-17. Boone also ran seven times for 41 yards.

After those two games Boone realized that he needed to be in better shape if he was going to be the starting quarterback. He has also worked on staying more even keel, so he can avoid excessive celebration penalties like the one he picked up against the Demon Deacons.

“The more comfortable I get in the offense, the more comfortable guys get around me.”

Boone handled his first day as the No. 1 quarterback well, Cutcliffe said. The head coach was pleased with everyone’s performance, saying that the practice was perfect from an effort standpoint and the best opening day, spring or fall, that the Blue Devils have had in his tenure.

“Literally guys were jumping around, moving around, flying around, you could just see that guys were hungry,” defensive end Kenny Anunike said. “Yeah, we got to a bowl game, but we didn’t win. And everybody knows that. And we know that we’re not done yet. We’re not here. We made major steps for this program, but we haven’t arrived.”

To take the next step and clinch the program’s first winning season since 1994 – that Belk Bowl loss left Duke at 6-7 last year – the Blue Devils are making the run game the No. 1 priority for the spring. That includes executing it on offense and stopping it on defense.

“We’re looking forward to being a more physical team,” Boone said.

It will be up to him to help spark that transformation.

Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley

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