Depleted Duke squad holds spring game

lkeeley@newsobserver.comApril 13, 2013 

— Duke has plenty of experience patching holes left by injured players. That was the theme of the spring game, as seven significant defensive contributors were sidelined. A few from the offense were missing, too.

So the Blue Devils decided to have their best offense players go against the best defensive players, and the reserves played each other. The Blue team, with the starting offense, beat the patchwork defense 27-12.

“We made a lot of plays, but we left a couple of plays on the field,” quarterback Anthony Boone said. “We executed fairly well. It’s like the 15th practice, so the defense is all over a lot of plays.”

Boone finished the day 18-of-30 for 273 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. His first interception, corralled by Jeremy Cash, was the result of the defense seeing that play “probably 100 times,” Boone said.

The second came on a tipped ball intended for redshirt freshman Anthony Nash. Quay Mann, an early enrollee who could see a significant number of snaps in the fall, came down with the pick.

“The defense is creating more,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “And that’s been a little bit of the story of the spring.”

Boone threw a touchdown in response to each interception, targeting Jamison Crowder both times.

Nash recorded the longest catch of the day, a 37-yard circus grab that was slightly overthrown. He managed to tip it back to himself. That gain set up a 25-yard field goal from Ross Martin.

The white team’s quarterback, early enrollee Parker Boehme, was a surprise starter. When backup quarterback Thomas Sirk ruptured his right Achilles tendon Wednesday, the Blue Devils were out of scholarship quarterbacks to back up Boone. Boehme, recovering from his own toe surgery, was cleared to play and led the white team without any practice. He finished 11-of-13 for 128 yards and one touchdown, which came when walk-on defensive back Hud Mellencamp fell in coverage.

“Parker came into this game probably knowing three plays,” Boone said with a laugh. “He executed those three plays he knew very well.”

Boehme’s development could have a significant impact on Duke’s plans next season. Brandon Connette, who lined up in a variety of offensive spots last year (wildcat quarterback, wide receiver, running back and tight end), may have to serve as a more traditional backup quarterback, forcing Duke to scrap some of his packages. But if Boehme develops into a capable backup, perhaps not.

“It’s an interesting thing, maybe we don’t need Brandon as much in that regard,” Cutcliffe said of his “phantom” role, noting that Braxton Deaver, who missed last season with a broken kneecap, is now healthy and starting at tight end, a position that has a little depth.

Issac Blakeney, who moved from tight end to slot receiver, led the Blue team with five catches, good for 66 yards. Crowder and Max McCaffrey, who was the co-most improved offensive player of the spring, had four apiece.

With Crowder back and players like Deaver and McCaffrey primed for larger roles, Cutcliffe feels his team has plenty of playmakers. The trick will just be keeping them all healthy.

Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley

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