Duke football team starts spring practice Friday

lkeeley@newsobserver.comFebruary 6, 2014 

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Duke quarterback Anthony Boone (7) is tackled by Texas A&M defensive back Clay Honeycutt (25) after making a first down during the Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga Tuesday Dec. 31, 2013.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— It’s only been 38 days since Duke’s season ended Dec. 31 with a loss to Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

But it’s time for spring practice, as the Blue Devils will be one of the first teams to welcome the spring when practices start Friday.

“I like the momentum of this squad,” Cutcliffe said. “I like our returning squad. I want to see our young people in an environment where we’re not putting a bunch of things in, we’re going to think players, not plays. I want to see our young people compete.”

Additionally, starting earlier would provide more time for a player who gets injured to recover before the fall. Last year, backup quarterback Thomas Sirk ruptured his right Achilles tendon April 10, during the last week of spring drills. He missed the entire season after redshirting in 2012.

Sirk is healthy, as are most of the Blue Devils (starting nose guard Jamal Bruce, linebacker C.J. France and defensive end Jamal Wallace are the only players out). Not much has changed with the squad that returns eight starters on offense, six on defense and all its specialist, in addition to capable reserves that should transition easily into some of those starting roles.

The biggest change is on the staff, where wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery will take over as offensive coordinator duties for Kurt Roper, who took the same position at Florida after the bowl game. Cutcliffe still has one more hire to make – either a quarterbacks or wide receivers coach, depending on what position Montgomery coaches (Roper had coached quarterbacks).

“I really have taken my time, purposely,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m not in a real hurry.”

Still, the offensive system (built by Cutcliffe) will remain the same, as will most of the personnel.

Here is a look at some of the spots open for competition:

Offense

Starters lost: WR Brandon Braxton, OG Dave Harding, OT Perry Simmons

Rising sophomore Johnell Barnes (15 receptions for 217 yards in 2013) is the leading candidate to take over the open wide receiver spot. Redshirt senior Issac Blakeney (19 receptions for 244 yards and four touchdowns) will be in the mix as well. Once fall camp opens, look for freshman Trevon Lee too.

Redshirt junior Lucas Patrick, who started at right tackle for the injured Simmons in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, will likely take over the left guard spot for Harding, with redshirt junior Cody Robinson backing him up. The competition is more open at right tackle, with redshirt sophomores Tanner Stone (who missed last season with a broken ankle) and Casey Blaser (who played sparingly after a preseason injury) competing with redshirt freshmen Gabe Brandner and Sterling Korona.

Defense

Starters lost: DE Kenny Anunike, DE Justin Foxx, DT Sydney Sarmiento, CB Ross Cockrell, CB Garett Patterson

The cornerback position is in good hands with sophomores Bryon Fields and Breon Borders sliding into starting spots. While Patterson started every game last season, his playing time decreased throughout the season: he played 649 regular-season snaps, compared to 630 for Fields and 500 for Borders).

The four-man defensive line needs to be rebuilt and will feature three new starters. Redshirt junior Dezmond Johnson (22 tackles, one sack) and senior Jonathan Jones (formerly known as Jonathan Woodruff, 17 tackles, three sacks) are the returning ends with the most experience. Redshirt sophomore A.J. Wolf and junior Carlos Wray should also push for more playing time.

Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley

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