Sitting in the visitors locker room Tuesday, Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder spied a pile of footballs nearby.
"I might just carry one to class just to make sure and get it in my hands," he said. "I'm just trying to do something to get the confidence level back up for catching the football and getting a feel as we go forward."
Duke's passing game has been the strength of the team since David Cutcliffe arrived prior to the 2008 season. The year isn't quite halfway over, but the 220.4 yards the Blue Devils are averaging would rank as the lowest season total since Cutcliffe's first year.
Quarterback Anthony Boone has received his share of criticism for his uneven accuracy - but he isn't the sole cause of the reduced passing game production.
"When we watch film, it's not all his fault," Crowder said. "When the play isn't perfect or the pass isn't perfect, receivers, we play a big role in making him look good.
"It's been not making the tougher catches. Sometimes we've even dropped the easy ones. As a receiving corps, we have dropped a lot of passes, me, myself, included."
It doesn't help that Duke's top two receivers, Crowder and Issac Blakeney, are both dealing with thumb injuries that have caused them to wear splints. Crowder, from Monroe, hurt his thumb during the Kansas game - when he caught a season-low two passes for 14 yards - and Blakeney sustained his injury at Miami, where he had three catches for 14 yards and a lost fumble.
Contrary to reports last week, Blakeney's injury is non-surgical. Neither he nor Crowder were on Duke's injury report released Thursday.
"It's tough," Crowder said of playing with the splint. "You definitely have to focus on catching the football a lot more. Sometimes when the ball hits that splint, it can kind of cause for it to bounce off a little bit. It's a tough adjustment."
Boone, who has logged extra throws with both players in attempts to get his receivers more comfortable, said the splint is more of a mind over matter issue.
"You have a mental block thinking that it's going to stop you from catching certain balls and turning your hands certain ways, but, really, it's there to help," he said. "It's like wearing an ankle brace. It's one of those things where it's there to help you from getting hurt, not to prohibit you from doing your job. That's a thing you have to figure out."
Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery, who played wide receiver in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos, said the most difficult adjustment with the splint doesn't involve catching the football- it comes more when receivers are trying to separate from defensive backs, specifically in man-to-man coverage when they are trying to break free and hold up a decent target for the quarterback.
Some of the pain just has to be worked though, Montgomery said. Still, he maintained that the Blue Devils didn't want to use them as an excuse. Both Crowder and Blakeney are physically capable of handling whatever a defense throws at them, he said.
"Would we love for them to both not be in splints? Yes, but it's not a crutch," Montgomery said. "We've been able to work now for a couple of weeks, and guys understand their problems and issues."
The open date last week helped all of Duke's players heal their aches and pains, Crowder said, as guys had an extra pep in their step at Tuesday's practice. Staying loose will be important this weekend, as Georgia Tech's run-oriented offense can be on the field for long stretches of time.
Crowder said he'd probably do some high-knee exercises or maybe even jump on a stationary bike while the Duke defense was out on the field. And when it is his turn to trot out there, he and the rest of the offense will know every opportunity is precious.
"Execution," he said, "has to be at its best this week."