Duke and Virginia are the only two football teams in the Coastal Division that will return their starting quarterback.
That’s a good head start on coach David Cutcliffe’s offseason goal for the Blue Devils. Duke went 4-8 in 2016 and missed a bowl game for the first time in five years in Daniel Jones’ first year as a starter.
“Obviously we have a lot of improvement to make coming off a 4-8 season and we focused on making our squad better,” Cutcliffe said on Wednesday on the ACC conference call.
Jones completed 270 of 430 passes for 2,836 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a redshirt freshman. He handled the job well enough – Duke picked up big wins over Notre Dame and North Carolina – that Cutcliffe let former starter Thomas Sirk transfer to East Carolina for his final college season.
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Cutcliffe had nothing but praise for Jones, a former walk-on who is poised to be a four-year starter for the ACC’s resident quarterback guru.
“He’s a humble, smart young man and he has incredible tools,” Cutcliffe said. “I thought his spring was great, not good, and we’ve got to build on that.”
Jones, who’s 6-5 and 210 pounds, had his best passing game in his last one. He threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns in Duke’s 40-21 loss at Miami in the regular-season finale.
Jones ran for a pair of touchdowns, and 94 yards, in Duke’s 28-27 upset of UNC on Nov. 10. He threw for 240 yards and a touchdown against the Tar Heels.
After throwing for five interceptions in a home loss to Virginia on Oct. 1, Jones threw only one interception in the last seven games (in 233 attempts).
“His accuracy is really special,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m anxious to see in Year 2 what level he can reach.”
Jones stepped in for Sirk after a second major Achilles’ injury sidelined Sirk for the season. Sirk received a sixth-year waiver from the NCAA. As a graduate transfer, he’s eligible to play right away at ECU and will likely start for the Pirates. ECU coach Scottie Montgomery was Duke’s offensive coordinator in 2015, when Sirk was Duke’s starting quarterback.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio