Duke will have to play the 2016 season without quarterback Thomas Sirk.
Sirk, a redshirt senior, aggravated the left Achilles tendon injury he suffered in February, a source close to Duke program confirmed Friday. Sirk’s rehabilitation had gone smoothly until this week, when he was scheduled to return to full team practices.
Sirk passed for more than 2,600 yards and ran for more than 800 last year, when he led the Blue Devils to an 8-5 record. He was named the co-MVP of the Pinstripe Bowl as Duke topped Indiana 44-41 in overtime for the Blue Devils’ first bowl win since 1961.
With Sirk out, the Blue Devils could turn to Parker Boehme, a redshirt junior, as the No. 1 quarterback. Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe also could decide to start Daniel Jones, a redshirt freshman.
Jones, who played at Charlotte’s Latin High, has been taking a lot of snaps with the No. 1 offensive unit. Jones threw two touchdown passes in the Friday scrimmage and may be in position to be the starter in Duke’s Sept. 3 opener against N.C. Central.
“It’s my second camp here and obviously pretty different from last year, when I was trying to adjust to everything and learning the basics of our offense,” Jones said. “This year, I’m getting more reps and focusing on the more intricate parts of the offense, so that’s definitely been an adjustment. But I think overall it’s gone well. I’ve definitely grown a lot through the camp.”
Duke coach David Cutcliffe has mentioned Jones’ poise. Jones’ teammates have been impressed.
“He’s come in and really stepped up, knowing he potentially has a big position to fill if we do have to use him more than we expect,” senior safety Deondre Singleton said. “I just like the way he’s handling everything. He’s listening and doing everything to the best of his ability.”
Asked if the defense had been able to rattle Jones, Singleton smiled.
“From time to time,” he said. “He’s still young, learning to read coverages, and we’ve gotten a lot better disguising our coverages. From time to time we’re able to get him.”
But in the scrimmage, Jones found Anthony Nash open in left side of the end zone for a TD. Later, he hit T.J. Rahming in the right corner for a score.
“I just tried to take advantage of the opportunity,” Jones said. “It wasn’t a huge change in mindset.”
Jones, like Sirk, is a tall quarterback who can move. He’s 6 feet 5 and 210 pounds, able to see over defenders and get a read on coverages, disguised or otherwise.
“I feel like as a player, both being able to run and pass is a strength of mine,” Jones said. “Obviously as a quarterback you want to be able to throw the ball first and I feel like that’s a strength of mine. But being able to do both, I think, is a strength of my game.”
Jones passed for nearly 3,000 yards and 43 touchdowns as a senior at Latin while rushing for 778 yards on 109 carries for another 10 TDs. Latin was 10-2 in 2014, reaching the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association title game.
Jones said he received recruiting interest from Ivy League schools and considered Princeton, adding, “Duke was my dream school but it didn’t look like it was going to work out.”
Latin coach Larry McNulty contacted Cutcliffe, asking why Jones wasn’t drawing more interest from major schools. The Duke coaches took a look at Jones’ senior game tapes. Said Cutcliffe: “I didn’t like him. I loved him.”
Duke didn’t have a scholarship available, but Jones agreed to pay his own way to summer school in 2015. When an injury freed up a scholarship in summer 2015, Jones was set.
It’s possible Boehme could be the starter since Sirk can’t play.
But Jones has done all he can to position himself and possibly earn a start in his first college game.
“I try not to think about all that, just go day-in and day-out and work as hard as I possibly can,” Jones said. “Whatever the situation is then I’ll handle it.”