Duke coach David Cutcliffe used the word “new” four times in one sentence this week in discussing the start of the 2016 season.
He mentioned a new starting quarterback. A new punter and placekicker. New coaches and other new faces in the Blue Devils’ two-deep depth chart.
“More changes, more new, than in the entire time we've been here,” added Cutcliffe, about to begin his ninth season.
There’s also the matter of Wallace Wade Stadium. A lot will be new there, too, after an extensive renovation and added seating.
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A few weeks ago, many ACC football fans probably knew little about Daniel Jones. Some still may not.
But with senior Thomas Sirk out for the season with another Achilles tendon injury, the redshirt freshman from Charlotte — barring a late change of mind by Cutcliffe — will be the starter Saturday in the opener against N.C. Central.
“Daniel is extremely skilled,” Cutcliffe said. “He's big, fast. He's got a really big arm. He's accurate. He is a disciplined young man. I believe he will play in a disciplined manner.”
Coaches fear kicking-game mistakes that can be game-changers (see Appalachian State-Tennessee) and especially in openers, when as Cutcliffe noted, crazy things can happen.
On the depth chart for the opener, Duke has freshman AJ Reed or senior Danny Stirt listed at placekicker. Austin Parker, a redshirt freshman from Mount Pleasant, will be the starting punter.
Parker will be the holder for the place-kicks and Thomas Hennessy, a redshirt senior, is the long snapper.
Gone are a pair of fixtures: kicker Ross Martin and punter Will Monday. Both were four-year lettermen who each gained All-ACC attention and set school records. That’s a void that needs to be filled.
“I just want to see the consistency we expect there,” Cutcliffe said.
Ben Albert is in his first year as associate defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, coming to Duke from Boston College. Jim Bridge, who once coached for Tom O’Brien at N.C. State and Boston College, is the assistant head coach, tight ends coach and special teams coordinator.
There’s also a coach with new responsibilities: Zac Roper, a longtime Cutcliffe assistant who takes over as offensive coordinator.
Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has praised Albert’s coaching expertise and energy, saying Albert is an aggressive coach and that it should rub off on the D-line guys.
“He takes a lot of pride and ownership in what the D-line does,” Knowles said. “He’s a great motivator.”
Bridge spent the past three seasons as offensive line coach at Purdue. He was with the Pack six seasons and coached the tight ends in four of them.
Cutcliffe, who knows a few things about offensive football, called Roper “smart, well-organized” and said the two are on the “same page.”
“I’ll be there to pitch in,” Cutcliffe said of the play-calling. “I’ll remain involved.”
The other new faces
Let’s start with the defense, Joe Giles-Harris, a redshirt freshman, will start at linebacker and freshman Koby Quansah could play. Freshman end James Hornbuckle and tackle Trevon McSwain, a redshirt freshman, are on the Blue Devils’ two-deep chart and will be used along the defensive front.
The secondary also has some fresh faces. Freshman Mark Gilbert will back up Breon Borders at cornerback. A pair of redshirt freshmen, Jordan Hayes and Brandon Feamster, also should play Saturday.
Offensively, left guard Zach Baker is a redshirt freshman scheduled to start, and freshman Julian Santos is listed as the backup at left guard. Aaron Young, a redshirt freshman, will be T.J. Ramming’s backup at wide receiver.
Cutcliffe isn’t sure how many freshmen might play Saturday, but it could be as many as eight. Freshman receiver Scott Bracey, who continues to recover from a hamstring injury, should not be one of them.
A key player in a new position will be starting wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd, a redshirt sophomore who was moved from the secondary last spring.
“He’s a great athlete — very, very smart, very resilient,” Cutcliffe said.