Sports

Duke’s receivers aren’t catching enough passes. Cutcliffe says he’ll improve things.

The Duke football team takes on Pitt on Saturday.
The Duke football team takes on Pitt on Saturday. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Improving its completion percentage is a focus for Duke as it prepares for the new football season.

As Duke coach David Cutcliffe pointed on Thursday after his team’s first August practice, it takes strong play from the quarterbacks and offensive line in addition to the wide receivers and tight ends to make that happen.

During the first practice, he didn’t see the improvement he’d hoped would occur after the group’s offseason work.

“I wasn’t as pleased as I thought i would be with the quarterbacks and receivers being on the same page,” Cutcliffe said. “You practice in the summer without a coach. You throw. It’s never quite the same. That’s one of the things we have to continually push on our players is to make practice like the games. I think we’ll gain some consistency there. But just not totally pleased that we were on the same page on all of the throws.”

Over Cutcliffe’s first six seasons, Duke’s lowest team completion percentage was 60.3 and the team was regularly among the top five in the ACC in the category.

When Daniel Jones started as a redshirt freshman in 2016, the completion percentage was a healthy 62.5 even though the Blue Devils had a 4-8 record.

But last season, even as Duke returned to a bowl game with a 7-6 record, the percentage dropped to 56.7 -- 10th in the ACC.

“Offensively I would like to see our completion percentage change,” Cutcliffe said. “One of the things that’s brought up by us, by you all. The only way it changes is when we change it.”

It didn’t happen on Thursday, when Duke worked in a non-contact setting without full pads. Even drills where passes were thrown with no defenders didn’t connect enough.

“When we are throwing short to intermediate balls in air drills, it should be 100 percent completion,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s what major college football teams do. When you take it in competition, it’s never going to be 100 percent. But receivers, when you get your hands on the ball, catch it. Quarterbacks getting a ball to an area where they can get their hands on the football. I’m including tight ends and receivers in that regard.”

Duke's Daniel Jones discusses his development as a quarterback under Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe, and his struggles at golf, during the ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte on July 18, 2018.

Duke returns three starting wide receivers -- all seniors -- in T.J. Rahming, Chris Taylor and Johnathan Lloyd. So experience isn’t an issue. Redshirt juniors Aaron Young and Keyston Fuller, redshirt sophomore Scott Bracey and redshirt freshman Damond Philyaw-Johnson are also pushing for playing time.

Gerad Parker took over as wide receivers coach during the offseason.

Lloyd said the group’s work at the start of a play i to get past a defender’s first hit should make a difference.

“You can look back at tape of last season and see where we struggled stretching the field,” Lloyd said. “It starts at the line of scrimmage with guys beating up on us at the line. If you are able to beat press coverage, things change on the back end. It opens up the whole offense. That’s been a big focus of ours.”

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Duke wide receiver T.J. Rahming (3) heads back to a huddle on the first day of practice Thursday, August, 2, 2018 in Durham, N.C. Chuck Liddy cliddy@newsobserver.com

Cutcliffe said he thought the throws from the quarterbacks were good on Thursday. So he plans to go over the practice film with the offense and have some pointed conversations about cleaning things up.

“I can’t wait to watch the film and, I wouldn’t say get in their face, but I’m going to get their attention a little bit,” Cutcliffe said. “Hopefully we see a better result.”

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