When the Blue Devils broke into their stretching lines inside Wallace Wade Stadium, it was redshirt junior quarterback Parker Boehme who assumed the position of fiery cheerleader, pumping up his teammates at the beginning of practice.
That was just one of several notable role changes for Duke this spring.
Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe said this was the time of greatest chance for the program since his arrival in Dec. 2007. Gone are Scottie Montgomery (offensive coordinator), John Latina (offensive line) and Jim Collins (outside linebackers and defensive ends) from the coaching staff.
In their places are Zac Roper (moving from special teams coordinator to offensive coordinator), Ben Albert (defensive line coach coming from Boston College), Jim Bridge (special teams coordinator and tight ends) and Marcus Johnson (promoted to offensive line). On top of that, the Blue Devils have spent the spring with a new starting quarterback in Boehme.
Boehme capped off his spring by going 7-of-10 for 66 yards in Duke’s 70-snap scrimmage Saturday that marked the end of spring practice. He said his biggest improvements have come in his pre-snap reading of the defense.
“Checking out the defense, even if it’s not a pass play, knowing my run checks and assessing what the defense is doing,” Boehme said as he ran through his biggest areas of improvement. “If we have a bad play on, just checking out of it. The small details of what the defense is doing to make sure he have a good play on every down.”
While Boehme was the starter all spring, Cutcliffe said there was a possibility that last year’s starter, rising redshirt senior Thomas Sirk, could be healthy. Sirk ruptured his left Achilles tendon on Feb. 9 and is out indefinitely. He previously ruptured his right Achilles tendon in April 2013 and missed all of the following season.
Cutcliffe said Sirk is a month or a month in a half ahead in his recovery compared to the last time he went through it. He’s walking without a cast and throwing the football.
“They used a new protocol that’s out there that has had incredible results,” Cutcliffe said of Sirk. “We just hope that at the point of May, June, July he’s still having incredible results.”
Behind Boehme, redshirt freshman Daniel Jones certainly has the look of a strong quarterback. He has the best size (6-foot-5, 205 pounds) of all of Duke’s quarterbacks and is speedy enough to be a dual-threat quarterback, too. The ball jumps out of his hand with ease and plenty of velocity. The Charlotte Latin product originally came to campus as a preferred walk-on but was given a scholarship before the start of last season.
His numbers on Saturday – 3-for-9 for 18 yards and one 8-yard touchdown to Chris Taylor – don’t do justice to the promise he showed in pre-scrimmage drills.
On the defensive side of the ball, sophomore linebacker Ben Humphreys has the look of a playmaker and natural leader. He took the momentum from a successful start in the Pinstripe Bowl (11 total tackles) into the spring, where he was just one of four scholarship linebackers in practice. Expect to see a lot of the former high school Army all-American in the fall.
“I’m just more comfortable being around the lineman and shedding blocks and making tackles inside the box,” said Humphreys, who played free safety his senior year of high school. “I just get to play football and tackle guys in the backfield.”
Being a sophomore will qualify Humphries as an experienced member of the team next fall. According to Cutcliffe, 41 percent of Duke’s scholarship players will be freshmen and redshirt freshmen this fall. That might be the most significant of all the big chances for the Blue Devils.