As the Blue Devils break camp and prepare for their 2013 season opener against cross-town opponent N.C. Central next Saturday, the word most frequently heard around Duke’s practice facility is competition.
Coming off its first bowl-game appearance in almost 20 years, Duke’s summer was marked by position battles on both sides of the ball, thanks to an experienced core of returning starters and arguably head coach David Cutcliffe’s best recruiting class during his tenure in Durham.
“I think this recruiting class we got is phenomenal,” senior wide receiver Brandon Braxton said. “There’s way more competition now at every position than there was. So, that’s huge because it’s making everybody else better.”
The Blue Devils head into the 2013 campaign with a problem teams enjoy having—multiple talented players at each position, resulting in fierce battles over spots on the depth chart. The result has been a more productive offseason and a team more prepared and hungry for next Saturday’s season-opener at Wallace Wade Stadium.
“The competitive nature of this team has been phenomenal throughout camp,” redshirt senior guard Dave Harding said. “We have young guys who are able to play, and they’ve been pushing us a lot. The momentum coming out of camp is special this year.”
Junior wide receiver Jamison Crowder noted that the biggest difference between this year’s training camp and those of prior years is the energy level.
“We had a couple brawls, a couple fights at practice,” Crowder said. “That just shows that a lot of guys want to go out there and just compete. I would say that’s the biggest difference—the energy and the way people want to compete against each other.”
Crowder has spent most of the spring and summer going head-to-head against preseason first team All-ACC cornerback Ross Cockrell. The Blue Devils’ new level of competition, it seems, is not limited to players vying for the same positions, but also extends to matchups across the line of scrimmage.
“It’s just something that happens pretty much every day,” Crowder said. “The defense, they try to do a little extra sometimes. You have to get a little feisty, but it is what it is.”
The newfound competitive energy Cutcliffe has seen on both sides of the ball this offseason results from what many players have noted as a different mentality coming off a six-win season and a bowl appearance.
Duke also benefited from the 15 additional practices that all bowl teams are allotted before postseason play. Top-tier programs count on and expect this extra time every year to improve before bowl games, but the Blue Devils haven’t seen the opportunity for bowl practices since 1994.
The extra practice time, Duke’s new winning mentality and a strong freshman class all have the Blue Devils poised to start the season off on the right foot—in hopes of reaching their second consecutive bowl game for the first time in program history.
“This team has different expectations than teams in the past,” Harding said. “We’ve made it to a bowl game. Now we expect to get to a bowl game. Our expectations are to come out of the gate hot, and we know we can.”