The Duke football team has opened its training camp, hoping that this season will end with a trip to a bowl game.
“The camp theme is ‘make plays that win games,’” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “We’ve been good, we haven’t been a … stumbling, bumbling football team. There’s some quality football out there these past few years, just not good enough to win.”
The team comes into camp at a level Cutcliffe is pleased about, having gotten together during the offseason to work out, run through drills and get to know each other better.
This ability to execute will be helped by the team’s new gadget, the iPad, which was issued to each player earlier this summer in a partnership with Apple and Global Aptitude, the creator of Playbook for iPad. Global Aptitude has partnered with many NFL teams, including the Baltimore Ravens, the Dallas Cowboys and the Indianapolis Colts.
“We’re one of the first college teams to do this,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re obviously on the cutting edge, but we should be, we’re Duke!”
This new device allows the playbook to be completely digital and lets players instantly view video of any play.
Desmond Scott, who this season will become a wide receiver, has already put the iPad to good use. On his flight back from Atlanta, Scott passed the time reviewing the plays he will have to learn as the season begins.
“I hope that he turned it off when he was told to,” Cutcliffe said. “Not like Alec Baldwin… not that big yet, Dez!”
Scott’s move is due in part to the large group of running backs the team now has. He believes this shows the team is moving in the right direction, and the competition between players will give the team an edge it has not had in the past few years.
Fellow senior Conner Vernon agrees. “From a talent level… Coach Cut[cliffe] has recruited phenomenally throughout the last three years. We have so much more depth on this team.”
In addition to viewing footage of the now-graduated Donovan Varner, Scott has worked hard this summer, coming out for weekly sessions with starting quarterback Sean Renfree to go through repetitions on the field.
“Doing something is better than doing nothing,” Scott said.
Scott believes that he’ll now have a weapon no other receiver will - he will know the play in its entirety. He, however, will still remain as a form of running back, as he shared that he is also learning his role in a formation similar to the Wildcat that Duke will use.
Learning two positions will not be a problem for Scott, who has cherished his leadership role adamantly repeating he must do so or “what will the young players think?”
In addition, the team has also had player-led practices each week throughout the summer. Although this is not something new, the practices have changed from the typically pure conditioning sessions, to drills that involve the football – killing two birds with one stone, according to Scott.
“Coach Vernon has coached them hard this summer,” Cutcliffe said. “They’re looking forward to Coach [Matt] Lubick getting Coach Vernon off their backs.”
Apart from Scott’s transition, many other players will have to grow into new roles. Cutcliffe mentioned that quarterback Brandon Connette is one player who is expected to play different roles this season. On the defensive end, Keilin Rayner has also moved to become a nose tackle, a move the coach describes as “courageous”.
The defense will have to adjust to losing standout safety Matt Daniels, now with the St. Louis Rams, to graduation. He will not be replaced, according to Cutcliffe, but rather the team will identify the strengths it now has and use that to its advantage. Walt Canty has said that it must be a “team effort”.
In addition to filling the void left by Daniels, the Blue Devils will have to adjust to the various injuries that have stricken the squad. The ailments of Blair Holliday, Braxton Deaver, Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, Kelby Brown and Jamal Bruce have forced many moves to be made.
“It’s tough. All those guys we expected to play major roles this season,” Canty said. “But every team has injuries. We’ll have to fight through it.”
Despite this, Vernon, who is expected to play a key role this season, has a very positive outlook for the season.
“Each year, it may not show in the wins and losses column but this team has gotten better,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be in any other program. If I had to do it all over again I’d do the same thing.”
He believes that his work with Renfree over the summer and past few years have given them an advantage over other offensive pairs, which could yield points and wins for the team.
When asked about whether becoming the all-time reception leader in the ACC is a goal for him, Vernon shrugged that off as a mere byproduct of his larger goals – making a bowl game for the first time in his career.
“The number one goal is to finally get over that hump, the records are not the main goal,” Vernon said. “It’s getting this team to where it belongs.”