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Duke football opens spring practice Saturday with Boehme as starter

<p>Duke head coach David Cutcliffe will use the spring to try to figure out how&nbsp;to replace the contributions of Jeremy Cash in the secondary while also&nbsp;getting a look at several wide receivers competing for snaps.</p>

Duke head coach David Cutcliffe will use the spring to try to figure out how to replace the contributions of Jeremy Cash in the secondary while also getting a look at several wide receivers competing for snaps.

By this time most years, the Blue Devils are getting ready to put away their pads, about to head off for spring break after another spring practice.

But with an internal reshuffling of the coaching staff and an unexpected injury to starting quarterback Thomas Sirk, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe decided to slow things down.

The Blue Devils open spring camp Saturday, fresh off the program's first bowl win in 54 years. There will be several new faces on the sidelines with Cutcliffe this season, necessitating some extra preparation before opening practice. Zac Roper became Duke's new offensive coordinator in January, and Jim Bridge was hired to take Roper's old role of tight ends coach and special teams coordinator. Marcus Johnson replaces retired offensive line coach Jim Latina and Ben Albert is the new leader of the defensive line unit.

But the biggest change may come under center.

Sirk underwent surgery last month to repair a ruptured Achilles—the second of his career—and will miss an undetermined period of time recovering, thrusting Parker Boehme into the starting role heading into the start of spring camp.

"Parker is our starter at this time. We have no real way of knowing what Thomas’ timetable will be. He’s doing well, but in every part of your program you better go into spring knowing that your club coming out of spring is your ball club. Don’t count on anything beyond that," Cutcliffe said on a teleconference with reporters Thursday. "Parker is the starter, he’s number one. Right now we have Daniel Jones and Quentin Harris bracketed at number two. We will practice that way, but we’re going to create competition."

Boehme made the first start of his career Nov. 14 against Pittsburgh when Sirk was sidelined with an upper-body injury, and took a handful of snaps in several other games, including a fourth-quarter comeback attempt in a loss at Virginia the following week. He finished the season completing 55.1 percent of his passes for 579 yards and two touchdowns, adding five scores with his legs.

On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is tasked with replacing ACC Player of the Year Jeremy Cash in the secondary. The strike safety missed the New Era Pinstripe Bowl with a wrist injury and is now preparing for the NFL draft, leaving Corbin McCarthy among the likely replacements for the Miami native.

Cutcliffe said Thursday that rising redshirt senior DeVon Edwards—who patrolled the secondary as the rover safety for much of the year before transitioning to cornerback to finish the season—will remain at cornerback moving forward, calling it his more natural position. Redshirt freshman Brandon Feamster is another name Cutcliffe mentioned when it comes to filling Cash's productivity—three straight years of 100 or more tackles—in the secondary.

"We’ve got to find the right fit. We try to keep our free safeties somewhat interchangeable, so we have some experience there," Cutcliffe said. "And you throw DeVon in there if you had to, and we’ve got a lot of flexibility."

Bryon Fields—who redshirted last season after tearing his ACL in fall camp—will not be a full participant during spring practice as he continues to rehab from his injury. Cutcliffe said Fields is running and changing direction, but emphasized that he did not want to put Fields in contact situations until he was ready.

"The worst thing we can do is bring him back too soon," Cutcliffe said.

Edwards sticking at corner may be the only key position change for now, Cutcliffe said. Redshirt sophomore Nicodem Pierre will remain at running back after transitioning there from quarterback during fall camp last season. Duke returns Jela Duncan, Shaun Wilson and Joseph Ajeigbe to the backfield alongside Pierre, with Shaquille Powell the lone key departure.

Wide receiver presents a more vexing question for Cutcliffe, where the graduation of sure-handed Max McCaffrey and last fall's dismissals of Johnell Barnes and Terrance Alls leave plenty of snaps up for grabs. Redshirt senior Anthony Nash built a strong rapport with Sirk during last season, and sophomore T.J. Rahming will provide speed either underneath or as a deep-play threat. Beyond those two returning starters, Ryan Smith is the lone Blue Devil to see significant playing time from a season ago and Keyston Fuller and Trevon Lee will look to impress during spring camp, with highly-touted wideout Scott Bracey joining the team in the fall.

"It’s not only who the top three are, it’s where they fit. I’m anxious to see that. We obviously had the misfortune of having to dismiss a couple of guys who would be competing to be starters, and that’s always unfortunate. It hits your depth harder than people think," Cutcliffe said. "Part of what they’re competing with now is [the fact that tight ends] Daniel Helm and Davis Koppenhaver are out of redshirts, to go along with Eric Schneider. It’s a multi-talented group, so you’re going to see them compete in the slot, whether it’s to the boundary or the field."

Cutcliffe said the Blue Devils could experiment with some two tight-end sets even on passing downs.

Duke will have two practices in helmets and shorts Saturday and Monday, will take a week off for spring break, then continue to gear up for its annual spring showcase April 9.

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