Now almost two weeks into the start of fall camp, the Blue Devils were finally able to step onto Brooks Field this past weekend for some game like action.
Despite some unfortunate news coming last week—promising wideout Jake Bobo and quarterback Gunnar Holmberg both went down with injuries—Duke turned an optimistic leaf Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium, taking part in an intrasquad scrimmage, the first chance this year for anticipated players like quarterback Quentin Harris to show out.
With the first team offense going up against the second team defense and vice-versa, there were plenty of familiar faces stepping up to make plays as well as some potential breakout players.
“In eight practices all of the execution things, all of the fine-tuned things aren’t going to be great,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “What I’m going to grade tonight is I want to see consistency of focus and consistency of effort. I thought we got good effort and I thought our offensive focus was really poor in the first half. Right now, that’s the bigger test to me is will this team be able to play 60 minutes with focus and effort.”
All eyes were certainly on redshirt senior quarterback Quentin Harris, who will attempt to fill the large shoes left by the No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Daniel Jones. Harris started two games for Duke last season, but finally gets a chance to be a focal leader on the team.
The offense got off to a rocky start under the command of the Wilton, Conn. native, relying heavily on the run and attempting most passes near the line of scrimmage. It wasn’t until the end of the practice where Harris found his groove, completing two deep balls including a touchdown to redshirt senior Aaron Young.
“We’re just trying to get a feel for each other, and this is the first time we’ve really had a game like atmosphere where it’s full tackle to the ground,” Harris explained. “I think a little bit of it was just getting acclimated to the situation and then started to get a groove and get comfortable with the tempo. Then you saw things start to pick up there a little bit later on.”
Like many predict heading into the 2019 season, the Blue Devils’ defense looks like it will be the team's strongest unit. With former all-ACC performer Mark Gilbert still sidelined indefinitely with a hip injury, junior Michael Carter II stepped up with two interceptions on the night. Highly touted freshman Tony Davis, who enrolled early last winter, also had an interception to end Harris’ last drive.
“We had a big point of emphasis which is just get the ball, takeaways and second and third efforts,” Carter said. “When the ball is in the air, we’re returning to the receiver. The D-Line did a great job forcing the ball out of the pocket and just getting the quarterback up probably when he didn’t want it in the air. Just making them force errors that benefited us.”
New wide receivers’ coach Trooper Taylor may have had his unit damaged with the loss of Jake Bobo last week, but there are plenty of options that could step up to fill the sophomore’s role while he recovers from a collarbone injury.
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Freshman Jalon Calhoun reeled in a deep ball from Harris towards the end of practice after receiving a good deal of his reps with the first team offense. Fellow first years Eli Pancol and Darrell Harding Jr. have impressed in camp early on as well.
“[Calhoun] has been tremendous,” Cutcliffe emphasized. “He’s as good a natural football player as we have. He comes to work everyday. Almost runs himself in the ground everyday. He was a quarterback in high school and just a pure playmaker. He started day one. With Jake Bobo going out at that position, he had earned second team by then. That’s why he was in that starting role.”
Brittain Brown was the feature running back for the first team with Deon Jackson sitting out the scrimmage, but it was freshman Jordan Waters who stole the show running the ball. The safety was stuck in the backfield to see what he could do and the Fairmont product did not disappoint, gashing the Duke front seven with his speed.
“I moved Jordan Waters to running back to see what he looks like. He’ll never go back,” Cutcliffe emphasized. “Jordan’s been [at running back] for four or five practices, believe it or not, but that’s how he does everything. He will impact this team.”
With the days counting down until their season opener in Atlanta, it’s clear that the Blue Devils have some work to do with tightening up their offense, but the other side of the ball is already looking like it could carry Coach Cutcliffe’s squad to its fair share of wins this year.