ACC: Kurt Roper

On Sunday, esteemed ACC writer Andrea Adelson wrote a piece talking about how Florida isbehind instate rivals Florida State and Miami -- two teams the Gators lost to in 2013.

While I agree that Florida is behind these two at the moment, Andrea and I had a bit of an argument when it comes to the 2014 season. Even though Florida went an embarrassing 4-8 last year, I think that with an improved offense under new coordinator Kurt Roper and what yet again should be a fierce defense, the Gators will have a better record than Miami, which went 9-4 last fall.

Andrea disagrees, saying Florida's offensive questions and schedule will be too much, while the Canes have a more manageable schedule and a more proven offense.

We decided to take our argument to the public and debate both sides for you all to see:

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Getty ImagesJeff Driskel is back from his 2013 season-ending injury, and he's looking more comfortable in the new Florida offense.
Edward Aschoff: I have to admit, Andrea, your piece on Sunday about the three power schools in the state of Florida was spot on. I agree with everything you wrote, but then came Monday, when our conversation left us in disagreement. You think Miami, which went 9-4 and beat Florida last year, will finish this season with a better record than Florida. I have to disagree. Last year was a disaster of epic proportions in Gainesville, but the Gators lost 15 players to season-ending injuries, including starters such as Jeff Driskel, Matt Jones, Dominique Easley and Chaz Green. Florida won't have the same injury problems this fall, and expect a lot more from this offense with Roper (you know him pretty well) running the spread. I talked to Driskel and his receivers about the offense and they are way more comfortable with Roper's system, and they've been gassing a pretty good defense with the uptempo. The receivers are incredibly confident in the new system, and it's clear this is the offense Driskel was born to run. Florida does play Alabama and LSU from the Western Division, but LSU, South Carolina, Georgia, Missouri and Florida State are all games the Gators will play in the state of Florida. Call me crazy, but I think that if this offense figures things out and the defense plays to its potential, Florida has a chance to win nine games in the regular season. Miami? How about eight?

AA: Edward, take the Gator head off and breathe deeply. Nine wins against that schedule? I agree Florida will be better, but it is hard to find more than seven wins given the opponents and all the unknowns on offense. And that is not just coming from me. A few months ago, a Gator fan walked up to me at a speaking engagement here at the Orlando Touchdown Club and said, "I will be so happy if we go 7-5!" How expectations have shifted in state. While it is true I have some doubts about Miami, too, I have two words to counter your argument: Duke Johnson. Miami has him; Florida does not. Maaaaaybe if the Gators had a dynamic skill player, I'd believe you. But they don't. Miami was 7-0 before Johnson got hurt last year -- including a win over the Gators -- and 2-4 without him. Need I go on?

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Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsFlorida doesn't have a proven skill player on a par with Miami's Duke Johnson.
EA: Gator head? Real original. Remember two names: Kelvin Taylor and Demarcus Robinson. Both sophomores have a chance to be special for the Gators. Taylor is leaner, quicker, faster and stronger. The coaches have raved about his improvements since spring practice began, and he should have no problem being the lead back from the start this year. He isn't as explosive as his father -- All-American Florida back Fred Taylor -- but he's shiftier and will be a real weapon in Roper's offense. As for Robinson, he barely did anything last year, but has finally found his focus. He's a big-play threat in this offense, and the coaches trust in him a lot more right now. He has really come into his own during practice this fall. The folks in Gainesville see him as that playmaker at receiver they have desperately needed. Driskel shouldn't have a problem using them. Speaking of quarterbacks, you suiting up to throw the ball for the Canes?

AA: Miami does have a hole at quarterback, a hole I have pointed out repeatedly (and much to the chagrin of Miami fans). But I don't mean to sound like a broken record here. Talented skill players have this way of making their quarterback look good. Driskel has struggled, in part, because he has had no help. Miami will provide its starter with a plethora of help, from potential 1,000-yard receiver Stacy Coley, to deep threat Phillip Dorsett to tight end Clive Walford. Just to name three. Aside from Johnson, Miami is deep and talented at running back, too, and its offensive line has been solid. I am not going to win any arguments between the Miami D vs the Florida D. Gators have the edge there going away. But a talented (and high-scoring) offense can easily cover up for an average D. Miami has one of the tougher schedules in the ACC with difficult crossover games, just like the Gators. In the Canes' case, it's Florida State and Louisville. They've also got a tough nonconference game at Nebraska. When I look at the schedule, I think Miami has 10 winnable games. Doesn't mean they are going to win all of them, but it means they have a better shot at getting there than Florida.


Who will have a better season in 2014?


Discuss (Total votes: 8,581)

EA: I told you to watch out for Robinson and Taylor, but Florida has a few more options at both receiver and running back. I expect veterans Quinton Dunbar and even Andre Debose to make noise in this offense, but really keep an eye on sophomore Ahmad Fulwood. He can stretch the field and is a big boy over the middle. We know about Matt Jones and Mack Brown at running back, but freshman Brandon Powell could be really special. He missed spring but has been blowing up in fall practice. He can do a little bit of everything out of the backfield. Florida will be more competitive using a lot more space in Roper's offense. As for the schedule, it isn't easy. Florida plays six teams ranked in the AP top 25, including No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Alabama on the road. But I'll continue to stress that three of those games are at home and Georgia is in Jacksonville, Florida. An improved offense that can actually take some pressure off the defense can get three wins out of that slate.

AA: Maybe I should tint my glasses rose to match yours. Seriously, though, this debate serves as a reminder that these rivals need to play more often (that is a different debate for a different time). This needs to be settled on the field! The race to chase Florida State is tough to handicap. I don't think Miami is quite back to returning to its past glory, but I do think the Canes have the capability of building on their success from a year ago. Quarterback might look messy now, but coaches have been raving about the maturity and ability true freshman Brad Kaaya brings to the table. The defense looks better so far in preseason camp, and Denzel Perryman could have an All-American type season. If Miami is solid at quarterback and makes improvements on defense, this team will be better than Florida. Again.
Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk has a bit of an unconventional background, having never been a full-time signal caller until his senior year of high school. But with Brandon Connette transferring to Fresno State to be closer to his sick mother, Sirk -- just more than a year removed from a right Achilles tear -- now finds himself with the chance to seize a much bigger role for the reigning Coastal Division champions, as the redshirt sophomore has the inside track to earn some meaningful playing time behind Anthony Boone in 2014. caught up with Sirk last week to discuss how he's preparing for his new role.

What was your reaction when you found out Brandon Connette was leaving?

Thomas Sirk: Me and Brandon were very close. When I came on my official visit here to Duke, Brandon Connette was my host. We have a big brother program here; he was my big brother. Me and Brandon, we always hung out and stuff, so it was kind of sad to hear he was going to go. It felt like I was losing a brother, a teammate and a great player. Me and him had a talk, and we kind of talked about what needs to happen now, and it kind of gave me a lot of confidence going into my role this summer, knowing that I'm stepping back into the spot I was in last spring before I tore my Achilles, and that I have to mature as a player and get ready to play. I have to be game-ready. I have to be ready to step in. I was excited for Brandon, he had the opportunity to play there, and also the opportunity that he gave me. He's competing for the starting job there and it allowed me the opportunity to compete for the starting job here. Overall, I think going into the summer it changed the way that I was going to perform this summer. It kind of changed my attitude about things, I'd say. Just the way I went into the summer. I wasn't down on myself by any means, and I know I still have a lot of work to do and I know I still have a lot to accomplish this summer. But I heard about Brandon, and it was immediately, like next day I had to get into the film room, start studying more and more. I knew I was going to have to watch more and more film.

What's the competition like with Parker Boehme?

TS: Parker and I, we work together, we watch film together. Any way that we can help each other, we're going to do so. We have a great relationship off the field but we know when we get on the field it's a competition. Same way with Boone, we're out there competing. Obviously we both came here to play. … That's kind of been the relationship with Parker and I. We'll help each other out in any way. It's not, 'I'm not going to tell you something because I think that's going to give me an advantage.' We tell each other what we do wrong, we tell each other what we do good. That's kind of the way our program's built around each other. We don't ever knock someone down in any way, shape or form. That's kind of the competition, and I know that competition makes players better, and I enjoy the competition with myself, with Boone and with Parker. I know they enjoy the competition, it makes the players more well-rounded and the urgency starts kicking in the film room more and we grow that relationship with other players.

What's it like to work with Scottie Montgomery? What's he like now in his current role?

TS: I like going into the meeting rooms with Coach Montgomery and on the field, because Coach Montgomery brings excitement wherever he's at. He brings urgency wherever he's at. He knows what we have to get done. We wouldn't want it any less than that because he knows we all could be great players if he pushes us to the point where we need to be each and every day. That's the mentality that I like. …. The quarterback drills that we have, his relationship with us, he's grown more with us, grown that bond with us like we had with Coach [Kurt] Roper, and I think that's definitely something that I've enjoyed when he's been in our quarterback room.

The spring seems so long ago, but what did you take from it?

TS: There's a lot of things in the spring that I could say I could go back and work on, and I'd tell you in the spring that I wasn't 100 percent but it was just a good opportunity for me to go back into football. And since then I've gotten a lot healthier, I put up tremendously on all of my leg work, my speed has progressed a lot also. But I'd say I need to work on my accuracy and I need to work on my preparation of everything that's going on before the snap. Just knowing the down and distance, knowing the play clock, knowing the time on the clock in general, along with knowing the plays. And since then when I watch film now, I put myself in situations that I think are going to happen in the game. For instance, if it's third-and-6, I go through one of our route combinations to see -- I'll go back and watch Sean Renfree and Boone and all the way back to Thad Lewis, just watching their decision-making. That's become a big thing for me since the spring, is knowing the down and distance and knowing the situation. I think that I'll be more game-ready when the time comes for me just because I've trained myself for then and even just going out on the field and having that play clock out there, I think that all that stuff maters. To be a well-rounded quarterback you have to not only perform well but you have to know the game, and I think that I know the plays very well. I'm very [knowledgeable] in our playbook and I think since the spring I've gotten a lot better with knowing the game of football and knowing different coverages. For instance, in the spring I would know where the coverage went if the safeties rotated, but I may have been a little unsure or indecisive on where I wanted to go with the ball, and that's the kind of situation I'm putting myself in now. If they do bring the Sam 'backer or Mike 'backer off the edge, then I know how to react. Where am I going to go with the ball? So just being able to react to the game and play faster is the biggest takeaway I got from the spring.

Coming back from the Achilles tear, how do you think you've grown as a football player long-term?

TS: It's one of those situations you never wished happen, but after that happened I couldn't control it. So I got the most out of the situation. I think I matured as a player, I matured as a person, just in my habits and the things that I do. I know the game of football 100 percent more now than I did when I got injured, and I feel more confident in myself now that I'm fully healthy that I'm going to come back as a player that is even better than I was before my Achilles [tear]. Football-knowledge, coverage-knowledge, knowing our playbook -- I think the opportunity that I've had to go through a whole football season watching the speed of the game from the sidelines is different from watching my true freshman year because I wasn't comfortable with the playbook then. But after watching this season standing on the sideline I kind of put myself in a lot of situations that Anthony and Brandon were putting themselves in out on the field. I got to watch a lot of football and I think that's progressed me as a player. I think that now as another year's gone by and the time's come just for me to play, I think that I'll be more ready in those situations than ever.

Seamless change for Duke at OC

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
When former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper decided in January to leave Durham for the same position at Florida, one of the biggest keys to the Blue Devils' historic 10-win 2013 season had to be replaced.

Coach David Cutcliffe didn't have to look far.

Cutcliffe promoted assistant Scottie Montgomery last week, and the Blue Devils have had a smooth start to spring practices with their new play-caller. Montgomery, who is entering just his second season on the staff after spending last season as the offensive coordinator of the passing game, is no stranger to Duke. The 1999 graduate starred as an All-ACC wideout at Duke from 1996-99, and he also spent four seasons (2006-09) on the Blue Devils staff under head coaches Ted Roof and Cutcliffe.

"We just picked up where we left off," starting running back Josh Snead said. "Same system, just another guy in charge. He brings a lot of excitement, a lot of energy, and we love him as a person and as a coach. He brings the best out of each guy every day at practice. It's been fun the past three days."

Montgomery also will coach the quarterbacks, and Cutcliffe now will have to hire a wide receivers coach. The biggest benefit from promoting from within, though, is the stability and continuity it will provide a team coming off its most successful season in the ACC's Coastal Division.

"A lot of young guys who may have redshirted last year, we still have the same playbook as last fall," Snead said. "They can get better off of that and continue to grow."

ACC's lunchtime links

December, 27, 2013
Keep the Bowden family in your prayers.
Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is headed for the same job at Florida, but he has one game left to call for the Blue Devils.

Roper will coach in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Texas A&M next week, a little preview of what he will face once he moves on to SEC. Both he and Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said during a conference call Thursday that their complete attention is on the Aggies -- so much so that Cutcliffe headed off any questions about what he will do to replace Roper before anybody could ask.

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Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsKurt Roper will have one final game as Duke's offensive coordinator before heading to the same position at Florida.
Cutcliffe said he has not given any thought about his staff this week, nor is he taking any phone calls or text messages inquiring about the open position. "I will not address any of that until I get back to Durham," he said.

What Cutcliffe does next will be interesting to watch. Roper has been with him just about every step of the way, at coaching stops in Tennessee, Ole Miss and Duke. Roper has served as his offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Duke since 2008 and did an excellent job developing players like Thad Lewis (now starting for the Buffalo Bills) and Sean Renfree (among the ACC all-time leaders in passing yards, completions and completion percentage).

This past season, Roper made a two-quarterback system with Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette really work to the Blue Devils' advantage, a huge reason why Duke won 10 games and made the ACC title game. His credentials as a coordinator, and the way he has developed quarterbacks specifically, made him an appealing choice for Florida, a team that has had mediocrity at the position since Tim Tebow left. Roper said it was the right time to leave and the right situation to join, giving him an opportunity to essentially be on his own without Cutcliffe to guide him.

The question now is whether Cutcliffe will turn to somebody he has helped bring up through the coaching ranks, a coach he already has a solid working relationship with and knows well. Scottie Montgomery already serves as offensive coordinator/passing game and receivers coach and spent time as a Duke assistant under Cutcliffe in 2008-09 before rejoining the staff this past season. He seems like a natural fit to move into the position.

But more than finding a coordinator, Cutcliffe also needs to find a quarterbacks coach skilled enough to continue to allow Boone and Connette to function seamlessly in the offense while bringing along the young, talented guys behind them.

A big decision awaits.

Two more notes from the call Cutcliffe held with reporters:

  • Connette has decided to play in the bowl game after spending the last week in California at his mother's bedside following emergency brain surgery. Boone ended up packing up Connette's belongings and bringing them with him to Atlanta just in case Connette decided to rejoin his teammates.
  • With running back Jela Duncan serving an academic suspension, Cutcliffe said Shaquille Powell will start the bowl game.
Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is expected to be hired to the same position at Florida, sources told An announcement is expected later this week.

Roper, who also serves as assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach for the Blue Devils, has been with Duke since 2008. He will be charged with trying to reinvigorate one of the worst offenses in the country.

For more on the story, click here.

ACC's lunchtime links

December, 24, 2013
Have a wonderful holiday!

ACC's lunchtime links

September, 12, 2013
Wild week of college football ...
Max McCaffrey’s Duke family tree has more branches than the federal government.

His grandfather, Dave Sime, was an All-ACC outfielder who led Duke in batting average, home runs and stolen bases. He won 12 ACC titles in track, was an All-American, and set seven world records. He played one season of football as a wide receiver and went on to win a silver medal in the 100-meter dash in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Oh, and he found time to graduate from Duke’s medical school in 1962.

And that’s just gramps.

McCaffrey’s grandmother, Betty Conroy, graduated from Duke in 1959. His uncle, Scott Sime, lettered in four seasons (1981-84) as a fullback at Duke before graduating in 1986. Another uncle, Billy McCaffrey, lettered two seasons (1990-91) in basketball at Duke.

And that was just at Duke.

[+] EnlargeMax McCaffrey
Courtesy of David JohnsonThose within the Duke football program say that receiver Max McCaffrey's toughness has stood out this spring.
McCaffrey’s dad, Ed, was an All-American receiver at Stanford and went on to play 13 years in the NFL. His mother, Lisa, earned three letters in soccer at Stanford. Oh, and aunt Monica lettered four seasons in hoops at Georgetown.

That must make for some family picnic.

“I guess it’s a pretty competitive family,” Max said.

There’s no question he has inherited the trait.

“Oh, man, Max McCaffrey has opened up every single person’s eyes here,” Duke quarterback Anthony Boone said. “I don’t know if he wants me to say this, but he came out a little bit of a fighter, like he’s not gonna back down from nobody. He’s been making a lot of plays. He’s our blue-collar guy. He’s going to work. Even when he’s tired, he’s going to push through. He’s smart, he knows what he’s doing, and he’s tough. He’s going to stick his nose in there in the run game. Even if he gets smacked and hits the ground, he’s going to get back up and try and push the guy a little extra. He’s a hard-nosed player and he’s really stepped up and shined bright for us this spring. I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do this year in the ACC.”

Despite his remarkable pedigree, there’s no pressure from McCaffrey’s family to be the next All-American wide receiver. There is, however, a wee bit of pressure on Duke’s receivers to fill the void left by record-setter Conner Vernon, who closed out his career as the ACC’s all-time leader in pass receptions and receiving yardage. McCaffrey only caught two passes last year, but he's proven more than worthy this spring of stepping in opposite Jamison Crowder, who started all 13 games last year and had five 100-yard games. Crowder is poised to be the next go-to player, but McCaffrey will be equally important in keeping defenses honest.

“He’s had a great spring,” said offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. “I think the thing that I like the best about him is he’s an unbelievable competitor. He’s a guy who, every day -- it doesn’t matter if you’re at the beginning of practice or the end of practice -- his effort level is the same. His competitiveness is the same. I don’t think I really understood how tough he was, but he’s a tough guy, too, so he can make the contact area catches. He doesn’t mind mixing it up when he has to block in the run game. I can’t say I’m shocked by how well he’s doing. I obviously couldn’t be happier about it, because we need him to step up in a big way. I think spring is about getting guys game ready, not about beating your defense, and I think Max is ready to play on Saturday, quite frankly.”

McCaffrey, a sophomore, caught two passes for 31 yards against Florida State last year and played a total of 196 snaps in 13 games. He said he knows more will be expected of him this fall. At a scrimmage earlier this month, McCaffrey caught five passes for a team-high 76 yards.

“Last year just getting a little bit of experience was awesome, but this year I definitely need to step it up,” he said. “I’ve been working real hard this spring just perfecting the offense, learning coverages on defense, just being able to read the coverages, and I’ve been trying to get a lot stronger and faster, just working on basic fundamentals of the game.”

He’s already mastered the competitive part. After all, it’s in his genes.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 8, 2013
Big night for hoops!
Kurt Roper has several titles for Duke: He is the assistant head coach, the offensive coordinator, and the quarterbacks coach. He joined Duke in January, 2008, and was promoted to assistant head coach this past February. Last year, Roper guided Duke’s offense to an average of 31.5 points per game, the fifth-highest total in school history. This year, he has a new quarterback in Anthony Boone and a new center in Matt Skura. I caught up with Roper recently to get his take on the offense this spring. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

Looking at the quarterback position, obviously that’s been a big change for you guys. How has Anthony looked this spring?

[+] EnlargeAnthony Boone
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsDuke assistant head coach Kurt Roper said that he's been impressed with the performance of QB Anthony Boone this spring.
Kurt Roper: He’s done a good job. It’s obviously a different role in the fact he’s a starter, so you have to walk, talk, look like -- everything you do has to be as the starting quarterback. I think he’s taking that responsibility the way he should. It still has to show up on the field in productive play, and he’s doing that. He’s a guy who’s really skilled. He’s a guy who, his feet are great, his throwing motion is really fast-twitch. His arm is really strong. He’s a good decision-maker. He has command of what we’re doing at the line of scrimmage. I guess what I should say is, he has a quarterback’s charisma. He’s playing like a starter for the most part. There are things we always need to improve on. His accuracy is a thing we stress all the time, but he’s a guy who can help us win games on Saturday, and he was able to do that last year.

Who else is having a good spring for you offensively?

KR: Isaac Blakeney is doing a good job for us at his position, he’s really a talented guy who can make plays and needs to keep coming on. Matt Skura and Lucas Patrick in the offensive line have had good springs and are physical guys. When you lose a starting center, that’s a scary thing. It’s nervewracking. Especially with us, the way our offense is built, with the gun snap such a high percentage of the time. If you can’t be good at that, it’s hard to be a good offense, and he’s done a good job of that. If we stay healthy, we’ve got four running backs that can help us win on Saturdays. That’s a position we have some confidence in.

How do you guys look up front on the offensive line?

KR: That’s probably been the area that has been the most transformed since we’ve been here in guys that can help us win. You try to build depth. What happens at that position, if you don’t feel like you have eight guys that can go play -- your five starters and then a third tackle, a third guard, and a second center -- then you have huge depth issues. Every year that we’ve been here, we’ve had those huge depth issues. If the wrong guy gets hurt, then it gets hard for us. I think we’re building that depth. I think we’re closer to saying we’ve got eight guys who can go play against ACC competition and have a chance to help us win.

From your perspective, where do you think the program is at? You guys hit an important milestone getting to the bowl game last year, but I’m sure you would have liked to win more in the second half of the season.

KR: The best thing I can say is it’s going in the right direction. When we got here, it definitely was a challenge in the fact we were fighting people’s perception of us. I think we’ve been fighting that challenge -- and it really shows up in recruiting more than anywhere else. People have to buy in and believe, and I think by going to a bowl game, people are starting to see tangible evidence to what we’re selling in recruiting. It’s going in the right direction. I do think we’re better physically in some places than we’ve been. Each Saturday, it doesn’t matter where you are … if you’re coaching for the Green Bay Packers, it’s still hard to win on game day, but we’re putting guys out there who are really good college football players.
You’ve heard of Cabin Fever?

Duke tight end Braxton Deaver half-jokes that he’s been suffering from Training Room Fever.

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Cal Sport Media/AP PhotoTight end Braxton Deaver last played for the Duke Blue Devils during the 2011 season.
In December 2011, Deaver tore his ACL. He went through the rehab, missed all of last spring, came back strong, and then broke his thumb in June and was out for five weeks. As soon as he came back, he fractured his patella, essentially ripping his kneecap in half.

“At one point,” he said, “I was just angry.”

Understandably so.

It’s been a long road to recovery, but Deaver has finally rejoined his teammates this spring with the hopes of being a major contributor this fall. He’s still not 100 percent healthy, but Deaver is participating in spring drills and expects to play again for the first time since 2011. When he’s at his best, those within the program say Deaver can be a complete tight end for the Blue Devils -- a strength the team was lacking last year. Deaver, though, is versatile enough to help the running backs get to the perimeter, help the tackles with the linebackers, and be a threat as a pass catcher.

He just hasn’t been in a starting role yet.

“I love his mentality,” said offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. “He’s a guy that just loves football, lives and breathes it. It’s who he is. It’s kind of his identity, if that makes sense. He’s really talented. I’ve been around some guys who have gone on to play in the NFL at the tight end position, and Braxton is like that. When he’s healthy, I don’t think the size, speed, strength, football IQ combination could get better.”

Deaver is eager to prove it.

Roper said Deaver was about 205 pounds coming out of high school, and some recruiters doubted if he would be big enough to be a tight end and fast enough to be a wideout. He was recruited by Wake Forest, where his father, Jay, lettered four seasons as an offensive guard (1985-88). Duke, though, showed more interest, and Deaver gravitated toward the offense and the coaching staff.

Now, at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Deaver is more than capable of both blocking and catching. He also has added motivation from the injuries he suffered.

“I wanted to come back and really show everyone exactly what I can do,” he said. “Everyone says he’s got the potential, but you know what? I’m done with that. It’s time to put your money where your mouth is.”

Deaver said he puts the team goals first, but that he wants to catch over 50 balls, be a first-team all-ACC selection, and be “the absolute best” he can be. He’s finally healthy enough to try and do that.

“I’ve never felt better in my sport-playing career,” he said. “We have an unbelievable staff here as far as the training room and everything else. I’ve been really diligent. I knew it was going to be hard, but I really put my nose to the grindstone and now I feel great.”
David Cutcliffe knows a thing or two about NFL quarterbacks.

The Duke head coach's relationship with Peyton Manning -- and the four-time MVP's recovery from neck surgeries -- has been well-documented. And when looking at his current signal caller, Sean Renfree, Cutcliffe sees pro possibilities for the multi-year starter with a strong senior season.

"Well, the one thing they're going to look at is that ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions, which is just a production number. That's why it carries such weight in that quarterback rating. And it's about production," Cutcliffe said. "So I think he's got to handle that. He's got to handle pressure. He's got to do the things that at times have been a problem for us. Is he a pro prospect? Definitely. I think he will get drafted. To what level depends upon this year.

"But good gosh, what a worker, what a great mind. He's got a tremendous arm. He's very, very accurate, and he's -- you just can't believe the work he's putting in right now on his own. He is a very dedicated youngster, and I'm excited about his summer and what he plans to do this summer."

Renfree enters 2012 with two years of starting experience under his belt, having completed better than 65 percent of his passes for 6,352 yards with 31 touchdowns and 30 picks.

The Blue Devils have not had a player drafted since 2004, when the Giants took tackle Drew Strojny in the seventh round. They have not had a quarterback drafted since 1989, when the Packers selected Anthony Dilweg in the third round. (The Giants took Dave Brown in the 1992 supplemental draft.)

Manning was a regular in Durham, N.C., last fall as he readied for his 2012 return with Cutcliffe, his quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator nearly two decades ago at Tennessee. And Cutcliffe thinks the presence of an NFL great rubbed off on his current signal caller.

"Yes. No. 1, having all this Peyton film available to him to study," Cutcliffe said. "I put Peyton through thousands of drills, and we've got all of that on tape, and he looks at Peyton's movements, his footwork, his habits. That's a huge resource, even with Peyton gone. During Peyton's time here, Peyton was good enough to share with those guys, to talk to them about habits just playing quarterback. He was great with [Duke offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach] Kurt Roper. Peyton spent time with him.

"It's immeasurable, but it's continued because of the resource. And now Sean has really studied it and sees some of the things that you try to tell him would make a difference, and now he can see it because I have all of this drill tape of Peyton right here, which is just an unbelievable resource for a young quarterback."

Big week for ACC recruiting

July, 1, 2011
Even Duke has joined the recruiting party in the ACC.

The Blue Devils have added two highly-touted pledges to their 2012 class this week in quarterback Thomas Sirk and tight end Daniel Beilinson. If there is one position Duke fans don't have to worry about in this class, it's at quarterback, where Sirk came to Duke's camp and coach David Cutcliffe and OC Kurt Roper liked him enough to give him an offer. They've got a proven track record with quarterbacks, and Sirk should continue that.

Duke also lured in Beilinson, from Cary, N.C. -- i.e. NC State's backyard. Miami, Wake Forest and Arizona State were also in the mix. If Cutcliffe and his staff continue to beat such programs for recruits, going to a bowl game could become a trend.

Highlights from this week in the ACC:
  • North Carolina got a pledge from OT Jon Heck, who chose the Tar Heels over Virginia and Miami.
  • Bye-bye Russell Wilson, hello future quarterbacks. NC State added its third quarterback in the 2012 class with A. J. Doyle of Catholic Memorial HS (West Roxbury, Mass.). Quarterbacks James Summers of Greensboro, N.C., and Manny Stocker of Coatesville, Pa., earlier picked the Wolfpack.
  • The Wolfpack also received a commitment from three-star lineman Eddie Gordon of Boiling Springs HS (Boiling Springs, S.C.), and tight end David Grinnage of Newark HS (Newark, Del.). Grinnage joins prep teammate, receiver Xavier Griffin, in picking North Carolina State. The Pack also got a pledge from 6-foot-3, 190-pound defensive back Majid Salahuddin of Jack Britt HS (Fayetteville, N.C.).
  • Virginia Tech landed three-star linebacker Deon Clarke, who also had offers from Maryland, Miami and Virginia.
  • Speaking of the Hoos ... They gained a pledge from 6-foot-6, 285-pound OT Sean Karl, who was also recruited by BC.
  • About BC ... The Eagles got a commitment from receiver Harrison Jackson, a wideout from Loudoun Valley HS (Purcellville, Va.). He had 30 receptions for 400 yards and six touchdowns as a junior. Defensive end Malachi Moore of Pope John (Sparta, N.J.) has also committed to Boston College.
  • Miami got a commitment from four-star linebacker Reggie Northrup of First Coast HS (Jacksonville, Fla.). The Canes also landed 6-foot-6, 220-pound tight end Brandon Holifield, who placed third in the state in the high jump as a junior and has a personal best of 6-10.
  • Clemson lured in three-star defensive lineman Martin Aiken of Bamberg-Ehrhardt HS (Bamberg, S.C.). He also considered South Carolina and Georgia Tech. As a junior, Aiken had 106 tackles, 36 for losses, and 13 sacks. Clemson recruiting has been hot this June.
  • Maryland has picked up a Class of 2012 commitment from Malcolm Culmer, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound defensive back/receiver from Willingboro HS (Willingboro, N.J.).

Duke's next step remains a question

March, 11, 2010
In just two seasons, Duke coach David Cutcliffe has elevated the program to a level of respectability it hasn’t seen in over a decade. In 2008, Cutcliffe led the Blue Devils to a 4-8 overall record, matching the program’s win total from the previous four seasons combined. Last year, Duke finished 5-7, the most wins the program has seen since 1994.

Now, as Cutcliffe is in the midst of his third spring in Durham, he is always prepared for one question before it is even asked: Is a bowl game next?

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Jonathan Brownfield/US PresswireDavid Cutcliffe hopes to get a better feel for his team as it goes through spring practice.
Truth is, he's really not sure. Not yet, anyway.

Considering the progress of the past two seasons, a sixth win would appear to be the next likely step, but because of the youth on the roster and the uncertainty at quarterback after the graduation of four-year starter Thaddeus Lewis, Cutcliffe is a little more reserved about voicing his expectations. Cutcliffe has placed a premium on the 15 spring practices to help determine what the 2010 team is capable of.

“We’re very young,” he said. “I think we have the ability to do a lot of things, but I think we have to find out what our personality is, and how willing we are before you start making any predictions. That tells you in my mind how important I think spring practice is. Hopefully on March 27, when we play our spring game, we’ll have a lot better feel at that time about what this team should do.”

From senior linebacker Abraham Kromah’s perspective, there seems to be little more Cutcliffe can do to point the Blue Devils in the direction of the postseason. The players have bought into the system. They’ve developed a trust in their coaching staff and adopted its work ethic and philosophies.

If Duke is going to play a bowl game in 2010, Kromah said, it’s up to the players to get them there.

“I feel like the next step is to not drop the ball, just to keep going, progressing, and doing everything he’s told us to do to the best of our abilities,” said Kromah. “He’s definitely put us in a position to be successful. A lot of it lies on us to take that next step. We know what to expect from him. There are no excuses for anything. Now it’s holding ourselves accountable. Coaches take the blame for a lot of things, but we have to hold ourselves accountable to him as well, because he’s telling us all of the right things. He knows how to win. It’s proven.”

Duke returns 18 starters from last year’s roster, but even with Lewis the Blue Devils weren’t able to find two more wins in their final four games to earn a 2009 bowl bid. Duke hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1994. This spring, there is more competition for playing time, the defense is working on a “new look” with Marion Hobby calling the plays, and there is more of an emphasis on developing the running game. Quarterback Sean Renfree has been limited as he recovers from a torn ACL, leaving the bulk of the work to Sean Schroeder, who was running the scout team offense a year ago.

While there is a newfound confidence at Duke, those within the program also know it’s a long-term project.

“I think it’s a daily process,” said offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper. “You’re always trying to get better, and there are two ways to do that. You obviously keep developing your talent that you have in-house, which is improving, and working hard every day. You stick to what you believe in as a football team and keep doing what you know and what you’re capable of executing. And then you can never let off of recruiting. That’s the next step, keep bringing in good football players. It’s a daily challenge, player development and recruiting.”

Whether or it pays off in 2010? Not even Cutcliffe is ready to answer that one – yet.



Friday, 11/28
Saturday, 11/29