ACC: Scottie Montgomery

Big names among the assistant ranks tend not to stay assistants for too long, but Clemson’s Chad Morris says he’s right where he wants to be and isn’t looking for a head-coaching gig long-term, writes the Augusta Chronicle.

Of course, if a certain job in College Station, Texas, were to open up -- as our Travis Haney wrote about this week -- it certainly would seem like a good fit for Morris, who is a Texas A&M graduate. But Morris also earned $1.3 million last season, which makes it a bit easier to stay comfortable in a coordinator role, and though he is smart enough to know when the right situation comes around, I think he is also sincere when he says he is not looking to leave.

And Morris isn’t the only ACC assistant would could be a hot commodity at some point in the next couple years. A few other names to watch for bigger jobs:

Bud Foster, Virginia Tech: The offense has been down over the past few years for the Hokies, but Foster's defense has been as good as ever. Foster has turned down lucrative offers elsewhere in the past, so he is clearly not looking to leave, but he will nevertheless remain on the radar for a lot of other programs looking to bring in a proven commodity.

Jay Graham, Florida State: He is young, has NFL experience and SEC ties, and he is a recruiting whiz. He also presided over the first 1,000-yard back at Florida State in 16 years last season. Graham is going to be a hot name very soon.

Chip West, Virginia: How does a team that finishes 2-10 and has a head coach constantly mired in hot-seat rumors still land a solid recruiting class, including five ESPN300 members? Chalk it up to West, one of the best recruiters in the nation.

Scottie Montgomery, Duke: He will get his first crack at a coordinator job this year as he takes over for Kurt Roper, who left for Florida. Montgomery has NFL experience as a wideouts coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he is a terrific recruiter. If Duke’s offense continues to shine, he is going to get a lot of credit -- and a lot of long looks from other programs.

Brent Venables, Clemson: Morris gets all the buzz because offense is fun and the Tigers’ defense has played second fiddle for years. But look, everyone remembers that Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia to conclude the 2011 season, and what Venables has done for the Tigers’ defense since then -- 29.3 ppg in 2011, 24.8 in 2012, 22.2 in 2013 -- has been impressive, and this year’s unit could be his best yet. More importantly, the Clemson defense is finally climbing out of the shadow of its prolific offense.

More links:

Athlon has a look at recruiting in the Tidewater, Virginia area, and how the region has become a key battleground for programs like Florida State and Virginia.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a piece on how colleges are bringing in outside help to sell tickets.

The Daily Progress is looking at Virginia’s opponents and wonders if this is the golden age of Duke football.

A new play-calling system should help Terrel Hunt run Syracuse’s up-tempo offense, according to Syracuse.com. We wrote plenty about up-tempo offenses yesterday, if you missed it.

Georgia Tech’s special teams should be a strength, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Courier-Journal wonders why Bobby Petrino isn’t having more success on the recruiting trail at Louisville.
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.

ESPN.com 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.

Duke spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Duke Blue Devils:

Offensive line answers. Duke is losing its two most veteran starters on the line in guard Dave Harding and tackle Perry Simmons, who combined to start 91 games. But the Blue Devils seem to be in good shape based on spring results. Lucas Patrick is penciled in to replace Harding and Tanner Stone is in to replace Simmons. Though Patrick hurt his ankle in the spring game, he does not need surgery and will be available for fall practice.

Depth across the board. Coach David Cutcliffe said repeatedly throughout the spring that his team has more depth now than it ever has under his watch. Even during the spring game, Cutcliffe said there was a not a huge drop-off between his first-team and second-team units. That is a sign of a coach who has worked long and hard at recruiting to lay the foundation for his program.

Cornerback answers. Duke lost both starting cornerbacks -- All-ACC selection Ross Cockrell and Garett Patterson. But the Blue Devils are in good shape with sophomores Breon Borders and Bryon Fields. They both played in all 14 games in 2013, taking the second- and third-most snaps among all Duke cornerbacks. Borders broke the school freshman record for interceptions (four).

Three questions for the fall:

[+] EnlargeAnthony Boone
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDuke's Anthony Boone threw for 2,260 yards in 2013.
Replacing Connette. Losing quarterback Brandon Connette is a blow to the offense, especially when you consider how valuable he was in short-yardage situations. Thomas Sirk enters fall camp as the backup to Anthony Boone, with quarterback Parker Boehme right behind. Though Sirk and Boehme lack game experience, offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said Sirk might be one of the better athletes on the team.

Defensive line. No other position group takes a hit as big as this one. Three starters are gone. Kenny Anunike, Justin Foxx and Sydney Sarmiento combined to start 109 games. Dezmond Johnson has the most experience, while Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo has the biggest playmaking ability. Kyler Brown made a transition from linebacker to defensive end to help with the pass rush.

Depth at running back. Last season, Duke returned four running backs to the rotation. But that number is down to two -- Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell. Redshirt freshman Joseph Ajeigbe had a good spring and is third in line. Incoming freshman Shaun Wilson could be relied upon as well if he proves himself during fall camp.

One way-too-early prediction

Duke will be the preseason favorite in the Coastal. The days when the Blue Devils were penciled in to finish last are gone. The defending division champions return 17 starters, including Boone and All-ACC receiver Jamison Crowder. Their schedule is also very manageable, with crossover divisional games against Wake Forest and Syracuse.
Scottie Montgomery returned to Duke last year from an NFL world where quarterbacks were never, ever hit in practice.

So when his quarterbacks started begging him to go live this spring, his first reaction was, ‘No way!’ He was in protection mode, the way he was as a Steelers assistant. But veterans Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette persisted, and he slowly relented -- only a few times, and with clear instructions to the defense.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston, Jimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Phil SearsFlorida State coach Jimbo Fisher had Jameis Winston go live last spring when he was dueling Jacob Coker for the starting job.
“My initial feel is, ‘Don't ever let anybody get touched, so I have to fight myself at times, because I want to protect these guys and these guys want to compete for jobs,” said Montgomery, the offensive coordinator.

His is a dilemma that many coaches across the league have faced this spring. Do you allow your quarterbacks to get hit in practice to help simulate game situations and foster competition, knowing you have increased their injury risk? Or do you never even broach the subject because the priority should always be to protect the quarterback?

Four ACC teams allowed their quarterbacks to go live at some point during spring practice, more than any other power-five league. Clemson did it for the first time under offensive coordinator Chad Morris, believing he would see more out of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Early enrollee freshman Deshaun Watson ended up getting hurt and missing the spring game.

Florida State allowed its younger quarterbacks to go live this spring. Coach Jimbo Fisher said he did the same last year, when Jameis Winston was a redshirt freshman competing to win the starting job.

“They’ve got to be able to feel things around them and react,” Fisher said. “They get in a false security blanket sometimes.”

Does that cause him extra worry?

“It’s no different than when we run the running backs, and I get nervous in the scrimmages when the backs are running and get tackled,” Fisher said. “Our guys know if they’ve got a kill shot, not to. There’s a certain limit of how we practice with each other. You know those shots that everyone wants to have? We won’t take those on each other even if we’re in a live scrimmage because it’s not productive to the organization. Tough to me is when you’re eyeball to eyeball, not when a guy’s exposed and you can do that.”

The coaches are not the only ones who wrestle with the idea. NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett was not live this spring. But when he was competing for the starting job at Florida with Jeff Driskel back in 2012, both were allowed to go live early on in fall practice. The first day they were allowed to take hits, Driskel hurt his shoulder.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail/Mark CrammerClemson freshman Deshaun Watson was injured in practice and missed the spring game.
“There's a right time and wrong time for quarterbacks to be live,” Brissett said. “We haven't done live practices, but in the fall sometimes we will have a live scrimmage on a Saturday. It helps out with the game speed reps.”

For a running quarterback such as Brissett, that helps. Same for the Duke quarterbacks. Georgia Tech has its quarterbacks live during practice for that reason.

Some coaches believe going live helps separate the competition. But Clemson was the only school with an open quarterback competition to allow its quarterbacks to go live during scrimmage situations. North Carolina, for example, has Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky battling to win the starting job, but offensive coordinator Seth Littrell does not believe it is necessary to allow quarterbacks to get hit. “I’ve never done it,” he said.

Virginia Tech also is in the middle of an intense competition, but quarterbacks have been off limits so far this spring. Veteran Mark Leal would have no problem if the coaches changed their minds.

“Honestly, I'd like to be live,” he said. “I think the rest of the quarterbacks would, too, because it gives more of a game feel. If you're not live, sometimes the whistle gets blown early when you don't think you should have been sacked or the play gets messed up because when there's a rush around you, the first thing the coaches want to do is blow the whistle, rather than you continue to play or go through your reads and progressions and finish the play.”

Depth concerns often dictate what coaches do. Pitt only had two scholarship quarterbacks this spring, so there was no way they were going live. Virginia Tech only has three quarterbacks on the roster this spring.

Still, all the protections most coaches take are not enough to keep their quarterbacks injury-free. Miami quarterbacks were off limits this spring, but Ryan Williams tore his ACL during a scrimmage.

It was a noncontact injury.
Duke offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery described his final meeting with quarterback Brandon Connette as one of the most emotional meetings of his career.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Connette
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesDuke will be looking for experienced quarterback depth after Brandon Connette decided to transfer.
Understandably so. Playing thousands of miles away from his ailing mother had weighed heavily on Connette for months. Finally, he decided he could not take the burden any longer. Connette was granted a transfer to be closer to his mother in California.

It was the right decision to make on all fronts. Now, Duke has to try and defend its Coastal Division crown without a key part of its offensive game plan. The good news is veteran starter Anthony Boone returns. The bad news is there is no experienced depth behind him, and nobody ready to take all the snaps Connette would have received in 2014.

“It never is our approach to train a guy for a certain role,” Montgomery said in a phone interview. “What we're going to do is train the quarterback position, and it has nothing to do with splitting time or roles. We’re just trying to get the best possible quarterbacks we can have, one behind another or one adjoined or aligned with each other. Anthony is our starter, no question about that, and we're trying to develop young men behind him.”

What made Duke function so well as an offense last fall was the way Boone and Connette effectively split time. Connette proved he was more than just a Wildcat quarterback, too, when Boone was out with an ankle injury and missed a few games.

In 13 games, Connette was in on 246 plays -- 101 rushing and 145 passing. He finished second on the team in total offense (119.2 yards per game), right behind Boone (224.9). He led the team with 14 rushing touchdowns and was second in scoring. He leaves school as the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 31.

All that production will have to come from somewhere else now, whether from the running backs or other quarterbacks. Thomas Sirk and Parker Boehme will now be put into “more of a heated situation” Montgomery says, in order to get them prepared for more competition.

“Thomas Sirk may be one of the better athletes we have on our team,” Montgomery said. “He has to be more consistent with who he is as a player. He's a young quarterback, and he had a good spring. He developed in a lot of ways, but when you’re at the No 3. spot, it's a lot different than when you're at the No. 2 spot.”

Boehme was injured for a good portion of the spring, so Montgomery wants to see more from him during fall practice. Duke also has true freshman Johnathan Lloyd, an early enrollee who went through spring practice, and welcomes four-star dual-threat freshman quarterback Nico Pierre this summer.

“We're prepared to move forward and get guys ready,” Montgomery said. “There may be a guy who comes out of the middle of nowhere at the quarterback position and plays lights-out and moves into that role, not necessarily fill the shoes of Brandon, but also create their niche in the offense.”

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 14, 2014
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Bo Pelini is the cat's meow.
En route to its recent success, Duke completely transformed itself on the offensive line, where its players are much bigger, way more physical and -- perhaps most important of all -- able to shoulder much more responsibility.

[+] EnlargeLucas Patrick
Jeremy McKnight/Icon SMILucas Patrick will get his shot to earn a starting spot on Duke's offensive line.
That is a big reason why 2014 presents such a huge challenge. The two most veteran starters on the offensive line must be replaced, testing Duke in a way it has not been tested in years. Left guard Dave Harding and right tackle Perry Simmons started a combined 91 games and laid the foundation for the improvement the offensive line has made.

Without them, Duke plans on turning to promising Lucas Patrick at guard and Tanner Stone at tackle, both having been groomed for the moment that awaits.

“It’s hard losing guys of that caliber on the offensive line, but I believe we have the talent that we need to replace Perry Simmons and Dave Harding,” All-ACC guard Laken Tomlinson said in a recent phone interview. “We have athletes coming up, young guys who have been a part of our system for a while, and they’re biting at the chance to show the coaches what they’ve got.”

Patrick and Stone took the majority of first-team reps during spring practice. Stone, slated to be the backup to Simmons last season, missed all of 2013 with a broken ankle. When Simmons got hurt in the ACC championship game, Patrick played out of position and started at tackle.

That at least gives him some starting experience, though he did see playing time rotating with Harding last season. Quarterback Anthony Boone described Patrick as “a big, mean nasty offensive lineman.”

“He’s the one offensive lineman you want on your O-line to keep it balanced,” Boone said. “You might have your fundamentally sound ones, but then you have that one who’s a little edgy, a little chippy. That’s who he is, and he’s a great addition to our offense.”

Boone noted the “huge, tremendous progress” the line made throughout spring. Where Patrick was not much of a question mark to teammates because he got playing time a year ago, there was more uncertainty about Stone because he was getting back on the football field for the first time in months. But Boone said, “He’s big, he’s physical, and he understands what we’re trying to get done.”

Indeed, that seemed to be a huge difference throughout the course of the spring. Though offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery did not want to discuss potential new starters by name, he did say: “The biggest difference with our team over the last few years has been what coach John Latina has been able to do on our offensive front. Our offensive front has grown tremendously. You can lean on your offensive front more than we have in the past, and that gives you a good feeling.”

Tomlinson explained when he first arrived on campus in 2010, Duke did not have the depth necessary to be as physical as it wanted to be.

But now?

“We have depth and we have experience and we have necessary talent on the offensive line. Now all you can do is coach toughness and go out there and be a nasty offensive line,” he said. “I like being a part of this offensive line. I think we’re one of the best offensive lines in the nation, going out there and taking care of business every snap, letting the team know that we can handle whatever is out there.

“I think that gives our offensive players, our quarterbacks and receivers. a sense of confidence to go out there and compete at the highest level and not worry about are we getting beat around the corner, are we giving up sacks.”

Even still, there could be some bumps early in 2014 with two new starters on the line.
Brandon Connette missed all of spring practice last season with a shoulder injury. But even as he sat on the sideline, he knew his quarterback duties would be diminished as the Blue Devils sought to play him all over the field.

That, of course, is no longer the case.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Connette
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesBrandon Connette completed 11-of-16 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns in Duke's spring game on Saturday.
Connette and Anthony Boone teamed to form a highly successful quarterback rotation this past season so the hope is to keep that momentum going headed into 2014. Every single rep Connette took this spring came at quarterback, and he showed more growth in the spring game this past Saturday. Connette completed 11-of-16 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Blue team past the White team, 24-14. Both Connette and Boone teamed together for the Blue team.

Afterward, coach David Cutcliffe said, "Today you saw what spring practice has been -- continued momentum. There were a lot of positives on both sides of the ball, on both the Blue and White units.”

In a phone interview before the spring game, Connette said focusing on quarterback this spring has been a huge help. When he studies tape, he focuses on the quarterback. He has become much better with his pre-snap reads. And there is a comfort in knowing what he will be doing in practice and in games, as opposed to the unpredictability that comes with being more of a wildcat-type player.

"This spring has really helped me," Connette said. "I don't have to worry about what position I'm going in as. Even last year in fall camp, I'd be sitting on the sideline at practice and one rep I'd be in at quarterback, then I'd be in at tight end, receiver, just all over the place. It makes you think a lot more. Right now, I'm able to just focus on what I could be doing as a quarterback on every play."

Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery was not ready to reveal too many details about how Duke would build upon its rotation with Boone and Connette, saying in a recent phone interview, "Right now, Anthony is the starter like the way we ended the season. Brandon’s been phenomenal so it’s a really good problem to have. We’re very happy with where we are with both those guys."

Among other spring game highlights:

  • Shaquille Powell led the team with 75 yards on eight carries -- including a 36-yard touchdown run to seal the win for the Blue team.
  • Max McCaffrey ended up with four catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. Just about everybody at Duke has praised McCaffrey for the strides he has made this spring and has seemingly emerged as the No. 2 receiver to Jamison Crowder.
  • Defensively, the Blue Devils got good performances from ends Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson, who had two sacks each. That was an encouraging sign for the Blue Devils, who have to rebuild their defensive front after losing Kenny Anunike, Justin Foxx and Sydney Sarmiento. Johnson told The Herald-Sun after the spring game, "They left the place better than they found it, which is what Coach Cut preaches all the time. For me, it’s about not letting what they built fall. Keep it going and continue to grow it as much as I can."
Duke is closing in on its spring game Saturday, but players are not the only ones who have gone through practices or simulated situations in the last month.

[+] EnlargeScottie Montgomery
Jeremy McKnight/Icon SMIHaving veterans at the skill positions will help Scottie Montgomery in his first season calling plays.
New offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery has gotten some good reps, too, calling plays for the first time in his career during two scrimmages held earlier this month -- with a third opportunity on tap this weekend. Montgomery says the practice has been great not only because he can make the calls, but because he can see how his players respond in stress situations, giving him a much better feel for what needs to be done once the season kicks off in August.

The biggest play-calling lesson he has learned so far?

"It’s hard to call a perfect call," Montgomery said in a recent phone interview. "You want to call a win every single time, but unfortunately you can’t do it. You have some calls that you want back that you see and they go score, and you have some calls you feel really good about and it’s a 2-yard gain or a 2-yard loss. You can’t get into calling wins. You have to lean on the preparation of executing every play you have."

Preparation has led Montgomery to this moment. After his playing career ended, he began coaching receivers at Duke with long-term goals carefully planned out. He knew eventually he wanted to become a coordinator, and eventually after that, a head coach. He left the Blue Devils to coach receivers for the Pittsburgh Steelers because he wanted the NFL experience. He returned to Duke last season to serve as associate head coach and passing-game coordinator while also working with the receivers.

That valuable experience prepared him for the role he has today, especially because he was able to help former offensive coordinator Kurt Roper make game plans and watch him call plays.

"It just puts you in more of a game-planning mode and really, working hand in hand with Kurt, it was great for us because he leaned on me and I leaned on him in a lot of situations in the passing game, and even in the run game," Montgomery said. "My other role as associate head coach was probably as big, if not bigger, than the role of passing-game coordinator. It was basically the execution of practice, helping run the program, really putting myself in uncomfortable situations that I hadn’t been in, being the liaison between the head football coach and assistant coaches with both their needs and concerns. So I thought all that was great for me and developing as a young coach."

With Roper now the offensive coordinator at Florida, a strong group of veterans should also make Montgomery's transition a little easier. He already knows the staff well and eight starters are back, including quarterback Anthony Boone and receiver Jamison Crowder, not to mention backup quarterback Brandon Connette. Plus, coach David Cutcliffe has served as his mentor for years. That has made the transition "seamless" in both his view, and Boone's view, too.

Montgomery recruited Boone out of high school and the two have a solid relationship. That also helps since Montgomery is coaching the quarterbacks as well.

"From a pass offense standpoint, his former knowledge of playing wide receiver and playing at the next level, understanding splits and route concepts, sharing those tips with us of what receivers think about mid-route, has increased our accuracy, increased our timing, just increased our overall knowledge of where players are going to be on the field," Boone said. "It’s been a great, great changeup for us."

For Montgomery, too.

Seamless change for Duke at OC

February, 10, 2014
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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."
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.

[+] EnlargeKurt Roper
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.
Four ACC assistants will attend the NCAA Champion Forum, a networking and leadership seminar for minority coaches identified as potential future head coaches.

They are:
  • Vince Brown, Virginia defensive line coach/assistant special teams coach
  • Scottie Montgomery, Duke passing game coordinator/receivers coach
  • Al "Buzz" Preston, Georgia Tech receivers coach
  • DeAndre Smith, Syracuse running backs coach

The Forum is set for June 13-15 in Orlando, Fla., and features an opportunity for participating assistants to meet with athletic directors, search firms that assists schools in coaching searches, conduct simulated job interviews, hear from head coaches and school presidents about expectations and challenges of the job, and get some media training as well.

Two other assistants with ACC ties will be there as well -- former Virginia Tech assistant Kevin Sherman (now at Purdue) and former North Carolina interim coach Everett Withers (now at Ohio State). In all, the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and SEC will be represented at the event.

Brown is going into his fourth season as an assistant, but first coaching the defensive line. He started his coaching career in 2007 after playing in the NFL for eight seasons.

Montgomery and Smith are in their first seasons at their respective jobs. Montgomery, though, is in his second stint at Duke after serving as an assistant in the NFL the last three seasons and by all accounts is a rising star in the profession. Smith came to Syracuse from New Mexico, and has coached nine 1,000-yard rushers in 14 years as an assistant.

Preston is the longest serving assistant in the group, having been at Georgia Tech since 2008 and an assistant overall for 32 seasons.
Duke starts spring practices today and it does so with plenty of questions as the program tries to build upon last year’s postseason success of making it to a bowl game for the first time since 1994. Gone are quarterback Sean Renfree and his favorite target, record-setting receiver Conner Vernon, and there have also been several staff changes. I spoke with coach David Cutcliffe to get his take on the state of the program heading into spring ball, and we talked at length about a variety of topics. Here are the highlights of the first part of our interview:

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Peter Casey/US PresswireCoach David Cutcliffe has his hands full this spring season, as new coaches and new players get acclimated to Duke football.
From an insider’s perspective, how big of a deal are these staff changes and what kind of an impact do you hope they make?

David Cutcliffe: We lost two great people in Ron Middleton and Matt Lubick. You can trade different, but you can never trade down when you make staff hires. That’s one of my rules. I don’t have to have an identical match. In this case, we certainly traded a little different, as you look at it, but we did not trade down. I think the impact, we have two North Carolinians, two former Duke football players there (Re’quan Boyette and Scottie Montgomery). They’ve invested their athletic careers here at Duke, both of them great players in this state, groomed in this state. They will have a lot of energy and enthusiasm on the practice field. Scottie is 34, Re’quan 26. When you’re getting as old as I am, you need to surround yourself with young people. I love it. I truly do. I think their energy is going to be infectious to our squad.

What are your top priorities heading into practices?

DC: We’ve got to look at the offensive side first, and get our people in the right place to replace playmakers, a guy who started at quarterback for three years. Our all-time leading receiver in the history of the ACC. And an unusual athlete in Desmond Scott, a guy who produced a lot of yards in receptions and rushing, one of the top three in the history of the league in that regard -- rushing yards, return yards, and reception yards. You can’t ignore that. We’re going to look at people. We’re going to move Brandon Braxton back to offense, who started for us two years ago and played as a true freshman. We’ve got some other people who mix in there well. We will certainly accentuate Jamison Crowder. We’ve got to solidify our circumstances at quarterback. Anthony Boone comes in this spring as the starter. We have some talented people around him, so I expect this team to be a very athletic team on offense.

On defense, certainly the attention goes first to the secondary, where we have to replace three starters there, Tony Foster at corner, Jordon Byas and Walt Canty at safety. I think we’ve got a good start there. The biggest concern I have other than the secondary is building quality and depth. It’s going to be interesting. On both sides of the ball, we’ve gotten better. We’ve run it a little better, and we’ve got to continue that path offensively, but we’ve got to stop the ball being run against us, particularly in big plays. And then we certainly have to stop explosives on the defense in the passing game. That’s our areas of biggest emphasis.

Check back in a bit for Part II.

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 12, 2013
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Is Miami a basketball town all of a sudden?!

Scottie Montgomery returns to Duke

February, 11, 2013
2/11/13
1:40
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Former Duke football standout and assistant coach Scottie Montgomery will return to his alma mater to serve as the program’s associate head coach and offensive coordinator/passing game while coaching the wide receivers, the school announced on Monday.

From the release:
Montgomery, who starred as an All-ACC wideout at Duke from 1996-99, re-joins the program after serving the last three seasons (2010-12) as an assistant coach with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cleveland County, N.C., native spent four seasons (2006-09) on the Blue Devil staff under head coaches Ted Roof and David Cutcliffe.

“When myself and Kurt Roper and the offensive staff got together and looked at the possibilities across the country to replace two coaches, we started in one place,” Cutcliffe said. “We wanted to hire the best football coach that we could hire and who we thought was the best football coach in America. That came to Scottie Montgomery -- it started there; nowhere else.”

Coaching the wide receivers, Montgomery helped the Steelers to a three-year regular-season record of 32-16 including the 2010 AFC North division championship and an appearance in the Super Bowl XLV, where Pittsburgh fell to the Green Bay Packers, 31-25. The Steelers also reached the playoffs in 2011. Among the wideouts mentored by Montgomery were Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. A four-time NFL Pro Bowl selection, Ward finished his career as the organization’s all-time leader in receptions (1,000), receiving yardage (12,083) and receiving touchdowns (85). Wallace earned a Pro Bowl bid in 2011 after catching 72 passes for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns while Brown was the Steelers’ team MVP in 2011 after becoming the first player in NFL history to amass 1,000-plus yards both receiving and on kick returns.

“I am extremely happy to be at Duke University,” Montgomery said. “We have the best football program in college football because of, first and foremost, David Cutcliffe. And when I had the ability to come back and work for him, it made things a lot easier than a lot of people might think.

“When I went to Pittsburgh, my ideal was to become a better coach,” Montgomery continued. “When I came back to Duke, it’s the same deal – I came back to be a better coach. Not only are our players striving for excellence, but one of the things Coach (Cutcliffe) has always pushed on me is that ambition would drive us to another level. And my ambition is to become a better coach, and that’s why I’m here.”

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