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Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Duke's Cutcliffe talks expectations, Paulus, recruiting


Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Duke coach David Cutcliffe made a difference in his first season, winning four games in 2008. While that might sound like a disastrous season for many, the Blue Devils won as many games last season as they had in the four previous seasons combined. Still, it wasn't good enough for Cutcliffe, who thought they were capable of winning more. He discusses that and more in our interview this week:

 
  Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
  While his program showed signs of improvement in 2008, David Cutcliffe knows there is still work to be done.

Ok, let's go ahead and get this one out of the way. Can Greg Paulus really throw the football well enough to be a college quarterback?

David Cutcliffe: Greg can throw the ball. I haven't seen him throw it in person, but I saw him on high school tape, and he threw the ball a lot and effectively. My dealings with him, I kind of started that. I actually called Mike Krzyzewski first, just to say, 'Hey, I'm going to call Greg.' I wouldn't do it without telling Mike first. We had six practices left, and he could play a little receiver. It would be very difficult for him to start for us at quarterback. He just decided if it wasn't pure quarterback he wasn't interested in it, so we'll see what happens, but you don't bet against a competitor. Ever. He is definitely a fierce competitor.

Do you have a pretty good relationship over there with Coach K? Or do you guys not really see each other much?

DC: Absolutely, great. I'm one of his biggest fans. I have watched him practice, I love to hear him teach, I love conversations with him because he is the epitome of a coach. He's always teaching. I just think he's a master, I really do. I enjoy everything he does with his program.

About your program, what is the biggest change you've seen since you took over?

DC: People starting to believe we can win at Duke, most importantly our players, but not unimportantly our fans. Our fans, we're creating a little expectation. People say you're crazy, well I don't think so. I don't know if you'd call it revitalizing, because it basically had gone dead. Part of beginning a program is to make people believe we can win at Duke.

That was one of the other questions I wanted to ask you. After winning four games last season, what are realistic expectations for Duke fans this year?

DC: We didn't win as many as we could have won a year ago, so it wasn't a successful season. As you look at your team and you gauge your team, you try and say how many could we have won, and that's the number you better hit. I don't know what that number is. We have a good football team. We had a good team last year with a bad record. I think we'll have a good football team with a good record this year, but we have to go out and earn that ability, you can't just say it. But right now I can tell you we are a good football team.

You recently got $10 million from two very nice donors. In what ways will that help your program the most?

DC: It's so significant in just the awareness of Duke football on the recruiting scene. Our practice facilities were subpar. This will put us in the finest practice facility that we could possibly want or have. We're on the fast track now with that gift from Bob Pascal and Steve Brooks.

How has recruiting gone for you? You mentioned in the latest class you got some speed. Is that something you're continuing to build on, without obviously mentioning any specific names?

DC: Absolutely. If a guy can run, we're going to recruit him. We really believe in that. Football is a medium of movement and collision and we try not to overcomplicate it. We're looking for people who can move and run and will hit you. That's kind of where it all starts for us. Once we identify those guys, we're trying to find the highest character, the toughest mentally. That's the fun part. People talk about Duke, and you can't recruit to Duke. Well, when you find guys that can play, that's the first parameter. Once you find guys that can play, a guy that's going to do well at Duke is going to be a great youngster. We want to surround ourselves with those kind of people. We're very tuned into that right now across the country. We're identifying a lot of those people, and a lot of those people are interested in Duke.

I'm curious about your backup quarterback, Sean Renfree. I heard he had a good spring. What do you like about him, and are you in a position you sort of have to give him some time this fall to prepare for next year?

DC: I think you have to consider some playing time for Sean because of that, but most importantly, I think he's earned that opportunity. He is a very accurate passer, he is a big guy that has a tremendous grasp of the offense in now a very short period of time. It's been great for Thad to have a guy to share and converse with and study tape with. Thad's a senior, and he's got a great grasp of what we're doing, and he's done it for a year, but it's great to have a guy like Sean who not only pushes him, but is kind of there with him every step of the way.

Now that spring ball is over for you guys, what do you feel is the biggest strength of your team right now heading into summer camp?

DC: Right now we are a team that probably runs I don't know how many times better than what we did. We've got more speed on the field. I certainly think we are throwing and catching the ball at times extremely well. We have become a much more physical defensive football team. Do we have depth? No? Before you ask me, I can tell you that's the No. 1 issue that we face here. A year ago, the season took its toll on us. As you look at the results, it's very obvious. So we've got to continue to bring our young players along. I'm hoping the strength of your team will be our youth as we embrace these freshmen that come through our program.

Obviously the running game you mentioned, that has a lot to do with Boyette coming back?

DC: Yes, Re'quan has had a tremendous spring. Unfortunately, Jay Hollingsworth, who was our leading rusher a year ago, was hurt most of the spring with a hamstring strain, so he didn't get as much work as we would've liked, but we'll be better in that regard, certainly with Re'quan, if he stays healthy. He's a potential all-star player.

Last thing, who's catching the ball for you now that Eron is gone?

DC: Donovan Varner, Johnny Williams, Austin Kelly, Matt Pridemore and Sheldon Bell -- kind of a little more by committee. But I would say Donovan Varner and Johnny Williams by far led the charge throughout the spring. Those were guys that were really fast, really explosive after they catch the ball. One of the things different about the
Duke offense now a year later is we're much more suited to stretch the field than we were a year ago.