With Duke set to wrap up its spring football on Saturday there are a lot of things that the coaching staff will be looking when assessing the season. New coaches and some players are taking on different roles and the spring practices are usually a time to learn the system and work on getting better.
David Cutcliffe indicated in his press conference that kicked off the spring practices that he was going to be focusing on player development and fundamental and not necessarily plays.
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So with some new faces, and familiar ones returning what is there to look forward to on Saturday? Here are some things I'm going to be looking at and forward to.
The Blue Devils will welcome back a full stable of running backs come fall, and the incoming 2012 class will add to that.
But for Saturday I'll be keeping my eyes on a trio of returning backs lead by senior Desmond Scott. Scott will be joined by Juwan Thompson and Josh Snead who is returning after redshirting during the 2011 season following a preseason injury.
I'll be interested in seeing how these three backs look and see how the coaching staff and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper plans on utilizing them.
Duke needs a big improvement in its running game and it starts with quality, healthy running backs, which the Blue Devils should have.
I have no doubt that senior Sean Renfree will and should get a majority of the snaps as the Blue Devils quarterback this season.
But what I'm really interested in seeing is how back ups Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette are incorporated. Cutcliffe hinted that these two guys might be lining up at positions others than quarterback and some of that has shown in the spring practices.
I'll also be curious to see how much incoming freshman Thomas Sirk plays at quarterback. He was a receiver for a good portion of his high school career up until his senior season and was in a run heavy offense.
He enrolled for the spring semester and has been getting some pleasant reviews so far.
Duke's offensive line essentially returns intact and I'm interested to see if they have improved. They were young and a bit inexperienced in some places last season. That shouldn't be the case.
There is a big shake up for the offensive line though in the coaching department. Former line coach Matt Luke left the Blue Devils to take the same position at Ole Miss. He is replaced by John Latina so I will be curious if there is any major changes in the offensive line and how they look.
A major part of the running game will depend on how effective the offensive line is with their blocking so that is something to keep an eye on.
Duke was decimated with injuries on the defensive side of the ball last season and the defensive line in particular. They are still without some of their projected starters so it will be worth keeping an eye on some of the younger guys who should see significant time.
For the linebackers this will be the second season in the 4-2-5 scheme and the injury of Kelby Brown was a big blow to that group in particular as Brown was arguably the best returning defensive player.
There will be a lot of different players getting in on the mix at linebacker so I'll be curious to see who steps up.
The Blue Devils lost its best defensive player Matt Daniels to graduation and must find some one to step up in that role.
They do return corner Ross Cockrell and Lee Butler will be moving over to the other corner making for an experienced combo. But it is that search for safties that will be worth looking at.
Brandon Braxton was moved from wide receiver to safety so his performance and growth at that position could be interesting. Walt Canty also looks to get some time at saftey along with several other returning faces.
Duke took a few steps forward and almost as many back in special teams last year. The kicking game, mainly place kicking was awful. Will Snyderwine, an All-ACC kicker the season before was not himself and it hurt the Blue Devils.
Snyderwine is gone and his likely replacement still isn't on campus. Punter, Alex King started slow but finished his senior campaign strongly. He is replaced by Will Monday who was a highly touted punter and kicker coming out of high school. Monday will handle all of the kicking duties until Ross Martin, arrives on campus in the summer.
Another exciting thing to look for is the improvement in the running game. Jaimson Crowder showed glimpses of the explosive player he could be and should be the Blue Devils top return man with a real chance to make some big plays.
Overall there is a lot of improvement that still needs to be made, but that is what spring football is all about and when you are Duke, you take the improvement when you can get it and I for one can't wait to see what the kids have got so far.
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