Duke, with more experience and offensive targets, expects to be much better than a year ago

Despite coming off a 4-8 season that produced just one ACC win, Duke feels like it can win the Coastal Division but before verbalizing that goal, Coach David Cutcliffe wants the team to tell him its purpose – and the players have until July 30 to come up with an answer. “I want to know what their purpose is and then we’ll get specific about the goal,” Coach Cutcliffe said at the ACC Football Kickoff event in Charlotte Friday. “If you don’t have a real purpose, you’re not going to reach goals.” He gave the example of being stranded in […]

Despite coming off a 4-8 season that produced just one ACC win, Duke feels like it can win the Coastal Division but before verbalizing that goal, Coach David Cutcliffe wants the team to tell him its purpose – and the players have until July 30 to come up with an answer.

“I want to know what their purpose is and then we’ll get specific about the goal,” Coach Cutcliffe said at the ACC Football Kickoff event in Charlotte Friday. “If you don’t have a real purpose, you’re not going to reach goals.”

He gave the example of being stranded in the middle of the ocean with a goal to get to dry land. “If your purpose isn’t first to live, you don’t get there,” he said. “Those are the people who die.”

The 2013 team that won the Coastal Division came to Cutcliffe and told him their purpose was to prove that you can win big at an institution that has high academic and behavior standards.

“They said, ‘we want to make believers out of people that you can do every little thing right and win big. How mature is that? That’s what you want to hear as a coach,” he said. “By how they worked on the field, you could tell they meant it. You knew we had a chance to be a championship football team.”

This year’s version of the Blue Devils better prepare an answer because he’s asking them the question when they get together next on July 30.

Duke QB Daniel Jones.

Duke QB Daniel Jones.

Quarterback Daniel Jones, who took over when starter Thomas Sirk went down with a season-ending injury prior to the first game, admitted that he doesn’t know if he can define the purpose right now. But he does know this team has been working hard in the offseason and is enjoying it.

“You see it in how people are working,” Jones said. “This team is unique in that they are enjoying the process of working toward the season. We’re not going out and working because we feel we have to do it. Everybody is enjoying doing it.”

Cutcliffe might not want to talk about goals yet but Jones, a sophomore who was considered a quiet leader last season, isn’t shy about it.

“We feel like we have an opportunity to play some good football and be at the top of the division,” he said. “It’s the goal of every team to win the division and be at the top of the ACC. That’s a big emphasis of ours. We certainly feel like we’re winning each game on our schedule.”

Duke is considered deeper and more talented at skill positions than it has been in a while, and the Coastal Division is expected to be more wide open this season, but expectations still aren’t high for the Blue Devils.

“We were hurt by what occurred a year ago,” Cutcliffe said. “We should have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. It’s ok to operate that way at times. But right now the most important expectations are ours and what we believe. We’ve raised expectations about ourselves…

“When we do as well as we should, and that starts with me, we’re going to have a good football team.”

Duke has seven returning starters on offense including receivers Johnathan Lloyd and T.J. Rahming Jr. But there are other receivers expected to make an impact including Chris Taylor (29 catches a year ago), Quay Chambers (15 catches), Aaron Young (11 catches), tight end Daniel Helm (21 catches) and tight end Davis Koppenhaver (17 catches). Add in redshirt freshman Scott Bracey, who Jones said has been impressive during informal workouts, and you have a lot of weapons.

“Advancing down the field passing is important to us this year,” Jones said. “Being an explosive offense with down-the-field passing is an emphasis of ours. We have the speed to do it. The protection is there. It’s more about timing than anything else.”

Cutcliffe said he believes his team will put more points on the board this year with Jones starting his second season under center. “He’s got the arm. He’s got all the tools,” he said. “He knows this is a very gifted group of fast receivers.”

He said sometimes last year Jones was just “chunking the ball” down the field. “There has to be a purpose in the deep ball,” Cutcliffe said echoing the “purpose” theme. “We played some effective offense last season but we didn’t have enough explosive plays. We emphasized that in the spring.”

Jones emphasized it during informal summer workouts as well, saying that he hopes the deep ball will open up the running game.

Cutcliffe said he likes his running backs, especially his returning starter at tailback. “I’m anxious to see Shaun Wilson,” he said. “I feel strongly about his approach and his talent. The biggest consistency we have to have is the mechanics of blocking.”

The running game is better right now than it was a year ago, Cutcliffe said. “We have a quarterback that can beat you running and a group of backs I’m excited about,” he said. “Our best chance to be a contender is to run the football at a high level.”

But Cutcliffe knows it all starts at the quarterback position and he’s impressed with what he’s seen from Jones. He said Jones has been “significantly different” this season and that even offensive linemen have come to him touting what Jones is doing in the offseason.

“In conversations we have football wise, it’s like talking to a different guy,” Cutcliffe said adding that Jones has what he calls “a functional understanding” of what to do on the field. “I probably shouldn’t reveal this – I had Peyton (Manning) have some conversations with him at camp and report back to me about what he thought and he was all thumbs up.”

After an underwhelming season a year ago, team expectations are all thumbs up as well but goals will have to wait until the players prove to Coach Cutliffe that they have a purpose.