DURHAM – The best season in Duke football history is, well, history.
The Blue Devils say they want to be even better.
Duke began preseason practice Monday with running back Josh Snead saying the Blue Devils are “not trying to be great – we’re trying to be legendary.”
Duke won a school-record 10 games during its breakout 2013 season, claimed its first ACC Coastal Division title and reached the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“This year we’re trying to improve on that,” Snead said. “The only thing better than that is to become legendary.”
Coach David Cutcliffe said handling that past success will be critical this season and the test of the players’ work ethic will come during a preseason camp he said “is going to be the hardest thing they’ve done.”
Camp opened with a theme of accountability among the players, who have been broken up into 16 groups in an effort to promote team bonding. They’re made up of players of all ages and positions, and have names like “Raptor” or “Nighthawk,” and players wore dog tags bearing those names.
Accountability may have been an issue at the start of 2013. Snead said, “We had one guy that was fashionably late” to the first meeting and the entire team had to show up at 5 a.m. the following morning.
“This time, everybody was on time, so that’s the good thing,” Snead said with a laugh. “The excitement was there. You could sense a whole lot of guys were ready to start camp. Most times, when we come in, a lot of guys dread camp, but with the outcome we had last year, a lot of guys were ready to start this season.”
They’re dealing with some heightened external expectations.
Duke had been picked last in either its division or overall in the ACC every year but one from 2000-13 – including last year, when the Blue Devils won it – but was chosen second in the Coastal behind Miami in a media vote last month.
The Blue Devils have a few issues to work out before they can even think about making another set of early December reservations in Charlotte for the league title game.
Duke is breaking in a new offensive coordinator: former Blue Devils receiver and NFL assistant Scottie Montgomery took over the offense when Kurt Roper moved to Florida.
“It’s the same, a little more aggressive, I would say,” second-year starting quarterback Anthony Boone said. “We’re going to stick to what we are – a zone-read team and we’re going to pass the football. That’s who we are as an offense.”
The Blue Devils also have to figure out how they’ll replace Brandon Connette – who routinely relieved Boone in short-yardage situations and was a threat to rush, throw or catch the ball. Connette transferred to Fresno State during the offseason to be closer to his mother as she fights cancer.
Redshirt sophomore Thomas Sirk and redshirt freshman Parker Boehme appear to be the top two candidates to fill that role.
“I think we’ve got some quarterbacks that are going to be very aggressive in trying to keep us in that same basic package,” Cutcliffe said. “I think we’ve got people who are faster than Brandon, can throw it better than Brandon, but they’re not as polished. And that last part, are they as competitive? ... Sometimes in those red zone and short-yardage situations, it’s not what you call, it’s who’s doing it.”