Premium Practice Notebook

The Blue Devil football team took the field for the first preseason scrimmage of the 2011 season on Monday night. TDD was on hand to compile the sights and sounds from the field.

Kicking Game Looks Solid:
Arriving at the field before each practice's scheduled start will provide a glimpse of the Duke kicking game. That held true on Monday as both the place kickers and punters were on display well before the rest of the team emerged from the tunnel.

Duke appears to have, perhaps, its best combination of punting and kicking in several years. Will Snyderwine has been named to several preseason All-American watch lists, and continues to look the part early on. On Monday he was routinely knocking 45 yard attempts through the uprights from the left hash mark before moving back five yards to hit from the right and center of the field. When turning from field goals to kick-offs, on Monday the better option appeared to be Paul Asack, who routinely put the ball 6-7 yards into the end-zone. Snyderwine's attempts also found the goal line (and beyond), though he appeared to be concentrating on putting the ball toward one sideline.

As for the punters, both Alex King and freshman Will Monday are likely to take some snaps this year. Right now it's hard to see Smith being the starting option, but it's close. Both players are routinely knocking the ball over 50 yards with each kick being high and spiraling.

Cutcliffe A Spectator:
For much of the afternoon head coach David Cutcliffe was a spectator, watching the game from the stands. He explained his reasoning before the game:

"I'm going to sit in the stands and just watch. I want to see if we are where I think we are as a football team."

The assistant coaches were in charge of running the scrimmages, though Cutcliffe was never far away as the coaches had their wireless headphone system out in full force. The plan was for Cutcliffe to watch film Monday and Tuesday and then go to work on the issues spotted from his perch.

Preventative Maintenance:
There were several players who didn't take part in the scrimmage for various reasons on Monday. Sitting out is not indicative of injury in most cases. Instead it was a chance to newer players to get extra full speed snaps in order to build as much depth as possible. Those who were on the sideline a good portion of the afternoon included DE Kenny Anunike, WR Jack Wise, C Brian Moore (injury), S Matt Daniels, NT Will Bryant, and CB Johnny Williams.

Similarly there were different quarterbacks in different shirts. Sean Renfree and Sean Schroeder were both in green shirts (i.e. don't hit them), while both Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone were in regular blues and participated in full speed games.

Pre-game/In-game Motivation:
After the pre-game stretches were done (lead by Boone), the team split into offensive and defensive groups. The offensive group was told early on by coordinator Kurt Roper "not play scared and not play tentative."

"The absolute first, absolute priority today is to take care of the ball," Roper told his team. "You need to have the right look before you get on the field. Get your head high and keep it high. Your head never drops today. We don't need that. Now let's go to work…"

During the game if you want to anger your coach, then don't run on and off the field. A couple of new comers drew the unwanted attention of assistant Matt Luke who came tearing down the line to remind his charges that "no matter what happens on the field, to keep their heads up and run on and off the field".

Similarly, after a particularly disappointing series from the first team offense, Luke immediately got the "1s" together and was overhead saying "a good offense gets it back. Don't hang your heads, get back out there and get the next two [series]." As soon as Luke backed out of the huddle, Renfree and Harding took over. The offense would move the ball quickly and smoothly the next two attempts, scoring on one.

Brief live kick-off glimpse:
There were two completely live kick-off plays run as the initial part of live play. The first team returners appear to be running backs Patrick Kurunwune and Joshua Snead. On his first attempt, Snead broke free of the first line of defenders and then cut back to turn a somewhat broken play into a 45 yard return. The second time through the returners were RB Juwan Thompson and WR Jamison Crowder.

Offensive Line Adjusts:
With the loss of Brian Moore at center, the Blue Devils are adjusting quite a bit along the offensive line. The first team offensive line featured LT Kyle Hill, LG John Coleman, C David Harding, RG Laken Tomlinson, and RT Perry Simmons. The starting tight ends were Jack Farrell and Cooper Helfet. Meanwhile the backfield featured Desmond Scott as the team's top running back.

Defensive Line First Team:
Similarly, the defensive line rotated a number of players through the rotation as the afternoon wore on, but when the first team was called upon early in the scrimmage, Duke lined up with Sydney Sarmiento and Charlie Hatcher on the inside while Justin Foxx and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo were the two defensive ends.

Odds and Ends:
Juwan Thompson appears to have the second place on the depth chart locked up, but when Duke needs its best blocking back on the field, look no further than Kurunwune. He was seen absolutely popping various linemen and linebackers who tried to break into the offensive backfield.

On a similar note, after the handoff to Josh Snead, Anthony Boone may as well be a fullback at 6' and 240 pounds. As a linebacker quickly found out.

The safeties and cornerbacks are as fast a Duke's had in a decade. Whether it be a run or a pass, the Blue Devils' defense is looking to utilize that speed. Zach Green and Ross Cockrell both made a couple of big pass breakups and there were very few plays that materialized which didn't include Walt Canty and/or Jordon Byas in on a stop.

The energy level of the team remained constant throughout the practice. So much so that Renfree told TDD: "It's like the first day of practice every day we're out here. Guys just keep coming and coming. It's a product of being in better shape and having more guys who are ready to contribute. It's a great thing for us."

Duke will return to the practice field for a second scrimmage on Friday.

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