Cutcliffe: Duke more athletic and better

Head coach David Cutcliffe met the media this week for his end of spring press conference

THE MODERATOR: We now welcome Duke head football coach David Cutcliffe.

Coach, we're glad you made the call. Know you had a long cross-country flight today. Just begin with a brief update from spring practice, then we'll go to questions.

COACH CUTCLIFFE: All right. We really had a productive spring. We had a lot of questions with losing play-makers, certainly a quarterback like Sean Renfree, Conner, Scott on offense, a good bit of our secondary.

I was very pleased. I'll start with the defense. I thought we made progress there. We made a lot of changes defensively. I liked the way we looked up front. Got to get a few more people back healthy that missed spring, but certainly need to be better there. Still got a lot of work to do to be able to build our secondary. Big challenges there.

Offensively I thought we had a really good spring. Anthony Boone solidified himself as our starting quarterback. The receiving core I thought had a tremendous spring. Max McCaffrey is one I mentioned filled a void, and Jamison Crowder is on the path to being an extremely special player.

Mentioned our kickers, I think that's a strength of our team. I think we can be outstanding at punter and place kicker. I think we also will be a team that's a very good return and coverage team.

Overall just a more athletic, faster football team.

With that I'll take your questions.

Q. I want to ask you a quick draft question. Conner and Sean in particular, can you share with us the conversations you've had with NFL people and how they'll translate to the next level?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: I've had numerous conversations and calls about both of them. Nobody really tipping their hand as to what their thoughts are. That is so unpredictable, I would be afraid to predict what people's thoughts were.

I'll first address Conner.

They had all those guys, a lot of great players. One of the things, all of those guys' comments about Conner, they were blown away by his explosiveness, how well he blended with them, and of course Peyton and Eli have always said that about him.

I will say this, whoever gets Conner Vernon is going to get an outstanding football player and a guy that's going to contribute to their team.

Sean Renfree, I'll say it again, I think is the most accurate passer in the draft. Sean is doing really well. I talked to him. Had a number of teams call. It wouldn't surprise me if he was drafted.

I did get a comment over and over that they've never had anybody blow them away on the board like he did in Indianapolis. His understanding and knowledge of football, defensive football, coverage. He's doing well, feels good. I just don't want him to get too anxious to throw to quickly. I keep reminding Sean the same thing I reminded Peyton a year ago. Let's get well, then we'll worry about getting back. Hopefully Sean gets a great opportunity somewhere.

We have others, Desmond Scott, Tony Foster, Jackson Anderson, others, I'm not going to mention them all. This could be an interesting draft/free agent year for Duke football.

Q. What would it mean for the program to have someone drafted? That hasn't happened in a while for Duke.

COACH CUTCLIFFE: I tell you, it helps, on the field first, as you saw in our play a year ago. I think it's a direction that obviously we wanted to get to in the recruiting process. We've got some real good-looking young football players that I believe will be draftable players.

I think that's the way you've got to start the thing. The easiest way to win the league is to try to be the best team in the league through recruiting. That's a big challenge, but that's what you have to try to do.

Q. You talked about rebuilding the secondary a little bit. I know you have a few veteran players there, obviously a solid one in Ross. Can you talk about after evaluating the film, some of the younger guys, how much contribution can you get from like Edwards?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: That's a great question. It's my biggest concern, to be honest with you, going in. As you know, Ross missed the last half of spring practice. So it really kind of gave us a new look out there.

I thought we solidified ourselves with a starting unit, counting Ross. Jeremy Cash being eligible. Dwayne Norman. Corbin McCarthy is a redshirt freshman that had just an outstanding spring. I see in my mind he can have an impact. I don't think there's any question about that.

I will mention both true freshman that came in, Evrett Edwards, a lot of talent. I mean, he could use 15 more days, which is what you would expect, but I've watched him get better literally every day. He's got a lot of skills, and he's starting to come together with an understanding.

Another youngster from right here in North Carolina, Quay Mann, he has come in and played corner and safety. He is just a play-maker. I think he's probably such a play-maker, has such a great feel for the game, that you're going to see him involved in the safety rotation. I think he's played himself into that mix.

Even with those two and some of the other redshirts, you hope we see more out of Michael Westray and a few others. We're going to have some true freshmen come in here that I think are going to have a chance to contribute.

Ross Cockrell is going to be doing a lot of coaching before we ever get to those guys, but I think some of those guys have a chance to compete for some depth and playing time.

Q. How comfortable are you playing young guys? You started Ross as a redshirt freshman four years ago. He had some ups and downs before he became the player he is today. A guy like Mann or Edwards, how comfortable are you if they have to play?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: It's never ideal. The first thing you do is you walk right over to the front, the defensive line that we have, they're not babies anymore, we've got some good young ones there, too, but we've got some people that have played, some linebackers that have played. Walk right over to them, see that youth behind you, you better make a difference.

When you have a front that is veteran and you have a front that should be better, they can help those guys. You can be a little different in the back end if you're playing better in the front end. So all of that goes hand-in-hand. That will be part of the summer conversation they will be having and part of the summer emphasis that they're going to have.

Q. The quarterback you lost, the receiver situation. How did the passing game look to you coming out of the spring?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: I thought we threw the ball extremely well. Anthony is an experienced player. We have Brandon Connette, who is also an experienced player that got some limited work. Unfortunately we lost a really talented freshman in Thomas Sirk at the very end of spring to a ruptured Achilles. He's going to be out for a lengthy period of time.

But I like the quarterback position. I thought Scottie Montgomery had an impact coming in. Matt had those guys sitting on ready. I tell you, Scottie got great progress out of that position. We've moved Isaac Blakeney and Erich Schneider, guys that are going to be in the receiver rotation, one of them, if not both of them could be starters. That's a 6'6" guy, a 6'7" guy. Jamison is better than he's been. Max McCaffrey didn't have a good spring, he had a great spring. Our backs are all good receivers. We return all of our runningbacks.

Anthony was loving it. He's surrounded by people that know what they're doing. Our passing game, not only our quarterbacks' reading coverages, but our receivers' read coverages, and I thought it went extremely well this spring.

Q. What is the area of the team you're most concerned about?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Still the defense overall and certainly my concerns with the secondary. We can't survive giving up as many big plays as we've given up. That obviously was our number one emphasis going into spring practice.

Again, we do have some challenges to rebuild the secondary just from graduation that we're going to have to address, continue to address, through the summer.

Q. Dave, what are the skills that Anthony Boone brings to the quarterback position? A bit of a change from Sean.

COACH CUTCLIFFE: There's no question. He can extend plays a lot of ways. He can extend plays with his running ability and his quickness and his strength. He's a 235-pound guy that's very quick. I haven't had a lot of guys that have a cannon as an arm. He's got that. He's got incredible range when he extends a play. He's a guy that's a play-maker.

The thing that I want to see Anthony do, he knows it, our conversation was about consistency. I don't want Anthony Boone to be a 55% completion guy. I expect him to be at least 60%. But we're hunting that midrange there. If Anthony can accomplish that and do all those exciting things that he does, he could be a very special player at quarterback.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thanks for being with us. Enjoy your trip. We look forward to seeing you in Greensboro on July 21st and 22nd for the football kickoff.


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