Experienced Players Stepping Into Key Roles

On Wednesday the Duke Football Program hosted a preseason media availability session with several players taking a time to offer their thoughts on a number so subjects. We were on hand to get the latest news, notes, and quotes.

LEADERSHIP AT RECEIVER

The Blue Devils lost, arguably, the best receiver in program history when Jamison Crowder was taken in the fourth round of the NFL Draft back in April. With a new quarterback and a slew of young recovers on the roster, head coach David Cutcliffe is counting on production and guidance of those young players from senior Max McCaffrey.

The new role and demands were felt as soon as the 2014 season ended as McCaffrey challenged himself on and off the field.

“I had to definitely step up into that leadership position this year, being the oldest guy with the most experience,” said McCaffrey. “I learned a lot from the guys before me from Conner (Vernon), Jamison (Crowder), Isaac (Blakeney), Brandon Braxton.”

Such as?

“I just try to take what they taught me when I was younger and try to help them through. I know the young guys are going to need more time learning the plays, just learning how Duke football operates. I spend a lot of time just taking time out of my day to help them develop as people and as players.”

Like McCaffrey, two players that will be called on to produce early in their careers are redshirt freshmen and Florid natives Chris Taylor and Trevon Lee. While both players could have played themselves into the two-deep a season ago, each was afforded the chance to redshirt, which should pay dividends this season as Taylor enters the preseason listed as a starter, with Lee as the primary backup at his position.

“They matured a lot,” said McCaffrey of the progress of his younger teammates over the last year. “When they came in they obviously weren’t quite sure what to expect, and they were a little hesitant. Now they are feeling very comfortable out there with the way we operate, with the way the quarterbacks operate. I know that they’re ready to step up and make a difference for this team.”

From his perspective, Taylor agrees that taking a year off to learn the Duke system, and to adapt to college football in general was the way to go.

But it wasn’t always easy.

“The redshirt season is always bittersweet to all of the people I’ve spoken to,” said Taylor. “Its kind of like one of those hindsight things where when you’re going through it you’re kind of like ‘Man, I wish I was on the field playing.’ But sitting back now, I know the playbook. I’m comfortable playing Coach Cutcliffe’s and Duke’s way of football.”

Achieving that comfort level wasn’t immediate, and Taylor admits the process was more a byproduct of several months of preparation and practice than anything else. Now that he’s ready to take the field for the Blue Devils, what does he see as the biggest difference from the player who enrolled a year ago?

“I’ve gotten bigger as you can see. Also, I feel like I’m really comfortable with the playbook. I feel like I won’t be getting on the field and freaking out like ‘what am I doing’ I’m going to be calm and composed and playing football.”

SIRK TAKES OVER

Thomas Sirk will be the new starting quarterback for the Blue Devils this season, taking over from the program’s all-times wins leader, Anthony Boone. Over the past three seasons Sirk has been known as a change of pace prospect who could move the pile in short yardage situations. This season, however, Sirk will be called upon to lead both the passing and ground attack for Duke. His head coach says he’s capable, and Sirk has indicated he’s ready.

But what about those players who have taken over his role as the backup? We asked Sirk about the lessons he learned throughout his early career in Durham from Boone, and what he’s passing along to his new understudies.

“I think you have to have great habits carry high character off the field,” said Sirk of the players moving up and into the quarterback depth chart. “Those guys, Nico and Parker, work very hard. They know their defenses and we study with each other all throughout the offseason. So we’re seeing the same tape. Those guys help me in film study seeing things I don’t see and vice versa. I help those guys see things that they necessarily may not see and just small things.”

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