"It's a new thing for me with the morning practice but I'm looking to forward to that." Cutcliffe said. "I have enjoyed working with them in the off-season in the morning; that will be new for most of us on the staff. We have told them that theme is that we're going to take a fair and honest look and evaluate everybody on our team. For the most part everybody is healthy. To keep order, there will be a first, second and third team, but I'm not giving that much credence. You may be third team one day and first team the next. We're going to make it a very competitive situation.
"Right away we're going to work on special teams," Cutcliffe continued. "No one is hands off. We're going to take the best players on our team and our entire staff will assist Coach [Ron] Middleton. We're going to get a lot of quality work early in the special teams area; protection, coverage and return, and all aspects of the fundamentals, besides evaluating our specialists. If I had to create a theme with what we want to accomplish as a team for the spring, it would be to see if we can compete on the first horn to the final horn in every phase. Indications in the off-season told us that we're not there yet."
On offense, seven starters return from last season including All-ACC wide receiver Eron Riley, quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and tackles Cameron Goldberg and Fred Roland. Riley hauled in 40 passes for 830 yards and nine touchdowns in 2007 while leading the ACC in yards per catch (20.8) while Lewis threw for 2,430 yards along with 21 touchdowns -- the second-highest single-season total in Duke history. Re'quan Boyette, who has 1,072 career rushing yards to his credit, also returns after pacing Duke's ground game in each of the past two seasons.
"I think that establishing some semblance of a running game and becoming more physical of a football team to compete in this league is a necessity," said Cutcliffe. "We will focus early on that. Always, offensively, what I do is find out who the playmakers are. Eron Riley has made some plays in the past and Re'quan Boyette has made some plays, but I'm anxious to see where our playmakers are going to come from."
Defensively, 10 starters and seven of Duke's top eight tacklers are back, led by linebackers Vincent Rey (111 tackles) and Michael Tauiliili (108 tackles), who ranked one-two on the squad in total hits last fall. All four starting defensive linemen return in ends Greg Akinbiyi (33 tackles in 2007) and Wesley Oglesby (37 tackles), tackle Vince Oghobaase (49 tackles & 12.0 tackles for loss) and nose guard Ayanga Okpokowuruk (23 tackles).
"We've got a lot of people back who have played football," said Cutcliffe. "Getting people in the right places defensively to get speed on the field will be critical for us to be successful. I'm anxious to see how much we can handle. We've got a pretty extensive package defensively and I'm anxious to see how much of that mentally we can handle."
Duke opens the 2008 season at home versus James Madison on August 30.