One On One With Coach Cutcliffe

TDD sat down with Duke head football coach David Cutcliffe on Thursday for an exclusive interview.

What have you seen in the early going that exceeded your expectations from the team?

I did see some things that the were better than I had thought. I was pleased with our conditioning level. The team was able to practice for two hours and 20 minutes at a very fast pace, and I am sure they are sore today. In fact I was told by the trainers that they are. But I was please with the way they put all they had into it.

Some of the guys showed they've played a lot of football in the past. There is some naturalness out there that I didn't know if I'd see. I was pleased with our quarterbacks, but they've got a lot of fundamental work to do. A lot, and I've just visited with Coach Roper about that.

Defensively we have a lot of natural football players out there. I was pleased with the start our secondary had and the way our starters up front played. We're going to have some depth issues, but you can tell there are a lot of guys on this team who have played a lot of snaps. For instance, Fred [Roland] and Cameron [Goldberg] played like veterans at tackle, which is the kind of thing this team is going to have to have in order to be successful.

On the flip side, were there some things that didn't live up to your expectations?

I was disappointed that our ball skills aren't as good as I hoped they would be -- it's not what I'm used to. There's difficulty with not having a place to work on that, which I am not quite used to.

What do you mean by ball skills?

Just managing and handling the ball. Being able to hand it off, catching it, tucking, it, and running with it. The ball has to become part of your body. At this level you have to be able to manage and handle the ball and you should be great at it. We aren't right now. We are looking at team without an indoor complex, and they didn't do as much as I would have liked them to do individually on a voluntary basis.

Which positional group do you feel has to improve the most from what you saw last year for Duke to be successful this season?

Our kickers have got to be competitive for us to win in the fourth quarter. They just have to play well. Aside from them, nothing that sticks out like a sore thumb. Depth is another issue we're going to have to address, and of course run blocking hasn't been strong. But I believe we will be better in that area. I am also concerned about the number of sacks we gave up last year. We're going to correct that, but aside from the kicking game there isn't one thing that sticks out.

How do you improve the kicking game?

Fundamentally we are poor. Period. We are taking specialists and changing their fundamentals. Everything. Their routine, their work ethics, and their technique - all of it is below average. We're making strides to correct it, but right now they aren't even close to being there. And for the kicking game itself, we are committed to having our best players involved in the kicking game. Coach Ron Middleton is going to have a huge impact on this team.

Are there any players who will play on both sides of the ball?

There's a possibility of that happening, but I'm not ready to say who will do it. We are still evaluating and learning our roster.

Are there any true freshmen you expect to come in and make an immediate impact?

It's too early to say. You never know how a young man is going to react when he gets away from home. The only thing we can do is get them here and then starting working with them. Sometimes it works, and other times it doesn't work out. You don't know until they get here.

From what you've seen so far, who is Duke's most talented player?

I don't really get into the individual thing too much. I don't see a phenomenal playmaker on our roster like I've seen before with Deuce McAllister, but that doesn't mean we can't win. I think we have a lot of good football players on our roster, though.

What kind of tweaks have you made in the offense for Duke's roster makeup relative to that of Tennessee's?

I'm not going to give a scouting report to our opponents, but there are some things we've already done and things we'll do as we learn the team more and more. We're going to give it five to eight and then 10 practices before we really know what we've got.

Which players do you consider leaders at this point?

Requan Boyette has some natural leadership qualities to him. And Fred and Cameron along the offensive line have really stepped up. Defensively guys like [Jabari] Marshall and [Marcus] Jones have been good, as have the guys on the defensive line - Vince Oghobaase and Ayanga Okpokowuruk.

What do you look for in your team leaders?

You can't just talk about improving. I am not looking for who can talk about it, I want you to live it on the field. You have to bring it each and every day. There's a big difference in saying it and bringing it. It's like the state's motto - Esse Quam Videri, you have to be rather than to seem.

With the Quarterbacks each learning his third offensive system in three years, what do you expect of them?

There's definitely a learning curve, and we are learning them as well. We are learning how much they can handle. As we go through Spring Practice we will make decisions based on what they can handle. Our offense is like a chameleon in that we are going to adapt to the player's strenghts.

When do you expect to name a starting quarterback?

That'll be after Spring Practice. I'm a big believer in competition even after we name a quarterback. If a guy goes out there and is average, he won't maintain his spot. That goes for every position on the field.

Are there any position movements that can be made public?

Pontus Bondeson moved over to the offensive line. We think he can help us more quickly there. There are going to be some more moves as we go through the Spring. We are pretty open about our depth chart at this point. We are going to let guys compete to start. Some people who thought they were on the third team may become starters and some starters may find themselves on the third team.

As the head coach, what were the biggest changes you've had to implement in the program since arriving?

A culture and an attitude was the biggest thing. We needed to improve both as well as our conditioning level and work ethic. We also needed to improve the consistency of the work ethic. It's still an on-going process.

What kind of mentality changes are we talking about?

I am a big little things guy. I expect them to respond to what I am saying. I want them to listen and then to respond and perform. If they don't do that then they won't play. It's a big part of who we are going to be and what we are going to do. It's going to be a big part of our success here. There are bright kids who want to win. It's been a lot of fun so far, and it's going to get better as we start becoming successful.

What's the biggest adjustment you've had to make on the recruiting trail since coming to Duke?

We're not changing anything there. We are going to pull in the best football players we can find that are the kind of people we want. We are making an emphasis on North Carolina. I am a big believer that you recruit from the inside out. We are looking for the best and the brightest who are the most committed. We are going to recruit the best.

As a coach, how do you get the best football players to Duke?

The biggest thing is to get them on campus. We can't call the players right now, but we can contact their coaches and the people at their schools to get them interested in coming to see us. We are doing everything we can to get these players on campus. Once we get them here, Duke has a way of selling itself. If we can get them to campus, we'll be in the game.

Our goal next year is to sign 25 players. We'll go wherever we have to in order to sign them. But we are starting in North Carolina and will work out way out from there. We are going to bring in 25 very good players.

How does the basketball program factor into this? Is there a perception that Duke is a "basketball school" that you must battle?

Our basketball program makes us much more attractive. The name recognition is already there. People know Duke. They know it's a world class university with a world class basketball program. Now, there's n.o reason we can't have the same type of football program. We see our basketball program as a positive for us. A big positive.

Moving forward are there plans to improve the facilities at Duke?

Without getting into specific details, there are significant changes in our facilities already in the works. When the time is right we will make those announcements publicly.

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