One on One With Leon Wright

While most of the off-season talk has been on the changing of philosophy on the offensive side of the ball, Blue Devil fans will most assuredly notice the differences on the defensive side of the ball. On Wednesday morning, TDD sat down with starting cornerback Leon Wright to discuss the new-look Duke program under head coach David Cutcliffe.

TDD: What are some of the major differences you've noticed in the program from the Spring through now?

Leon Wright: We have really made an effort to focus on the little things - the things we haven't been doing in the past years. We started with the basic things and move through a lot of little things in each stage. Now we're starting to tie it all together to make things better. Because of that everything has gone smoother I think. We're all on the same page and we know what to expect out of each other.

Being a veteran, which players have come in looking different this year? Who has caught your eye early on?

At the safety position I'd have to say Eddy Morgan has been really good. He's going to compete for immediate playing time I think. Another guy who will be making his mark is Randez James. A new guy who has impressed the older guys is Lee Butler. As a group we're all just competing to make each other better. The guy who wins the spot on day one will have to work to keep that job.

Specifically what kind of differences have you noticed with how the defense is being coached this season?

The coaches are putting us in a great position to make plays. We're starting off much closer to the receiver. We're focusing on jamming them at the line. Before we weren't doing that. We were sagging off of them and they made a lot of short catches. As we got tired they were able to turn those into bigger gains.

Speaking of getting tired, Coach Cutcliffe seems to have made it an offseason priority to remedy that. How hard was the off-season conditioning?

We've really been busting our tails to get into shape. We got our body fat down as a group. Everyone I've talked to says they are in the best shape they've been in. It's easy to keep things that way with the tempo we're practicing at. We go hard in practice and then do light conditioning after practice.

For the last few years the message of change and Duke finally winning has been a common theme. What makes this year the time when the program starts realizing changes and results on the field?

I think it's the amount of time and effort we've put into doing all the little things. We're trying to get over making a bunch of little mistakes that lead to us getting tired and making a big mistake. In the past you'd see something happen - like a receiver breaking a big gain on us. Those things happen in football, but leading up to that there were a bunch of miscues that may have kept a drive alive. We can control those things, and if we do, the opponent doesn't have as many chances to hurt us.

Looking ahead to the season opener, what's going to be the feeling running out of the tunnel?

I think we'll be excited to get things going. I feel like we're ready to play right now. We've got some things to work on, but we've accomplished a lot more than I thought already. We're not the same team we were. People are going to notice a huge difference in our team when we get on the field.

Individually, what's your role going to be on this team?

I want to excel at the things I can control. I am going to play to the best of my ability and do what has made me successful. Every day I'm going to be competing for a spot. The whole process will make me a lot better and if everyone does that, we're going to open some eyes to what we've got going on at Duke.

During the off-season you and your teammates spent some time doing various community service projects. What did that experience do for the team?

We went to a rescue mission and we did a campus cleanup project. The rescue mission was great because we got to help some people who were less fortunate. It was good for us because we have everything handed to us here. We don't have to worry about food, books, tuition to a great school, or anything else. It makes you appreciate it all.

On the campus cleanup project it was good to see what the maintenance staff has to do every day. It's college and not everyone knows how or does clean up after themselves.

When we get to the end of November and the regular season is over, how will we look back at the 2008 season?

I think people are going to be talking about a combination of things. We're going to have a much better record than we've had in years past. You are going to see great things out of players you may not have known about. Our team has always had the talent, and now we feel like we know how to do all the little things and have learned from the experience of not doing them well. People and fans are going to see that we're serious about Duke football being a good program again.

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