Zack Asack: Today it was just a nice little walk through. After the scrimmage, the coaches just want to make sure we're caught up on all the positioning, and little things you have to execute before the ball is snapped.
From what the media reports are saying, you and Thad are really competing. What have the coaches said to you two about the competition?
Coach Cutcliffe hasn't said too much directly about the competition. Right now we're just working hard and trying to push one another. Coach Roper and Coach Cutcliffe are great coaches - they are really pushing us to make sure we are the best quarterbacks we can be. That means we need to make sure our mechanics are flawless and we know how to make the kids of reads the coaches expect. They want us to becomes masters of our team and of the game in general.
What does it mean to become a master of the game?
You have to be able to read protection and see where it's strong and where it could break down. When the defense comes to the line you have to be able to read their formation and see what they are going to try to do. You have to do it all pretty fast and then adjust accordingly. Sometimes it may mean you need to be ready to scramble, other times it may mean you really have to know where you are going with the ball and you need to make sure that you get it there quickly and accurately. Growing up and playing in high school you really have no idea just how much goes into being a quarterback for a big time coach.
It's your third season and third different offensive coordinator. How tough is that kind of constant change?
Each offense is different, but the basics are the same for the quarterback. You need to know how to read the defenses and you need to make sure you are on the same pages with your receivers.
Speaking of the receivers, how are they adjusting to the demands of the new system?
They are doing very well. It's all about communication between the quarterback and receivers. It's a lot of responsibility for the quarterback, but you have to step up and make sure you get the ball into the hands of your playmakers.
Going back to your experience factor, what do you notice in terms of differences within yourself between now and your first season?
I feel a lot more mature as a third year player. I've gotten much bigger and stronger which has helped me with throwing the ball and with my overall speed. Mentally I think I've learned how to compartmentalize the knowledge and have gotten much better at reading and understanding defenses and where to go with the ball.
Much has been made of this year's offseason; overall what were some of the major differences?
It was certainly tough, but it's paid off. We're all in great shape and we're much quicker. We were talking about it in the locker room the other day - reminiscing about our freshman year. We were amazed at the difference in players. The team is just so much more athletic and so much faster than it was that year. You really see everyone coming in with speed and in shape. That's a big change from the past.
Does that go back to a change in philosophy?
Coach Cutcliffe really makes a point to practice like you play. Our scrimmages are now at full speed - and you really see our defense flying to the ball. When game day comes around we aren't going to be out of a comfort zone because we're going to have seen everything at full speed for the preseason. We're going to be comfortable, which means we won't have to speed up and make little mistakes at critical times.
So what will fans notice as the biggest difference with this year's team?
We're going to be mentally ready to go. We're very focused. Physically and emotionally we're going to be ready to go and we're going to improve every time we get on the field.
Which of the younger players have caught your eye as a veteran?
Right now we're down a few running backs and so it's hard not to notice some of the young guys at that position. Both Jay Hollingsworth and Patrick Kurunwune have really picked up the slack. At receiver you have Johnny Williams and Donovan Varner who are lightning fast. As a quarterback you have to like getting the ball to them and letting them make plays with their speed and athleticisim. Defensively Matt Daniels is going to make an impact. He's a really hard hitter, and if you are a receiver you don't want to go across the middle with him there. Everyone is smart to stay away with him. As a group the new players are all very good and have come in and are contributing.
Looking at his experience, what's the biggest things Coach Cutcliffe can and has brought to the Duke program?
It's not specific to the quarterbacks with Coach Cut. In team meetings he's always got stories about every situation that comes up. He's been in the game for more than 30 years and he knows how to win. I think that's what he's bringing to our program - the knowledge of how to win. He tells us what has to happen for us to be successful. It's encouraging to hear specific things we have to do to get a win.
What are some of those specific things?
Little things such as body demeanor. Coach Cut really stresses that. You can't let opponents see you bending over because you are tired. If you make a mistake, you can't let your opponents see that you are frustrated or getting down on yourself or your teammates. We have to be the mentally toughest team on the field every game. We cannot take plays off because of fatigue or how things are going. Every minute we need to be the team that is swarming to the ball; not afraid to run between the tackles -- things like that.
What's it been like having your brother here?
It's been great to have him around. I haven't seen him as much as I'd like, but every now and then I'll take a peek over there to see how he's kicking. He's got his work cut out of him, but he's working hard. Coach Roper and Coach Middleton are working hard with the kickers. Every time I look over they are working on things like snaps, holds, approaches - the things that make kickers successful.
What do you need to continue to improve on to make the biggest impact on this season?
Right now I just need to get my mechanics down and make sure I've got my throwing motion consistent. I need to make sure every time I release the ball it's the same motion. That's something the coaches are working with me on. I am trying to make sure I know the system well enough to run it in each situation and know which reads to make.