Coach David Cutcliffe said by concluding spring practices relatively early on the calendar, it gives his staff more time to plunge into specific planning for the season ahead after the latest personnel evaluations. Duke finished 2009 with a 5-7 record.
"I'd rather put ourselves in gear to throw ourselves into the 2010 season," he said. The spring game is set for March 27.
"I'm looking at spring practice right now," linebacker Abraham Kromah said, avoiding an evaluation of the game schedule.
Cutcliffe said he's put emphasis on coverage units and punting because he sensed shortcomings in those areas last year.
"Field position is going to be a theme throughout all of spring practice," he said.
Because of knee surgery, quarterback Sean Renfree, who was the 2009 backup and the favorite to replace departed four-year starter Thaddeus Lewis, wasn't available for the spring sessions other than for some throwing.
That meant that 2010 redshirt freshman Sean Schroeder and January enrollee Brandon Connette handled the quarterback duties in the spring. Cutcliffe said it's the first time in his coaching career that he has conducted spring practice with only two available quarterbacks.
Schroeder received extra practice repetitions in August because of Lewis' preseason illness. Cutcliffe said that gave the coaching staff an idea of what Schroeder might be able to accomplish.
"It should be to the point where it's a good competition," receiver Conner Vernon said of the quarterbacks.
NOTES, QUOTES SPRING OBJECTIVES: Everyone is looking at the quarterback situation, but with Sean Renfree out as he recovers from knee surgery, it's difficult to judge how the spring impacted that position.
Some time has been spent getting new staff addition Matt Lubick up to speed. He's the passing game coordinator and recruiting coordinator, working with receivers.
There's also what sounds like realignments defensively, perhaps in part because of the exit of defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre to become head coach at San Jose State. Coach David Cutcliffe said there will be a new look on defense.
"I'm not going to go into detail about that because that's for people to wonder," he said, though pointing out the need to create a better pass rush.
BUILDING BLOCKS: The defense might be counted on to carry the Blue Devils, especially early on. That's why putting together the pieces in the spring and seeing how things might shake down is so important.
While there have been notable losses on defense, that unit is ahead of the offense at this point. There's depth developing on defense that had been lacking in the past. Spring scrimmages clearly showed that there are more than a few playmakers on that side of the ball.
Offensively, the priorities have centered on establishing a better rushing attack and identifying two new starters along the line. The Blue Devils became far too one-dimensional last season, creating a lack of balance on offense.
There are capable running backs in the program and establishing a pecking order at that position should help in the big picture. QUOTE TO NOTE: "I really like what we're doing as a defense right now. We've got a lot of young guys learning the system and making plays." -- LB Abraham Kromah, after one scrimmage when the defense forced five turnovers in a 75-play workout and turned two of those into defensive points.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL 2010 OUTLOOK: Coach David Cutcliffe and players said improved depth and talent mean fewer certainties regarding the depth chart. "I think there's going to be a lot of competition and it's going to be a lot of fun," OG Brian Moore said.
Receivers emerged as prominent players last year, but the coaching staff is making an effort to push them. They'll be counted on for more considering the inexperience at the quarterback position.
"There's competition at receiver. There's competition at tight end. There's competition at running back," Cutcliffe said. "We've got to find out what our personality is and how willing we are."
WR Tyree Watkins has shown up big during spring workouts, perhaps adding more quality depth at the position.
RB Josh Snead -- The early enrollee was a standout in a couple of spring scrimmages. He has been durable and shown signs of being a playmaker.
TE Cooper Helfet -- He needs more consistency, according to coach David Cutcliffe, but he's becoming more comfortable with the offense.
QB Brandon Connette -- He joined the program as an early enrollee and has been a regular in workouts as one of two quarterbacks available this spring. He connected on 10 of 11 passes during one stretch of a scrimmage. His mobility is an asset that shouldn't be overlooked.
ROSTER REPORT: --A development to watch on defense is the move of Johnny Williams from wide receiver to cornerback. Coach David Cutcliffe said Williams will be plugged in as a starter at cornerback for his junior season.
--OG Mitchell Lederman, who'll be a fifth-year senior, didn't participate in spring workouts because of foot surgery.