The weather was perfect for football as the Duke Blue Devils took the field Saturday for their annual Spring Game and open practice.
Clouds gently rolled overhead, providing respite from a warm pre-summer sun that has taken far too long to arrive in earnest, giving the thousand or so diehards in attendance license to move from the shadow of Wallace Wade Stadium’s massive new luxury tower and press booth to rows much closer to the action.
The field was organized chaos, as the afternoon started with a host of
Head coach David Cutcliffe addressed the gathered crowd before the scrimmage, promising an offense that wouldn’t quit and a defense that wouldn’t stop giving chase.
As with any spring game, excitement, expectations, and energy were high, with the Blue Devils cutting a sharp form on the field. The passing game, which looks to revolve heavily around a trio of tight ends, was mitigated only by stellar play from the defensive backfield.
Quarterback Daniel Jones enters his third year as a starter eyeing a potential future playing on Sundays, and he rather looked the part at the helm of the starting offense. Standing tall in the backfield, he commanded the offense with ease and delivered a few stunning passes, the most impressive of which coming on an eleven-yard touchdown toss to sophomore tight end Noah Gray in the corner of the end zone.
Elsewhere on offense, however, the Blue Devils looked a bit lost. Their running game was almost nonexistent, with the largest play out of the backfield coming on a screen pass, while their corps of talented and sizeable wide receivers found almost no separation against an ever-improving group of corners, which include all-ACCer Mark Gilbert and one of the team’s most improved players in Myles Hudzick.
The defensive unit lived up to Cutcliffe’s pre-scrimmage promise and exhibited a bend-don’t-break mentality that saw them finish last season as the third-ranked unit in the conference.
Linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, a returning all-ACC selection, and four-year starter Ben Humphreys clogged the defensive middle, stuffing running lanes, pressuring quarterbacks, and forcing the offense to the field’s outer thirds.
As with any group in April, there are a host of questions surrounding this team and a lot of bolts that need tightening. But with sixteen starters returning for next season’s campaign and the zeal with which Cutcliffe runs this program, another competitive ACC run and a sixth bowl bid in seven years should be the expectation when they open their 2018 season against Army on September 1.