DURHAM, N.C. — Missing a bowl game for the first time at Duke left center Austin Davis in an offseason funk — and brought an edge to the start of preseason practice.
“I think the attitude’s different — I think we’re coming in here with something to prove,” Davis said Monday after the Blue Devils’ first workout of camp. “A lot of the guys are young guys, and I think we’ve all grown up this summer.”
The players on Duke’s roster had known nothing but winning seasons and bowl trips during their college careers, until last year’s team slipped to an injury-stained 4-8 finish in which it could never string together consecutive wins.
The Blue Devils want to prove that was an aberration, and not the start of a decline.
“It feels like that season lasted forever and extended beyond that,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “I told our team … my worst day at Duke was this past December when you have to come off the road, the dead period starts … and I have nothing to do tomorrow. And it just hit me so hard — there’s no bowl game.
“I’m not going to forget that,” he added. “I choose not to forget that, and I don’t want anyone around here to forget that. Do I think that was an outlier to who we are? Yes, but I know if you don’t correct it … those things don’t become outliers.”
The simplest solution is probably the most effective one — the Blue Devils need to score more points.
Duke averaged just 23.3 points last season while scoring at least 31.5 points per game in each of the four previous seasons that ended with bowl games.
“Speaking for the offensive line, we have to give our running backs and quarterback more time, better protection,” Davis said. “As long as we’re blocking, guys like (running backs) Shaun Wilson, Britton Brown, (QB) Daniel Jones, they’re going to make some plays. If we do our job, I have so much faith that they’re going to get the job done, whoever’s back there. That comes from the offensive line. If we’re pushing guys five yards back, that’s guaranteed earned yards.”
Cutcliffe wants Jones to be “demanding” in his second season as the starting quarterback. Jones completed 62 percent of his passes last season and showed improvement as the season progressed — after throwing eight interceptions in his first five games, he threw just one in the last seven.
“There’s no question who our leader is on offense right now,” Cutcliffe said. “Daniel Jones knows more about what we’re doing, knows more about how to do it, and what I’m starting to see from him is, I want to see his demands met.”
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