Duke coach David Cutcliffe wouldn’t exactly call his offensive playbook a secret, but the Blue Devils learned this spring that they have enough depth and talent at the quarterback position that there could be a few surprises this fall for opposing defenses.
Just how many quarterbacks Cutcliffe will use remains to be seen, but with the emergence of redshirt freshman Anthony Boone, the Blue Devils might be able to go three-deep at the position.
“People will find out when they find out,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m thankful we have four guys with the talent level they have.”
Sean Renfree and his backup, Brandon Connette, will be familiar faces to Duke fans, as they were both used last season in different situations. There’s no question Renfree will be the starter (“Sean Renfree didn’t have a good spring, he had a great spring,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s playing at a high, high level.") Connette’s ability to run will again come in handy, and Boone brings yet another dimension to the offense.
“We have Connette, who runs well,” said Boone. “I’m more of a sideways runner, I can make more open field moves, and he’s like a hammer. It’s kind of like when you have two or three different kinds of running backs, one that runs hard, one that’s real shifty. It’s kind of the same thing with our quarterbacks. I’m a little more shifty than he is. We bring different styles to the table.”
Renfree was inconsistent in his first season as a starter and threw 17 interceptions to 14 touchdowns. He completed 61.4 percent of his passes, though, for 3,131 yards. Duke finished 112th in the country in turnover margin, but Renfree showed progress and made better decisions in the second half of the season. Connette was a good complement to him, and finished second on the team in rushing with 321 yards. He led the team with eight rushing touchdowns.
“We’re putting a lot of packages for me and Connette to add another wrinkle to our offense, another thing a defense has to prepare for besides three or four different sets, they have to prepare for maybe three or four different quarterbacks at the same time and this strength, that strength,” Boone said. “Being able to prepare for three different quarterbacks, or a bunch of different formations and plays in one week is very tough, so we’re hoping that can actually be helpful for us.”
All of Duke’s quarterbacks will have a veteran offensive line and one of the most productive returning groups of wide receivers in the ACC to work with. Despite some injuries to key players, the running backs have also become a deeper group with new talent like Juwan Thompson emerging.
“Physically they are different, but what opens it up is that the most important thing that they have is the intangibles,” Cutcliffe said. “Regardless of those physical gifts, it still comes back to the poise, the competitive drive, discipline -- all of those leadership qualities that are needed. What’s so great about that group is they all have that.”
And all of them might get the chance to use it this fall.