Brandon Connette missed all of spring practice last season with a shoulder injury. But even as he sat on the sideline, he knew his quarterback duties would be diminished as the Blue Devils sought to play him all over the field.
That, of course, is no longer the case.
Connette and Anthony Boone teamed to form a highly successful quarterback rotation this past season so the hope is to keep that momentum going headed into 2014. Every single rep Connette took this spring came at quarterback, and he showed more growth in the spring game this past Saturday. Connette completed 11-of-16 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Blue team past the White team, 24-14. Both Connette and Boone teamed together for the Blue team.
Afterward, coach David Cutcliffe said, "Today you saw what spring practice has been -- continued momentum. There were a lot of positives on both sides of the ball, on both the Blue and White units.”
In a phone interview before the spring game, Connette said focusing on quarterback this spring has been a huge help. When he studies tape, he focuses on the quarterback. He has become much better with his pre-snap reads. And there is a comfort in knowing what he will be doing in practice and in games, as opposed to the unpredictability that comes with being more of a wildcat-type player.
"This spring has really helped me," Connette said. "I don't have to worry about what position I'm going in as. Even last year in fall camp, I'd be sitting on the sideline at practice and one rep I'd be in at quarterback, then I'd be in at tight end, receiver, just all over the place. It makes you think a lot more. Right now, I'm able to just focus on what I could be doing as a quarterback on every play."
Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery was not ready to reveal too many details about how Duke would build upon its rotation with Boone and Connette, saying in a recent phone interview, "Right now, Anthony is the starter like the way we ended the season. Brandon’s been phenomenal so it’s a really good problem to have. We’re very happy with where we are with both those guys."
Among other spring game highlights:
Shaquille Powell led the team with 75 yards on eight carries -- including a 36-yard touchdown run to seal the win for the Blue team.
Max McCaffrey ended up with four catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. Just about everybody at Duke has praised McCaffrey for the strides he has made this spring and has seemingly emerged as the No. 2 receiver to Jamison Crowder.
Defensively, the Blue Devils got good performances from ends Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson, who had two sacks each. That was an encouraging sign for the Blue Devils, who have to rebuild their defensive front after losing Kenny Anunike, Justin Foxx and Sydney Sarmiento. Johnson told The Herald-Sun after the spring game, "They left the place better than they found it, which is what Coach Cut preaches all the time. For me, it’s about not letting what they built fall. Keep it going and continue to grow it as much as I can."