Spring game a misnomer at early-starting Duke

Feb. 27, 2014 @ 11:52 PM

For Duke, the spring game is a misnomer.

The Blue Devils got an early start on working on the defense of their ACC Coastal Division title, and they will wrap up spring practice before many other schools start.

Duke plays its spring game Saturday — nearly three weeks before the actual start of spring.

Quipped coach David Cutcliffe on Thursday: "I think I'm going to enjoy March Madness more than I ever have."

It hasn't even been two months since the Blue Devils capped the winningest season in school history with a last-minute loss to Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

And with the quick start to spring ball, the players say it doesn't feel like last season ever really ended.

"You don't have to focus so much on getting in shape, because we just came out of the season, doing all these little things like tackling drills because we're still in the flow of everything," running back Shaq Powell said. "It allows us to get back to where we were. ... We lost the bowl game, we need to finish, and now, a couple of weeks later, we can go back and build on that."

For many programs around the country, spring practice is sandwiched around the schools' spring break. Stopping for a week, then restarting, doesn't do anything for momentum or continuity.

The flip side is, Duke's early start also creates a longer-than-usual break of five months between the spring game and the start of preseason practice in August.

Cutcliffe calls that "one of our bigger gains."

"That gap is healing time. That gap is conditioning and team-building," he said. "That's a better run than when you break it up. That's a big part of the gain you get. ... They can put a much more efficient plan together, so our growth as a team ... we have the best chance in the country, in my opinion, of getting more done."

One of the priorities is getting new offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery more comfortable calling the plays. Montgomery was promoted after Kurt Roper left to take the coordinator's job at Florida and Cutcliffe says outsiders probably won't notice any difference in the play selection.

"We're going to be an explosive offense just because of the players we have," change-of-pace quarterback Brandon Connette said. "You can call any play you want, but if you don't have the players to execute those plays, then it doesn't matter at all."

Duke returns 17 starters from the team that set a school record with 10 wins, cracked the national rankings for the first time since 1994, captured the program's first division title and reached a bowl game for the second straight year — something the Blue Devils had never done.

The quick transition from the postseason to signing day to spring practice left little time to savor that improbable ride.

"No offense to last year's team, but from recruiting to everything you're thinking about, you jump forward," Cutcliffe said, adding that his assistants "are going to take a break (during) spring break, and I think at that time there may be a little bit of reflection.

"Then, catch your breath," he added, "and here we go again."