David Cutcliffe met with the media Tuesday to discuss Duke’s recent Pro Day, Spring Showcase and the state of the program.
Here are some highlights.
Seven Duke seniors showcased for 31 NFL teams Monday. The Los Angeles Rams opted out of all pro days this spring out of COVID-19 concerns.
The seven were defensive back Michael Carter, defensive end Victor Dimukeje, cornerback Mark Gilbert, tight end Noah Gray, running back Deon Jackson, offensive tackle Devery Hamilton and defensive end Chris Rumph.
Things went well, according to Cutcliffe, very well.
“Really proud of our guys. They came ready. Not only were they fit, fast and prepared, they did a great job of being focused throughout the process.”
Duke released some pretty impressive stats from Pro Day, including a jaw-dropping 4.30 40-yard dash for Carter, a 4.32 for Jackson and a 4.36 for Gilbert.
Gilbert may have had the most to prove. He went into the 2018 season as a presumptive high draft pick, maybe even first round. But a hip injury caused him to miss most of that season and all of the 2019 season. He opted out of the 2020 season early to prepare for the draft.
“It was an emotional time for Mark,” Cutcliffe said. “It proved that he’s not only physically tough, he’s mentally tough to overcome all that and to work at the level he’s working at right now.”
Cutcliffe added that Gilbert answered any and all questions about his health, strength and flexibility.
“He’s hungry. He loves to play. I think that stood out.”
Cutcliffe acknowledged that Duke has a big climb back to respectability but said this spring was a good first step.
“The first word is hungry, maybe emaciated. That starts back in January. This team got a great kick start. That will continue in our process. This is not something where you decide suddenly you’re going to be better. His team has understood that. The work has been good. It’s been hungry. The chemistry of this team has been good. There was a renewed enthusiasm and energy. They embraced the opportunity.”
Cutcliffe discussed the numerous coaching changes. It started when cornerback coach Chris Hampton left for Tulane.
Cutcliffe said he “saw it as an opportunity” to move Trooper Taylor from wide-receiver coach to cornerback coach. Cutcliffe called Taylor “one of the most talented coaches I’ve been around.”
That started a domino. Calvin Magee -”I’ve been impressed with Calvin Magee for a long time” - became running back coach, running back coach Re’quan Boyette moved to wide receivers and by the time the roulette wheel stopped spinning, Boyette and quarterback coach Jeff Faris were co-coordinators for the offense.
Cutcliffe says he likes the versatility of his staff and says having co-coordinators “adds a little spice.” He added that dropping some responsibilities gives him more time to “step back” and look at the big picture.
Some other tidbits.
Cutcliffe said Duke will practice into next week to make up for the covid-related pause earlier this month.
He confirmed that Gunnar Holmberg is “much further ahead” of the competition at quarterback. Holmberg is bigger and stronger and has a better grasp of the offense, an offense that will include more opportunities for the quarterbacks to run.
Cutcliffe acknowledged that the defensive line is the biggest question mark but says he’s pleased at their progress. DeWayne Carter and Gary Smith are running first team at tackle, Ben Frye and Caleb Oppan at end, with other players competing at both spots.
Cutcliffe says Duke has some open scholarships but “we’re not out shopping” for grad-student transfers. Two reasons. The first is the difficulty of getting players into grad school at Duke and the second is “we’ve got some guys here now, non-scholarship players trying to earn a scholarship”
“We’ve got some room but it’s not something I’m focused on as a fix.”