Photo: 1) Quentin Harris; 2) Deon Jackson
DURHAM, N.C. -- A three-year starting quarterback in college football obviously provides a program plenty of good, but the bad comes later. Duke is reminded of that now, beginning with Friday’s first day of spring football held indoors at Pascal Field House.
Daniel Jones is gone to the NFL, having declared for the drat after his redshirt junior season. His departure wasn’t a surprise since he’s projected as a first-round pick.
That leaves the Blue Devils faced with opening the 2019 season with a new starter staring across the line at the Alabama Death Star. Duke faces the always re-loaded Crimson Tide in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Aug. 31 at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
But Jones -- unwillingly, to be sure – helped his successor’s transition from backup to starter when he missed two and a half games with an injury. Quentin Harris not only filled in gaining valuable experience he’d otherwise lack, he finished off the 21-7 win at Northwestern and added two more victories over Baylor, 40-27 on the road, and N.C. Central at home, 55-23.
“It helps a great deal,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said after the morning workout. “I thought Quintin was comfortable today running the offense. He was telling other players what to do and how to do it – coaching younger players. You rarely have someone that can do that after having a three-year starter.”
The valuable playing time essentially provided the redshirt senior a head start on his first day the Blue Devils began working to top last year's 8-5 record..
“He’s got confidence and he’s an extremely bright young man,” Cutcliffe said. “He played today like a starter because he has started a game. I told him that’s what I expected from him and to never look back. I thought he took a great approach and part of that was he played when it mattered.”
Harris also has established a level of trust with the returning players.
“We’ve see the things he’s done in practice in the past and the things he’s done in games,” said junior running back Deon Jackson. “Everybody is confident in him.”
Harris, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound redshirt senior from Taft School in Wilton, Conn., saw limited playing time in 2016 (0-of-3 passing; 3 rushes for 9 yards) and 2017 (7-of-10 passing for 73 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions; 29 rushes for 71 yards and two touchdowns).
But it’s not just the increased number of snaps Harris gained in 2018. It’s taking those snaps with the game on the line that mattered. He finished 2018 completing 34-of-68 passes for 437 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. He ran 46 times for 195 yards and five touchdowns.
Against Northwestern, Harris was asked to preserve the 21-7 halftime lead when Jones was sacked and suffered a broken collar bone (non-throwing side) late in the second quarter. For the game, Harris was only 2-of-2 passing for 12 yards and ran five times for a net 14 yards (he had a long of 25), but what mattered most was taking care of the ball. He had no turnovers.
At Baylor, he had to make plays, and he came through in his first career start. He was only 12-of-30 passing, but he connected for 174 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
Returning home against N.C. Central, he not only was 15-of-27 for 202 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, the 48-13 lead after three quarters allowed playing time for Chris Katrenick, last year’s No. 3. He was 5-of-12 for 54 yards without an interception.
Springs drills the last two seasons featured Cutcliffe focused on building on what the veteran had done well the previous season. This year, spring practice is about determining what works and maybe doesn’t work so well. That applies for Harris as well as Katrenick, who is entering his redshirt sophomore season, and Gunnar Holmberg, now available as a redshirt freshman.
“You have to adjust your schemes to your personnel,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re looking at every aspect. This spring will be about what works best for our offense and what works best for our defense.”
The Blue Devils return only four offensive starters, so in addition to Harris at QB, they need to establish three wide receivers, one tight end and two offensive linemen. But Duke has talent and depth at running back that might help hide some mistakes from young players early in the season.
Brittain Brown is back as a redshirt junior starter, but injuries limited him to 80 carries for 369 yards in nine games.
Jackson, a junior, became the workhorse, playing himself into second-team All-ACC honors. He had 161 carries for 847 yards (5.3 average) with seven touchdowns and caught 26 balls for 253 yards and two more TDs.
Two other promising backs behind them are sophomore Mateo Durant and Marvin Hubbard III.
The returning starting offensive linemen to build around are junior guard Rakavious Chambers (6-3, 310) and redshirt junior center Jack Wohlabaugh (6-4, 300).
The returning starters and players stepping into a new role are all looking up to their quarterback that they're familiar with under center.
“Q played a little last year, so it wasn’t too different,” Jackson said of the first practice. “Everybody misses Daniel. He was a great quarterback and a great leader. But we love Q. We’re behind him and we support him.”
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In addition offense, there are eight returning starters on a roster with 50 returning lettermen.
The spring showcase is April 5 at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Three seniors with starting experience that that are missing some time in spring ball while rehabbing injuries cornerback Mark Gilbert, safety Dylan Singleton and defensive end Edgar Cereno.
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In addition to the neutral site Alabama game, the Blue Devils have a home game Nov. 9 against Notre Dame.
The home opener is Sept. 7 against N.C. A&T. The other home games are Pitt, Oct. 5; Georgia Tech, Oct. 12; Syracuse, Nov. 16; and Miami, Nov. 30.
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