Duke, Daniel Jones count on stability against NC Central

2016 was "year of the new," 2017 looks calmer

Matt Cashore— / USA Today Sports
Duke quarterback Daniel Jones throws a pass in the Blue Devils' win at Notre Dame last season. (Matt Cashore— / USA Today Sports)

DURHAM — Duke has the same opening opponent as last season, and that’s not the only thing that’s the same for the Blue Devils.

“A year ago, 2016 was the year of the new,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “We had a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive line coach, new offensive line coach, new special teams coordinator. New, new, new.”

This year, there was a little more stability in the offseason, which made the preseason that much easier.

“This year, I couldn’t wait to go watch practice,” he said. “To be focused on football, not on staff or anything else.”

When Duke takes the field at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday evening, against crosstown foe N.C. Central, there will be one other area of stability — the starting quarterback.

N.C. Central at Duke

Wallace Wade Stadium  |  Saturday, 6 p.m.  |  ACC Network

Remarkably, sophomore Daniel Jones, who was named the starter late in preseason camp last year, is now the longest-tenured quarterback in the ACC Coastal Division.

What a difference a year makes. Teammates voted Jones one of Duke’s four captains for 2017. The other three — center Austin Davis, defensive end Mike Ramsey and defensive back Bryon Fields, are all fifth-year seniors.

“He’s much different from a year ago,” Cutcliffe said. “A year ago, he had no idea he was the starter. There’s no question who’s the leader on our offense, right now. Daniel Jones knows more about what we’re doing, knows more about how to do it. What we’re starting to see from him is I want to see his demands met. In the end, it’s either good or bad based on him, and so you better be demanding in that position. I’m counting on that.”

Jones will get to show how much he’s advanced in one year, against the same opponent that he had for his collegiate debut last season.

Against the Eagles, Jones had a clean 10-of-15 passing day for 189 yards and two touchdowns. There were rough times as the year went on, but Jones bounced back.

“One of the things Daniel proved is that any great player has to learn to fail and return quickly,” Cutcliffe said. “He has proven that he can do that. You’re going to have some rocky roads, but he’s a special young man and outstanding talent.”