By William Elliott Warnock, Chapel Hill (N.C.) News
August 23, 2004 DURHAM Ted Roof already has done the difficult. Now he's aiming for the nearly impossible.
No one's talking about trying to get people to like those new white D helmets, which for some Duke fans hearken back to the days of (shiver) Barry Wilson in the early 1990s. No, we're talking about moving the Blue Devils up in the ACC standings.
The way Roof sees it, all he has to do is almost completely rebuild his offense, and the rest should be easy, relatively speaking.
We're still looking for our identity as a team, Roof said, as his Blue Devils went through preseason drills in mid-August. Belief and hope and confidence are all powerful things, and the players took some into the offseason, into spring practice, into summer and now into the preseason. We're excited, no different than any other team.
True, all teams are undefeated until the season starts. But this Duke team is different from even its own overly optimistic predecessors.
Roof took over for the ejected Carl Franks in midseason last fall and almost immediately revitalized the flagging spirits that surrounded the program, which went 2-32 under Franks from 2000-02 and began the 2003 campaign with a 2-5 mark. And Roof did so without the use of any small nuclear devices or biochemical agents, which most football experts believed were necessary for the Blue Devils to beat anyone this side of the Hong Kong School of Cosmetology and Economics.
We had a lot of talent last year, but we only showed it in glimpses. It all came together in the game against Georgia Tech, senior defensive end Phillip Alexander said. We definitely had the talent last year, we just wouldn't get everyone playing together at the same time. We just had to get together.
Thus inspired, Duke (4-8 overall, 2-6 ACC) managed more wins in 2003 than in the previous three years combined. After the promotion of Roof to interim head coach, the Blue Devils suffered respectable losses to N.C. State (28-21) and Tennessee (23-6), then beat Georgia Tech (41-17) and hated rival North Carolina (30-22) for two victories in the last three weeks of the season. In between the wins, the Devils lost 40-7 at Clemson.
Our last game (against UNC), there was a lot of confidence and hope and belief from the team, Roof said. That got that monkey off their back within the conference.
With the players strongly backing his candidacy, Roof officially was named Duke's full-time head coach on Dec. 6, about two weeks after the end of the regular season. He promptly set about forming a staff a well-paid staff, he insisted, being essential to success and hastily threw together winter-spring workouts and practices.
It was crazy, Roof said of his initiation into being a head coach. But the offseason is always hectic. Instead of having to worry about a portion of the football team, you had to worry about everything in the football program. But it's not brain surgery. It's football, so we did OK.
Roof lost six starters off his first offense: four linemen, including NFL draft pick Drew Strojny, plus first-team All-ACC running back Chris Douglas and wideout Reggie Love, who led Duke in receptions with 27.
To cope, Roof has invested heavily in Marty Galbraith as his new offensive coordinator. Galbraith, who previously directed record-setting quarterbacks Philip Rivers at N.C. State and Chad Pennington at Marshall, is installing a new offense at Duke.
Roof has been artfully vague about the look and nature of Galbraith's scheme, repeatedly saying that the important thing was tempo, tempo, tempo. While that may be true about Mozart and stand-up comedy, in football talent helps a lot more.
Galbraith happily will get to use sophomore quarterback Mike Schneider, an eight-game starter last season and the clear No. 1 in August. The new offensive coaches won't have old reliables Chris Douglas (the Blue Devils' career rushing leader) or Alex Wade in the backfield, but they will have junior Cedric Dargan. The team's top returning rusher (264 yards), Dargan ran for a touchdown in each of the last three games of 2003.
Cedric is a good back, Roof said. He got some good reps and good experience at the end of last season, but he doesn't need to worry about replacing Chris Douglas. He needs to worry about being Cedric Dargan and making Cedric the best that he can be.
This is the first season that we're coming off a win in our final game, Dargan said, so everyone has been in high spirits during the offseason.
Galbraith also will get to work with veteran wide receiver Senterrio Landrum, but gone are Love and second-leading receiver Lance Johnson, who was dismissed from the team over the summer for violating team rules. The Devils also like speedy sophomore Deon Adams, and they expect some immediate help in the receiving corps from true freshmen, most likely Corey Thompson and/or Jomar Wright.
They'll all need to take their cues from Schneider, who had a typical up-and-down freshman year. He rated behind 2003 junior Chris Dapolito in both completion percentage (46.6 percent to 55.6) and efficiency (96.5 to 113.7) but beat him out in most other categories. Schneider completed 97 of 208 passes for 1,220 yards and four touchdowns last fall, while Dapolito completed 30 of 54 attempts for just 343 yards and two TDs.
Roof said Schneider has a really strong arm and is a good decision-maker. He'll get the start, but Dapolito and Nebraska transfer Curt Dukes are expected to play as well. Dukes, a tough and versatile athlete with good hands, is expected to help the Blue Devils in a Slash-like role, lining up in various positions and adding an element of unpredictability.
Each one of them has his own strengths, Roof said. But the decisive factor in Schneider's favor could be simple. He can make something good out of something bad, and obviously that's a good quality to have in your starting quarterback.
Things look much more solid for Duke on defense, a rarity for a school whose most famous coach of the past 25 years is Steve Spurrier.
The Devils lost a trio of All-ACC defenders from last year's team in tackle Matt Zielinski, four-year starting linebacker Ryan Fowler and safety Terrell Smith, and they were devastated by the tragic offseason death of end Micah Harris in an auto accident.
Still, Roof and new co-coordinators Jerry Azzinaro (lured from Syracuse) and Scott Brown (a holdover from Franks' staff) have some experience to work with along the defensive front, middle and back. Seven starters return, led by Alexander, tackle Orrin Thompson, linebackers Brendan Dewan and Giuseppe Aguanno, and cornerback Kenneth Stanford.
The defense, just to be near the top of the division in all the statistical categories, Stanford said, that's going to be the best thing we can do as the offense is learning a new system.
In the eyes of many players, just the fact that Roof helped lift Duke out of the ACC cellar last year made him something of a 40-year-old prodigy. The Devils had suffered through a league-record 30-game losing streak against ACC opponents before he led them to a victory against his alma mater.
Indeed, losing has become a tragicomedy for Duke, which has just 17 winning seasons since the ACC began play in 1953. Eight of those belonged to coach Bill Murray, in the league's first decade, when it rarely earned attention for great football.
I told some of the freshmen that I've been through some of the 0-11 seasons, and it wasn't any fun at all. It was pretty depressing, Alexander said. You just had to remember what you came to school for and why you're playing football.
Getting fans, pundits, disinterested people on the streets anyone to believe that the Blue Devils won't be back on the bottom again in 2004 is proving to be a prickly problem. Duke (surprise) was picked to finish dead last in the ACC by the league's media association. Roof didn't like it, but he'll deal with it.
We have a lot of convincing to do. I'm not going to lose any sleep over that poll, Roof said. I'll use anything to motivate my team to play better. I can't control how sportswriters think or believe. They have minds of their own, and I don't want kids worrying about what they think. I want them worrying about getting themselves ready to win.
No wonder Duke administrators opposed ACC expansion. Instead of being predicted to finish ninth in the league, the Devils are being picked to finish 11th.
Expansion is a two-edged sword for Duke, which stands to increase its league-shared revenue just like everyone else. (With $6.9 million from 2003, Duke remains last among ACC schools in football revenue, taking in less than one-third of Clemson's league-leading $22.7 million.) The soon-to-be 12-team ACC took away the Blue Devils' annual game with nearby N.C. State, an event that always was profitable financially and usually competitive on the field. The divisional split next year will put Duke into a group with Miami and Virginia Tech, two programs that have played in more national championship games over the past four years than the Devils have posted conference wins.
The ACC is a tough conference. I think it's one of the toughest in the nation, Alexander said. That's just how it is and how it's set up, so we need to find a way to succeed in it. It will be exciting to see how we match up against some of the best teams in the nation.
Duke opens the 2004 season on Sept. 4 at Navy, which went to a bowl last year. If the Blue Devils don't win that one, it could be Oct. 2 against The Citadel before they are favored to win a game. In between, the Devils have to go to Connecticut and Virginia Tech, then face Maryland at home.
We need to just take it one game at a time, Alexander said. Right now, all of our energy is going toward Navy.
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