Boone ready to continue Duke quarterback success
MAY 09, 2013 9:18p ET
David Cutcliffe’s history with Peyton and Eli Manning has been well-documented. His status of quarterback guru was well-earned even before he got to Duke, but perhaps even more so since his arrival in 2008. Every Blue Devil quarterback he has coached has made it to the NFL. Thaddeus Lewis was picked up as an undrafted free agent and started a game for the Cleveland Browns last year, while Sean Renfree went in the seventh round of this year’s draft (to Atlanta).
So no pressure, Anthony Boone.
Not that the redshirt junior minds pressure. This is the same guy who had to come in for Renfree last year in the fourth quarter of a tied game at Wake Forest. He had seen spot duty before that, but nothing else. Oh, and it was Duke’s first ACC game of the year. And Duke hadn’t beaten Wake Forest since 2000.
It was raining, and he was having a hard time getting a grip on the ball. Wake Forest had all the momentum, having just come back to tie the game (Duke had led 20-10). He went on to complete 8-of-11 passes for 54 yards, and he added three rushes for ten yards and a score.
Renfree wasn’t able to come back the next week, so Boone got the start in the next game at home against Virginia. Just like the week before, he didn’t panic. It’s not in his nature. He did, however, slip and fall running out of the tunnel. “It goes from track to field and there’s a little dirt there,” Boone said with a laugh, “and my foot hit it and I guess it slid. I was like, ‘Dang.’”
Klutziness out of his system, he completed 18-of-31 passes for 212 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 41 yards on seven attempts. Duke pounded Virginia 42-17 and got off to a 2-0 start in ACC play because of how capably Boone ran the offense in Renfree’s absence. Without those wins, Duke arguably wouldn’t have made its first bowl game since 1994 (the Blue Devils finished 6-6 in the regular season).
“When those situations pop up, maybe the situation is too big. Being the starting quarterback is not too big for Anthony. It’s who he is,” offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said. “Those games really gave me confidence in saying okay, this guy is a starting quarterback in the ACC. He didn’t wilt in those situations, he actually flourished and played well and showed a lot of courage and a lot of poise, just a lot of command of the game. That’s not easy to do. I think he rose to the occasion.”
And make no mistake, in spite of how well he played in Renfree’s absence, Boone’s transition to starter won’t be a seamless one. Renfree completed 67.3 percent of his passes lsat year for over 3,000 yards (19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions). He had a career completion percentage of 64.3 percent, a school record. In his career, Boone has completed just 53.4 percent of his passes. (Although in last year’s Wake Forest and Virginia games combined, Boone completed 62 percent of his attempts.)
Boone knows he needs to become more accurate, and it’s the main thing he wants to improve before next season. As accurate as Renfree was, though, he doesn’t have Boone’s quickness and athleticism. Boone’s dual-threat skill set will allow Cutcliffe, Roper and the rest of the offensive staff to add wrinkles to the offense. The running game will be more zone read, and the tempo will be faster.
Boone’s fine with all that, of course. But he just wants to make big plays.
“I’m an aggressive person by nature. That’s just the kind of person I am,” Boone said. “(The coaches) will take that into account, and we’re going to call more shots and give me more chances to try to make a big play.”
Just because he’s more mobile doesn’t mean that he can’t throw the football. Quite the opposite, actually. Duke’s offense will likely always be pass-first under Cutcliffe and company, and this coming season will be no different.
“Anthony’s strength is his ability to drop back and throw the football,” Roper said. “He has a classic motion. He has great balance. He’s a passer that we can just get the extra advantage of (him) being able to run the ball.”
Boone has not shied away from any aspect of taking over the starting job, though. Even the leadership part of it, which he says comes very naturally to him. As a kid, he often got in trouble with his teachers for talking too much in class.
“I’m a very vocal person,” Boone said. “I love to work and I love to compete, so that’s just the type of person that I am. I love to bring people along and feed off of other people. ... The leadership thing is kind of my personality. I like to be the center of attention. I like to take control. I like talking. So it kind of just fit.”
If there’s a concern, it’s the depth behind Boone. Backup Thomas Sirk tore his Achilles tendon in the spring, leaving Duke with just two scholarship quarterbacks behind him, one of which is a freshman who missed most of the spring with an injury.
Last year, the Blue Devils were so deep at quarterback that they used third-stringer Brandon Connette as a utility player on offense (tight end, wide receiver, running back … you name it). This year, that may not be an option.
Boone is more than ready, though. He’s been groomed for a few years now, and he’s had two of the best teachers imaginable in Roper and Cutcliffe. He already has a pretty firm grasp of the offense. And now he’s ready for it to become second nature.
“Just understanding the game and after that, letting my athletic ability take over the rest of it,” Boone said. “That’s what Coach Roper and Coach (Cutcliffe) have really taught me.”