QB Daniel Jones makes debut in Duke opener vs. NC Central
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Duke is breaking in a new quarterback. The Blue Devils' offense still should look familiar.
Redshirt freshman Daniel Jones makes his debut with the Blue Devils on Saturday night when they open the season against crosstown opponent North Carolina Central.
Jones is the first freshman quarterback to start an opener at Duke since 1997, and just the fourth since 1951.
''It's a misnomer to think you have to be the guy in charge or win the game at quarterback,'' coach David Cutcliffe said. ''You don't. You just have to be more committed to your job than anyone else, first. That's the role a quarterback leader has to take. He's assuming that role rather easily.''
Jones took most of the first-team snaps during preseason camp while Thomas Sirk - Duke's leading rusher and passer in 2015 - worked his way back after tearing an Achilles tendon in a conditioning workout in February.
Sirk reinjured the tendon during practice last week, finally giving the Blue Devils an answer - though not the one they wanted - to the will-he-or-won't-he question.
Duke's hopes for a fifth straight bowl game rest with Jones, a redshirt freshman from Charlotte and a late addition to their 2015 recruiting class who has some of the same run-or-pass skills that Sirk has.
''It's the same system, so everyone in the quarterback room can do both,'' Jones said. ''That's part of what (the coaches) want here, someone who has the ability to do both.''
The goal is to get him comfortable playing at this level against an opponent the Blue Devils historically have had no trouble beating: Duke has won all four meetings, all since 2009, by no fewer than 35 points apiece.
N.C. Central won its last seven games of last season and claimed a share of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for the second straight year, but missed out on reaching the Celebration Bowl - the new postseason game that matches the champions of the two highest-profile HBCU conferences.
''Some of these guys played with some of those young men (at Duke) over the course of their career,'' Central coach Jerry Mack said. ''They've got a chance to see these guys on television. ... It's a rivalry within a rivalry, so to speak, because the guys know one another.''
Some things to know about the N.C. Central-Duke opener:
- HAPPY RETURNS: Duke S DeVon Edwards enters his senior season with six career kickoff returns for touchdowns, one shy of the ACC and NCAA record. He probably won't get many chances this week because North Carolina Central might not kick off very often - Duke has shut out the Eagles in both of their last two meetings.
- THE OPENER: Duke has won four straight openers and is trying for five in a row for the first time since 1984-88. The Blue Devils have won the last four - against Florida International, North Carolina Central, Elon and Tulane - by a combined 180-46. They're 6-2 in openers under Cutcliffe.
- UNFAZED EAGLES: N.C. Central probably won't be awestruck by facing the Blue Devils, since so many of the Eagles' players took part in last year's matchup. The year before, North Carolina Central opened at East Carolina. ''You have to grow up really fast,'' said Central QB Malcolm Bell, whose first career game came at Duke in 2013. ''They threw me in the fire. I just had to get adjusted quick, and after that, I was pretty good.''
- NEW DIGS: The game also marks the debut of the latest set of improvements to Wallace Wade Stadium, with a five-story, 90,000-square-foot tower of luxury suites the centerpiece of the project.