by Mike Potter
YOH FOOTBALL CENTER/DURHAM David Cutcliffe says if his Duke football team wants to have spring practice in warmer weather, it would best start winning enough games to get bowl bids.
But the third-year Blue Devil coach wasn't saying that just to be a tough guy. He just wants to get back to serious work as quickly as possible and figured his team has had plenty of rest since November.
The Blue Devils will have the first of their 15 spring practice days today. They won't be 15 straight days, of course, but 15 total sessions leading up to the Spring Game on March 27 at Wallace Wade Stadium.
"I told the players when I changed the first day of practice from Monday to Sunday, that it was appropriate to call it the 'Valentine's Day Massacre,'" Cutcliffe (pictured) said during a Friday press conference. "Be prepared for a work day. I'm excited about it. ... If they want to go a little bit later in the warm, then play in a bowl game. It's been too long since we've played football."
Cutcliffe also said he would rather have more time for him and his to evaluate his 2010 team than to continue rehashing the 2009 season.
Duke returns 40 lettermen including 18 starters from the 2009 club, which finished 5-7 in earning the most wins for Duke in 15 years.
The biggest returning weapons are wide receivers Austin Kelly, Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon. Varner was a first-team All-ACC selection while Vernon was a freshman All-American.
Other key returnees on offense are tight ends Brett Huffman, Brandon King and Danny Parker; the top three rushers in Desmond Scott, Jay Hollingsworth and Patrick Kurunwune; and starting linemen Kyle Hill, Mitchell Lederman, Brian Moore and Bryan Morgan.
Duke will have to replace graduating quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, and with last season's backup Sean Renfree recovering from knee surgery redshirt freshman Sean Schroeder and true first-semester freshman Brandon Connette will handle spring quarterback duties.
"They're both looking really good right now," Vernon said of Schroeder and Connette. "Schroeder looks very good. He's been a year in the offense. We're excited to come in now. It's going to be good competition. Let's see what happens."
Six defensive starters return in safety Matt Daniels, defensive end Patrick Egboh, nose guard Charlie Hatcher, linebacker Abraham Kromah, cornerback Chris Rwabukamba and linebacker Damian Thornton.
"Things have definitely been going well," Kromah said. "Everybody's been doing what he needs to do. We're in great shape and I'm definitely looking forward to getting on the road. A lot of young guys are progressing and getting stronger. Everybody's making great strides."
Long snapper Jackson Anderson, punter Kevin Jones and kicker Will Snyderwine all return.
Duke will have two position switches, with Johnny Williams moving from wideout to cornerback and Kenny Anunike from tight end to defensive end.
Duke will open its regular season at home on Sept. 4 against Elon.