College Football: Boyette out to revive Duke’s running game
DURHAMó Re’Quan Boyette took handoffs, zig-zagged through the imaginary offensive line and burst downfield with no hesitation.
His surgically repaired left knee seemed good as new.
After an injury cost him the 2008 season, Duke’s two-time leading rusher is back on the practice field and eager to make up for lost time.
“One of the challenges is just getting back into the swing of things, getting back conditioning and game speed, getting back into condition as far as the plays and relearning the offense,” Boyette said. “Sitting out last year has really helped me. I was able to see a lot of things from the back end and see a lot of things from the sideline which really will help me this year.”
If nothing else, Boyette learned a valuable lesson in patience.
He led Duke in rushing as a sophomore in 2006 (388 yards) and the following year (432), and the team was counting on him to provide balance to coach David Cutcliffe’s quarterback-friendly offense. But during preseason camp last August, he tore a knee ligament.
His absence left the Blue Devils’ already shaky rushing offense in shambles. Pass-happy Duke ranked 103rd nationally and 11th in the Atlantic Coast Conference on the ground by averaging just 106 yards per game, and was the league’s only team to rush for fewer than 10 touchdowns.
Cutcliffe has made establishing a ground game a top priority this preseason, and quarterback Thaddeus Lewis couldn’t wait to welcome back his top rusher.
“I saw a burst of speed, a lot of enthusiasm and the leadership that we thought he would have,” Lewis said. “Just having that guy run the football the way he runs the football and make the plays he does will make it a lot easier to throw the ball to those other guys.”
He certainly didn’t seem to miss a beat during his first workouts of fall camp. Wearing a wrap on his knee for precautionary reasons, Boyette looked smooth during non-contact drills in shorts and helmets, with Cutcliffe calling it “the best he’s looked since he’s been injured.”
“It was all-go ó there (weren’t) any limitations on it,” Boyette said.
He and the Blue Devils hope the same can be said for their season.
The Duke program had been a doormat for years before showing signs of improvement last year under Cutcliffe, starting 4-3 but stumbling down the stretch with five straight losses to end the season.
Boyette was stuck on the sideline in crutches for that flop, and that made for obvious motivation during rehab: To finally turn around the program ó and deliver the long-suffering Blue Devils a winner ó in his final season.
“We know the players that we have. We know the coaches that we have,” Boyette said. “We know the hours and the blood and sweat that we put in this summer, and that’s the confidence that we need. We’re a confident team. It’s not cocky. It’s just confidence. We know what we have, we know what we’ve prepared our bodies for, and we feel that’s a goal that we can reach.”