CHARLOTTE – Linebacker Joe Giles-Harris will anchor the Duke defense this fall but the Blue Devils’ junior singled out quarterback Daniel Jones as the team’s leader during ACC Media Days on July 18 in Charlotte.
And rightly so.
Jones has gone from being a two-star recruit out of Charlotte Latin to one of the top quarterbacks in the country. Jones (6-foot-5, 220-pounds), who passed for 2,691 yards and 14 touchdowns while rushing for 518 yards and seven touchdowns last season, has already been named to several preseason watch lists for the top player and the top quarterback in the country.
Giles-Harris and Jones were the two Duke players chosen by head coach David Cutcliffe to participate in media days. Jones , who was 257-for-453 passing a year ago, also attended the event as a red-shirt sophomore in 2017.
“He is a consistent leader,” Giles-Harris said. “The best thing about him is he’s a smart kid who works his butt off in the film room day in and day out. There are days where I will be leaving our facilities and Daniel has been in there after school or whatever.
“Daniel has been in there since like 8:00 in the morning and it’s like 10:00 at night and he is still watching film. You kind of look at him and you are saying, ‘Hey, how much are you going to watch, how much can you get.’ It’s always a little bit more. He never short ends anything, he never backdoors anything. He always gives his all.”
Duke had an up-and-down season a year ago, starting 4-0 before dipping to 4-6 after six-straight losses. But the Blue Devils rebounded to end the season with three-straight wins, including a 36-14 win over Northern Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Jones was named the Most Valuable Player in the bowl victory after passing for 252 yards and rushing for 86 yards. He said the late surge last fall has carried over to preparations for the 2018 season.
“I think as a team it was important for us to kind of find a way to right the ship and finish the season strong last year,” Jones said. “That was a valuable experience for all of us to go through that. I think that will be big for us going into the season.
“You know, as a quarterback, you learn a lot in that situation, and being in a similar position this off season as I was last season. You continue to grow, continue to learn.”
Jones will have plenty of targets at wide receiver. Senior T.J Rahming (5-10, 170) returns after making 65 catches for 795 yards and two touchdowns last season, while senior Johnathan Lloyd (6-0, 190) had 39 catches for 367 yards and one touchdown. Chris Taylor (25-332-1) and Aaron Young (16-219-1) will enter fall camp battling for the third spot at receiver.
Duke is also strong at tight end with four returning letter winners. Redshirt seniors Daniel Helm (6-4, 225) and Davis Koppenhaver (6-4, 240) anchor the position, while sophomores Noah Gray (6-4, 240) and Mark Birmingham (6-4, 245) are also expected to contribute. Helm, Koppenhaver and Gray combined for seven touchdowns, forming the only tight end trio in the ACC with multiple receiving touchdowns each.
Cutcliffe said the depth at tight end is the best he has ever had as a head coach.
“Daniel Helm, boy, does he look good,” Cutcliffe said. “Our guys are go-to guys. They are situational guys, but they are go-to guys. We’ve got three senior receivers and two senior tight ends. We’ve got backs that can run routes and catch the ball. I’m anxious to get started and see what we can accomplish in that regard.”
Duke opens the season Aug. 31 when they host Army in Durham.
Duke players from south Charlotte
Elijah Deveaux RB So. 6-0 215
Xander Gagnon LB So. 6-4 230 Charlotte Catholic
Elijah Brown DT Fr. 6-4 305
Twazanga Mugala DT Jr. 6-3 250 Ardrey Kell
Daniel Jones QB Jr. 6-5 220