Duke’s Desmond Scott Embracing Change
It seems unimaginable that a Duke football team would have so much depth at a skill position like running back that it could afford to lose a three-year starter, but that’s how far the program has come under head coach David Cutcliffe.
Senior Desmond Scott became the 39th player in Duke history to rush for 1,000 career yards last season, but Duke is nine-deep at running back without him. As injuries have decimated the wide receiver corps, Scott has been called upon to help fill that void.
“There are a lot of goals that I have in mind and a lot of statements that I want to make and moving to receiver just makes those goals a lot more accomplishable and everything else achievable,” Scott said. When asked what those goals were, Scott said, “I’m pretty sure if you really look at the research and see from a player standpoint, you can probably figure out what those goals are.”
He has 548 receiving yards and 2,821 all-purpose yards, but perhaps most impressively, Scott has caught at least one pass in 26 straight games. It’s the sixth-longest active streak in the country and first among running backs.
He played wide receiver in high school, but as he put it, he just “ran the right route, caught the ball and ran.” Playing wide receiver in college is much tougher, and it’s a different animal than catching the ball out of the backfield as a running back.
“The biggest adjustment has been reading things on the go. From the running back position, you’re looking at a defense from the backfield and then whatever it is before the ball is snapped is what it is,” Scott said. “That’s not the same thing at receiver. You’ve got to read it on the go. They might roll the Cover 2. They might go to man. You never know pre-snap what it is going to be. You have to be ready to do it on the go.”
The position switch is really geared towards doing what Cutcliffe has strived to do since he came to Duke in 2008 – get all of his best playmakers on the field. “Desmond is a really good football player. … My whole thought process from January on is to find the people that are going to make those plays I was referring to. Finding our best six, if you will – counting the quarterback – playmakers,” Cutcliffe said.
Right now, Scott is learning the Y position (essentially the slot receiver). But he’s also learning a hybrid running back position where he might run some variations of the trendy Wildcat package. And he said that his experience at running back will help as he transitions to wide receiver.
He’s been going over the playbook on his brand new Duke-issued iPad since he got it a few weeks ago, studying everything from fellow wideout Conner Vernon’s technique to just the ins and outs of a play from the wide receiver perspective.
“I know now the entirety of the play. At running back, you’re just looking at a portion of the hand signals, a portion of the play. At wide receiver, you’re looking at a portion. But from being from both positions, I know the entirety of the play and I know what a linebacker will do, what the d-lineman might do. So I kind of know where everybody’s going to be on the field at one time,” Scott said.
Scott saw some action at wide receiver in the spring, but he wasn’t sure of his position switch until Monday when offensive coordinator Kurt Roper made it official. But knowing it might come, he spent the summer running routes with quarterback Sean Renfree. Every Sunday, the two would meet up to practice for an hour or so.
And his enthusiasm for the switch didn’t seem like a front for the media. He’s the first to admit that it won’t be easy. But in his career at Duke, both from a team and an individual perspective, nothing has.
“I’m not going to say it’s been easy because it hasn’t, but I’m embracing it. It’s my senior year. Life waits for no one,” Scott said. The assembled media had a chuckle at the notion of a 22-year-old reflecting on getting older.
“You laugh, but I’m so serious because just the other day I was in high school playing football and as a freshman, you it was like, ‘I’m going to be here for a long time. Man, these practices are hard and it’s hot outside.’ But it’s my senior season and I’m trying to take every moment in. I’m taking pictures to try to have them for the future. I’m doing everything that I can to savor these moments and with wide receiver, yes it’s been hard but I’m taking it all in.”