Jones gains comfort, confidence entering 2nd year as Duke QB

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DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Duke's Daniel Jones isn't looking over his shoulder at anyone.

Former starter Thomas Sirk's decision to transfer leaves Jones as the Blue Devils' unquestioned starter.

That move, along with a flurry of early NFL draft declarations across the division, leaves Jones with an odd designation as the dean of starting quarterbacks in the ACC's Coastal Division - as a rising redshirt sophomore.

''I've kind of focused on being the most experienced guy here'' on the Duke team, Jones said Saturday. ''I'm trying to make sure I've got all my business handled here. ... I guess that's a true fact, but I haven't thought about it a whole lot.''

Jones and Virginia's Kurt Benkert are the only returning starting QBs in the Coastal. North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky, Miami's Brad Kaaya and Virginia Tech's Jerod Evans declared early for the draft and Pittsburgh's Nate Peterman and Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas were seniors in 2016.

Jones started 12 games for the Blue Devils last year, two more than Benkert.

Jones had a solid first season as Duke's starter, throwing for 2,836 yards and 16 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. He also was the team's second-leading rusher with 486 yards and four more scores for an injury-ravaged team that finished 4-8 and missed the postseason for the first time since 2011.

Coach David Cutcliffe calls him ''much more of a leader, of a guy in command of his offense.''

And now that Jones has wrapped up a set of spring practices spent working on his deep touch and his ball security, he says he's understandably more comfortable than he was last August.

''You recognize things quicker, having seen them before. That helps,'' Jones said. ''With more experience, you need to process more information faster, and that's expected of me.''

The biggest indication of his on-the-job growth came in how he took care of the ball: After throwing eight interceptions in his first five starts - including five in a loss to Virginia - he was picked off only once in the next seven games.

''We're doing very little on offense'' during the spring, Cutcliffe said. ''One of the things that's been a challenge for him is, when you're doing that, you have got to take care of the football. You can't create things. We're not trying to fool our defense. ... I think he's grown in that area.''

The job went to Jones after Sirk - the only Duke quarterback to win a bowl game since 1961 when he beat Indiana in the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl - suffered two injuries to his Achilles tendon in a seven-month span.

He ruptured the tendon in February 2016, then reinjured it last August during preseason camp.

Before spring practice started, Cutcliffe said he considered Jones to be the starter, and Sirk - who received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA - last month announced plans to transfer.

''I was sad he's not going to be around next year,'' Jones said. ''As a friend, and such a great leader for our team, you hate to see him go. He's been a big part of my first few years here.''


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