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Duke’s Sirk hopes short-yardage experience helps as starter

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Duke breaks in new starting quarterbacks by a year before giving them the job by inserting them into short-yardage situations.

It worked before, and Thomas Sirk hopes it works again.

When preseason camp starts later this week, the redshirt junior will be the one taking the first-team snaps and replacing Anthony Boone – the winningest quarterback in Duke history.

A few years ago, it was Boone who stepped into the starting job after serving as the team’s goal-to-go specialist. He wound up leading the Blue Devils to back-to-back bowls in 2013 and ’14.

Now Sirk hopes to do the same thing.

Sirk says those short-yardage snaps are important ”because you come out, you’re ready, you don’t come out and feel the pressure.”

He played in all 12 games last season, often stepping in for Boone when the Blue Devils needed only a couple of yards, and he tied for third among Atlantic Coast Conference QBs with eight rushing touchdowns. He also completed 10 of 14 passes for 67 yards with three scores.

And while his teammates praise his speed, coach David Cutcliffe has insisted the 6-foot-4 Sirk is just as capable passing in the pocket as he is when he takes off and runs.

Max McCaffrey said Sirk is ”ready to come out and make a huge difference,” while fellow receiver Chris Taylor added that the QB is ”going to have a great year – I can feel it.”

”The role that I was in last year, people didn’t get a chance to see me throw the ball a lot,” Sirk said. ”Whether they think I can throw it or not, that’s what I want to go out and do every day in practice. I was running the same exact plays as Boone. I was just put in those packages, those short-yardage packages.”

There’s also the question of leadership.

Last year’s team- which won nine games, was poised to claim a second straight Coastal Division championship and reached the Sun Bowl – belonged to Boone and a tested senior class that helped shepherd the program from perennial laughingstock to serious ACC contender.

Boone was the one spelling then-starter Sean Renfree in goal-line situations in 2012 before taking over the next year and leading Duke to a school-record 10 wins, the league title game and a tight loss to Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Last year’s team held control of the Coastal Division until the final few weeks of the season and finished 9-4 after another close postseason loss, this one to Arizona State in the Sun Bowl.

Now it’s Sirk’s team – and he’s acting that way.

On the eve of his first camp as the starter, Sirk has taken a measure of confident ownership, repeatedly referring to his teammates as ”my” tight end or center or receiver.

”It’s a brotherhood. … I wouldn’t rather be in any other locker room in the country,” Sirk said. ”I feel like they believe in me behind the center that we’re going to get the ball in the end zone every time we step on the field.”

Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap

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