One on One With Eron Riley

Duke's most potent returning offensive threat sat down with TDD after returning to practice from a leg injury.

TDD: Obviously the first question has to be regarding your injury status and future prognosis.

Eron Riley: I'm back now and was at practice today. I'm 100 percent ready to go. I honestly don't know what it was - just some swelling that was treated with rest and some ice. It's gone now - we were just being cautious.

Being one of the most experienced players on the roster, how does your role differ from previous years in your eyes? What about the coaches' expectations of you?

For me, personally, it's my job to show the young guys the ropes both on and off the field. Sometimes guys come in with a lot of talent, but they don't know about the things you have to do to maximize it. They don't know how to read coverages, or where things are around campus. They have to learn good habits like watching tape on their own. It's all a process to make them the best receivers they can be.

The coaches have told me pretty much the same thing. Coach Cutcliffe and Coach Montgomery have just leaned on me to help the guys learn as much as they can about being a successful receiver in the ACC.

Everyone knows Coach Cutcliffe's reputation for being a quarterback guru, but those QBs he tutored had someone to throw to. How does the new passing scheme compare to what you've seen in the past?

You can see why he's had success. I believe we are going to be much more aggressive and a lot different than you've seen in the past. The offense is all about getting people in a position to positively impact the game - and I think it's a lot more aggressive than we've been in the last few years.

Each of the other players we've interviewed have talked about the focus on "the little things" this year in preseason. How has that applied to you, specifically?

I'm focusing on getting better on my alignment and pre-snap reads. Figuring out where the motion is coming from and what everyone [on offense] should be doing. That way I can do the things that may help someone else get open - or I know where to go so I can help create gaps for others to fill. Just things like that. There's definitely been an emphasis on that.

Earlier you mentioned mentoring the younger players. Which ones have caught your eye early on?

Offensively Johnny Williams has really stepped up with me being out. He's got some of the best hands and he's very quick. He'll be a weapon for us. A few of the other guys have had [injury] problems off and on, but before they got banged up Donovan Varner was doing really well and so was Tony Foster. All of them have a lot of raw talent and will be really good for us down the road.

Which defensive players have stood out?

On defense there are so many DBs who have really stepped up and they have a lot of different looks. Guys like Jabari Marshall will be very physical with you at the line whereas a guy like Leon Wright will match your feet step for step down the field. They all have different strengths and they are playing to them. One of the young guys who has lived up to the hype is Matt Daniels. He's a very physical defender in the backfield. He's a very hard hitter. I had heard a lot about him in the recruiting process, and when I saw him play, I knew why. He's going to be good.

Coach Cutcliffe took over right after your season ended. What were your first impressions of him?

I first met him when we got back from Christmas break. I didn't know much about him other than looking up his record and resume. When I first met him, the most impressive thing about him was his enthusiasm for the game.

And now that you've been playing for him for nearly eight months...

It's still the intensity that you notice first. He works us really hard, but it's because he's going to get the best out of each and every player. He's always pushing us to be better. He wants to turn this around as much as we do.

Speaking of the conditioning program - the intensity is well documented. What differences do you notice?

I'm much more in shape than I've ever been. We ran a ton this off-season. We lifted a lot. But it's going to pay off in the season at the end of games. We've been close before, but this time we won't be tired in the fourth quarter.

Which leads us to ask about expectations for you personally and what you expect of the team.

I expect our team to play hard each and every down. I expect us to do the little things we've focused on. We're not trying to say we're going to a certain amount of games or anything like that. We know that if we do those things, then the scores are going to take care of themselves - which is a great change.

For myself, personally, I am not going to limit myself by trying to say I want to do this or that better. Overall I want to play as hard as possible and do all that I can to help this team win. If I do that, personal success will take care of itself.

Having played in the NFL, has Coach Montgomery talked to you about preparing for the combines and the draft process next year?

He's talked to me about the process somewhat, but we're not focused on it right now. I have to have a good season before I start thinking about that kind of thing. If I lose focus, the opportunity won't be there.

As an experienced player, have you noticed a defining moment with this year's team in camp? Maybe something that made you think that the times are changing for Duke football?

I guess it was when I got injured and went down. The young guys stepped up and picked up the slack. They were competing just as hard as they were before that - they wanted to come in and help the team win and were going to do whatever they could. As an older player it was encouraging to see that everyone was coming together and pushing one another to get better. We're all competing, but we're also all focused on the same goals.

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