DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – The old saying goes, “you don’t really miss something until it’s gone.”

COVID-19 protocols last season took away so many things people take for granted, and for good reason. Safety first, of course, but it wasn’t the same.

This sports reporter is not afraid to admit I have missed the thrill of watching football practice from the sidelines.

To quote Allen Iverson: “We’re talking about practice. Not a game. Not a game. Not a game. We’re talking about practice.”

To simply be able to watch, and in my case shoot video of, practice was something I really missed. Today after practice, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe had an even simpler pleasure COVID-19 protocols had taken from him when he blew his whistle in the post-practice presser.

“I hadn’t done that in over a year, and that may not look like fun to you all, but that is a bunch of fun,” Cutcliffe said after blowing his whistle. “There is a big difference that you can put a whistle in your mouth.

There was no shortage of enthusiasm for the Blue Devils’ first day on the field. Players hustled from drill to drill at full speed, using last year’s 2-9 record to fuel this year’s production.

“It’s been motivation for me and I want to change that,” said wide receiver Eli Pancol. “Flip the script around and win as many games as possible. Going undefeated is the goal.”

One much-improved area is Duke’s offensive line. Projected starters Jack Wohlbaugh and Jacob Rimmer missed all of last year. This season, a healthy Wohlbaugh, combined with the experience gained from last year’s unit, should give coaches plenty of options in the trenches.

“I think you’re going to see different combinations in the offensive line,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s an area we feel like we have depth and we have competition.”

On the flip side, the defensive line has Ben Frye at defensive end and the rest is wide open. The staff is waiting for a player to stake their claim to be a starter.

“You want to end up playing? You want to be a contributor? Then make the plays you should make,” Cutcliffe said. “Show us on the practice field. I’m not waiting until game day to see what you’re going to produce.”

The Duke Blue Devils’ first game is Sept. 3 when they head to Charlotte.