2013 Position Preview: Offensive Line

The 2013 position previews kick off with a look at the Blue Devils' offensive line. Duke features a starting group that returns four starters, all of whom have at least four seasons in the program under their belts.

DEPTH CHART (expected starters in italics):



Games are won and lost in the trenches in football. Many times, the offensive line is overlooked, and some teams that looked great on paper suffered because of a lack of depth or ability on the offensive line. Coach Cutcliffe has said if you can't block, you can't play offense. Fortunately, four of the five starters from last season's strong offensive line are back.

One big question coming into the season is how (or if) the offense will change with a new quarterback behind center. Anthony Boone is more mobile than Sean Renfree and can pull the ball down to run. In the past, Duke had more of a 70-30 pass-to-run ratio. Players and coaches have said that those numbers are likely to approach 60-40 this season. Coaches have said last year's bowl game provided a look at what the team can do on the ground. Duke averaged more than five yards a carry, with 39 runs for 200 yards against Cincinnati. For the offensive line, most of the blocking schemes have stayed the same. An emphasis on the running game could also help the defense. Running the football can drain the clock and keep a young secondary off the field. Coach Cutcliffe said some of the guys on the line always ask to run the football more.

Right now, the line is working in new center Matt Skura. The guys have said the spring game helped work out some of those kinks. This offseason, Skura started lifting with starting guard Laken Tomlinson and backup guard Cody Robinson and has been impressive. One big key for Skura is his experience with Anthony Boone. Last season, the two worked together on the second team. The center-quarterback exchange starts every single play, and if it goes awry, the play is doomed. Right now, both guys are comfortable together.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for Skura will be moving from the second team to the first team. The jump in competition is bigger than most people think. Coaches are very excited about Skura's ability, now he can show it on the field all season. Last season, Skura played 125 snaps, and he said that experience helped prepare him for this year. Defensive linemen don't care about freshman subs. All they want to do is blow up the play in the backfield.

Fortunately, this is an offensive line with depth. Coaches and players both said the team will attempt to play at an even faster pace this season. Along the offensive line, several of the backups could fight for playing time. Cody Robinson is behind Laken Tomlinson at right guard, but he is strong (owns the school record for power clean lift by an offensive lineman at 349 lbs.). Coach Cutcliffe said it will be hard to keep Robinson off the field. Coach Cut also said guys like Tanner Stone and John Coleman add to that depth. The team is shooting for 80 or more offensive plays per game.

What needs to happen in 2013:

The offense will once again have to step up this year. In the trenches, Skura needs to fit in quickly with the others. One of the most important traits along the line is trust. You have to trust the guys next to you, and they have to trust you. Likewise, guys on the line develop a "sixth sense" about where fellow linemen are. When those guys up front start clicking, the line can wear down defenses and dominate the line of scrimmage.

For this team to succeed, the offense has to keep the team in the game. The offense also needs to control the clock while still playing the up-tempo game. The offensive line has the depth to play a fast pace while staying fresh. The offensive line can build on a successful year last year. Duke scored the most points in school history with 410. This year, the line can provide protection for Anthony Boone to be an aggressive, downfield passer (more on the QB's next week). Last year, the line only gave up 19 sacks all season long. At the same time, the line can open holes for a bevy of talented running backs

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