Mobile, Ala. – Day 3 of the North squad’s practice saw Duke University’s Laken Tomlinson continue to set himself apart as the best interior lineman. Whether it was in one-on-one drills, combination reps or team drills, he showed NFL talent evaluators that he has what it takes to shine at the next level.
Tomlinson entered this week excited about the opportunity to ply his wares with some of the nation’s top talent and put it all on display for the NFL scouts. But he’s not about to take it for granted.
“It feels awesome,” he said Thursday afternoon. “You know, I’m truly honored to be able to participate in an event such as this one. I’m really blessed just to be here as a football player. So I’m just really grateful for the entire experience.”
Tomlinson had some draft buzz heading into this week, but he’s confident that the opportunity is not too big for him and that he can bolster his stock heading into the NFL Scouting Combine and the draft.
”You’re going against the best of the best,” he said, “and it’s the best of the best who get invited here and get the chance to prove themselves against the best, so it’s an amazing opportunity for a prospect to come here and get better.”
The competition has certainly intensified for the former Blue Devil. Tomlinson has been tasked with blocking one of the nation’s top defensive tackles and a player whom many draftniks expect to see selected in the opening round – Washington’s Danny Shelton.
“One of the toughest matchups I’ve had has been Danny Shelton,” Tomlinson said. “He’s a really physical kid with a low center of gravity. He’s hard to block, honestly. So he’s probably been the best matchup here.”
Shelton is definitely a behemoth and can be a lot to handle, but if Tomlinson’s dream comes true and he ends up playing in the NFL, every player he lines up against will be “the best of the best.” However, he feels like he understands the right approach to blocking guys like that.
“With a big tackle you just gotta play low, like they do and try to get a nice fit on a guy like that,” he said. “Because if you don’t get a good fit, you’re gonna get beat every time.”
Tomlinson is an excellent prospect, but one thing that also sets him apart is his intelligence – his football IQ. He understands that an NFL player’s career is finite and that one should be prepared for life after football.
"At the end of the day, when football is said and done, you’ve got to have something up here (taps his head). So that’s what I kind of thought about when I made my decision to go to Duke.”
Looking beyond his football career is one of the reasons he chose to go to Duke, even foregoing an offer to play at Ohio State, but it wasn’t the only reason. A guy by the name of David Cutcliffe was the primary reason Tomlinson chose Duke.
"He’s an amazing person and, honestly, right now I’m honored to know a person like that. So it was a true blessing that I had an opportunity to meet a person that amazing. Coach David Cutcliffe does a great job of recruiting great people and great players. So, you know, obviously our football team has been doing really well the last couple of years. That just gives us more exposure to NFL scouts and have more NFL scouts visiting the team and looking at prospects.”
The Blue Devils program has certainly roared into relevance under the leadership of Cutcliffe and it’s trickled down to the players and their prospects as professionals. Juwan Thompson played both offense and defense at Duke, and although he went undrafted last May, the Denver Broncos signed him to compete in training camp and he not only earned a roster spot, but also a consistent role in the first-team offense, playing behind one of Cutcliffe’s protégés – Peyton Manning.
As for Tomlinson, he has received very positive feedback from coach Ken Whisenhunt’s staff, but he knows that there are aspects to his game that could use some refinement.
“For me, my constant weakness is my hands,” he said. “I’ve got to get better with my hands. I consciously try to think about that. Doing drills and doing team reps and thinking about, you know, I’ve got to get better hands. Tight hands. Tight hands. So I definitely need to work on that.”
Tomlinson is willing to do whatever it takes to iron out the kinks of his game and become a complete player. With how bright he is (Psychology and Evolutionary Anthropology double-major) and how hard he works, the sky’s the limit for Laken Tomlinson.