Veteran center Skura anchors powerful Duke O-line

Aug. 28, 2014 @ 05:02 PM

Last August, Matt Skura was a new starter and a question mark for Duke’s offensive line.

A year and 10 wins later, the redshirt junior center represents a strength in what figures to be a solid part of Duke’s team this season.

Heading into Saturday’s season-opening game with Elon (6 p.m., ESPN3.com), Skura is one of three starters returning on a Blue Devil offensive line that fueled a 10-4 season in 2013.

“Matt Skura is unbelievable at center,” Duke associate head coach/offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said. “He keeps them anchored. He is one of the smartest players I’ve been around in a long time.”

The 6-4, 305-pound Skura joins left tackle Takoby Cofield and right guard Laken Tomlinson, both redshirt seniors, as the returning starters on Duke’s offensive line.

Redshirt junior Lucas Patrick, who started one game at right tackle last season, is the new starter at left guard with redshirt sophomore Casey Blaser set to get his first career start at right tackle on Saturday night.

“We want to be a hard-nosed offensive line,” Skura said. “That’s what we’ve been working on this offseason just trying to become — a physical group playing as one.”

Duke’s coaching staff is particularly fond of the middle of the line, where Skura plays. Tomlinson, at right guard, is a preseason all-ACC pick and an all-American candidate the NFL scouts will be watching closely this season.

Though a newcomer to the starting lineup, Patrick is an experienced player at left guard. He played in all 14 of Duke’s games last season, seeing action for 340 snaps. He also played in five games as a redshirt freshman in 2012.

Patrick battled concussion symptoms after absorbing a blow to the head during preseason camp. But he’s back healthy and Skura, his neighbor on the interior line, has confidence in his abilities.

“He’s 100 percent healthy, which is great,” Skura said. “He’s a real, big, thick kid. You like having him around on the interior moving guys around. I don’t know of any weaknesses for him. He’s just a great player. I love having him next to me.”

Cofield enters his third season as a full-time starter at left tackle where he protects the blind side for Duke starting quarterback Anthony Boone. Cofield also started twice as a redshirt freshman in 2011 before starting 27 games over the last two seasons as Duke played in back-to-back bowl games.

Blaser is the newest face on the offensive line as the Charlotte native will get his first career start on Saturday night. He played in two games last season and has a total of 17 snaps of experience.

The experienced players around him, Skura included, have helped Blaser meld with the rest of the starters as they aim to help Duke reach a third consecutive bowl game — an unprecedented feat in Blue Devils football history.

“Our chemistry has been developing very well,” Skura said. :”One thing is we hang out a lot outside of football. We get to know each other and the personalities people have. That’s translated on to the field. Even though we’ve been rotating guys in and out, a lot of the guys have been in the program for a long time. They kind of know what to expect.”

INJURY REPORT — No surprises on the first injury report of the season. Tight end Braxton Deaver (knee), linebacker Kelby Brown (knee) and defensive end DE Taariq Shabazz (leg) are out for the season. The other players listed as out for the Elon game have been unavailable throughout preseason camp. They are tight end Dan Beilinson (upper body), cornerback Johnathan Lloyd (lower body), offensive lineman Trip McNeill (lower body) and offensive lineman Jake Sanders (upper body).