It’s back! For the third straight year, the N&O will count down the top 10 most important Duke football players for the upcoming season. Most important isn’t necessarily the best, but it’s a combination of individual skill, depth at a position and cruciality to success.
Duke football is currently on an unprecedented run of success, going bowling three straight years and winning 19 games over the past two seasons. And the schedule is favorable again this year, thanks in large part to divisional crossover games with Boston College and Wake Forest.
No. 2: Center Matt Skura
Age: Redshirt senior
Last year’s stats: Third-team all-ACC, started all 13 games, ACC offensive linemen of the week following Duke’s 20-13 win over Virginia
If Duke is going to be successful in its endeavor to run the football against the best teams, then Matt Skura is going to have to lead that charge. As head coach David Cutcliffe cleverly pointed out Tuesday at ACC media days, Skura is "the center of everything we do." Literally and figuratively.
Nothing happens on offense until Skura snaps the ball. It’s up to him to get the ball to Sirk—something that can’t be taken for granted, as the Blue Devils’ cadence issues doomed them in last year’s close loss at Miami—but his work starts even before that. Skura has to look across the line at the defense and decide what type of protection the offensive line is going to run. And he needs to make sure both sides of the line are on the same page. That’s a fair amount to diagnose and convey in just a few seconds.
The Blue Devils’ line was a strength last year, as it was anchored by first-round draft pick Laken Tomlinson at right guard, and left tackle Takoby Cofield earned an invite to the NFL combine at the end of his career as well. Skura (along with left guard Lucas Patrick) will have to be the high tide that raises the boats that are young starters at guard and tackle.
That duty extends to the intangibles department, too. Tomlinson was like a stick of dynamite before games, Cutcliffe said—a fiery, emotional leader. Skura is more soft spoken, but he leads in in his own way. He spoke at length Tuesday of taking pride in pushing young linemen past what they thought were their limits in the weight room. Habits like that led Cutcliffe to call him one of the most demanding leaders that Duke has had. And he meant that as a compliment.
Previously in this series: