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Duke Now is your place for Blue Devil hoops and football. Beat writer Laura Keeley has up-to-the-minute news and analysis. Columnist Luke DeCock also contributes. Follow us on Twitter at @laurakeeley or @accnow.

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Top 10 most important players for 2013 Duke football: No. 4, Laken Tomlinson

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Laken Tomlinson (77) is Duke's best blocker on the offensive line. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY

With football season just around the corner (practice starts Aug. 5), it’s time to turn some focus to the gridiron and what lies ahead for the 2013 Blue Devils. There are two major goals that need to be checked off the list to further separate Duke’s present and future from it’s disastrous past: clinch the program’s first winning season since 1994 and make back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time…ever.

To do that, Duke will need some players to step into new roles and others to take on larger ones. With that in mind, here’s a look at the 10 most important players for the upcoming season. Be sure to check back daily for the unveiling of the full list.

No. 4: right guard Laken Tomlinson

Age: redshirt junior
Last year’s stats: 13 starts, 1,048 total snaps

The Blue Devils are counting on the experienced offensive line to be one of the team strengths, and Tomlinson, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 320 pounds, is the best blocker of the bunch. With dual-threat quarterback Anthony Boone taking over the offense and bringing a zone-read flair to the playbook, the line is going to need to run block better than it has in head coach David Cutcliffe’s previous five years.

Tomlinson has 25 starts over his two-year playing career and has been on the field for 1,974 total snaps. Last year’s team scored a school-record 410 points and ranked second in the ACC in quarterback sacks per pass attempt—quite an impressive feat, considering the run game was nonexistent in many of Duke’s toughest games. Tomlinson is on the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, given to college football’s top interior lineman.

The depth of the line has improved, but missing Tomlinson for any stretch of time would be a huge blow to the offense’s potential.

No. 10: safety Jeremy Cash
No. 9: center Matt Skura
No. 8: punter Will Monday
No. 7: kicker Ross Martin
No. 6: defensive end Kenny Anunike
No. 5: QB/RB/WR/TE Brandon Connette

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About the blogger

Laura Keeley is the Duke beat writer for the News & Observer. Follow her on Twitter @laurakeeley