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As difficult as it is to start as a rookie, it’s just as rare to start as a redshirt freshman in college and never give up the job, which Tomlinson did at Duke.

Before Detroit’s exhibition against Washington on Thursday, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Tomlinson’s practice habits, among other things, helped him develop into a first-round pick.

“He’s going to go on the practice field and not just get through practice,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s thinking about the things he saw on tape or the things that were pointed out to him. So, he’s looking at his hand position, he’s trying to perfect his skill every time he’s out there.

“It’s not rocket science. They can learn to play, particularly when you’re a physical specimen.”

The 6-foot-3, 322-pound Tomlinson fits that description, but as someone whose aspirations include being a neurosurgeon.

In addition to playing each game of his career, Tomlinson also never missed a practice.

“He didn’t miss anything,” Cutcliffe said. “He managed himself in every area, socially, academically. You’re talking about a great lesson for young people — live right, work hard. Isn’t that the message we all try to send our children? Well, he sent it to a whole group of football players that we’re going to return to Duke.”

And after becoming one of the leaders, Cutcliffe explained his phone was “blowing up” in the green room at the NFL draft, with many of his players sending their best.

“The theme was nobody deserved it more than Laken,” he said.

With Tomlinson entrenched in Lions camp, and Cutcliffe preparing for Duke’s season, the two haven’t talked much. Cutcliffe said they’ve exchanged text messages in which he reminded Tomlinson earning a starting job — veteran Manny Ramirez is his competition — will be tougher in the NFL than it was at Duke.

“I just reminded him, ‘Everything you’re going through that’s hard right now, it’s going to have that right effect,’ ” Cutcliffe said. “But he knows he’s got to perform.”

Good day for a bus trip

After Detroit drafted Tomlinson, and Washington selected wide receiver Jamison Crowder and signed undrafted offensive tackle Takoby Cofield, Cutcliffe realized he’d be able to watch his former players play during the exhibition season.

With D.C. about 41/2 hours from Durham, N.C., Cutcliffe thought a bus trip would be a perfect opportunity for his players to support their former teammates and learn about U.S. history.

“When we saw this one (on the schedule), we jumped at it,” Cutcliffe said. “It was important to them to do it because of the relationships that they have with Laken and Jamison and Takoby.”

Extra points

Lance Moore didn’t play Thursday, after his wife delivered a girl, Graylee Mae, on Wednesday.

Calvin Johnson, LaAdrian Waddle, Haloti Ngata, Jason Jones, Joique Bell and Alex Carter were inactive for Detroit.

… Crowder, DeSean Jackson, Trent Williams, Frank Kearse, Jordan Reed, DeAngelo Hall, Bashaud Breeland, Will Compton, Junior Galette and Ryan Kerrigan were inactive for Washington.

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