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SEC 2015: Tennessee's O-Line Looks Set To Make Major Strides

The Volunteers' elite recruiting class included some talented offensive linemen.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee hype train is real. Butch Jones's team has become a popular pick to win the SEC East, something the Vols have not accomplished since 2007.

The play of signal caller Joshua Dobbs will be scrutinized, the utilization of running back Jalen Hurd will be analyzed, and the production of a promising wide receiving corps will be discussed.

Nonetheless, the offensive line will need to improve upon a dismal showing in 2014 if this team is going to live up to the lofty expectations. Tennessee allowed an alarming 43 sacks last season, far and away the most in the conference (Kentucky had the second-most at 34). Yes, that is over three sacks conceded per game. Arkansas was on the opposite end of the spectrum with just 14 sacks given up all season.

The Vols also allowed nearly eight tackles for loss per game in 2014. Wake Forest was the only FBS team to post a more disappointing average in that category. Tennessee was sandwiched between Kentucky and Florida in the total offense department last season, averaging 370.5 yards per game. This is fairly decent output from the offense considering the fact that the O-line struggled mightily.

Dobbs appears to be a star in the making, but his upside has obviously been somewhat limited by subpar O-line play. If this group makes noticeable improvements in both zone and man blocking, this could become one of the most dynamic offenses in the country.

Tennessee received some very disappointing news about redshirt senior Marcus Jackson, as the left guard will possibly miss the entirety of the 2015 campaign. Austin Sanders could slide into the starting role, but let's not forget about the freshmen who will be pushing for playing time on an O-line that has desperately needed bolstering of late.

Freshman left tackle Drew Richmond is straight-up enormous (6'5"/323), and he has the power to finish his blocks with ferocity. The injury to Jackson means that some reconfiguring of the O-line is a necessity. LT Kyler Kerbyson started all 13 games last season, but he also featured at LG and RT. Kerbyson has proven he is capable of playing at both tackle and guard, but Richmond could potentially be a fit at both positions as well. An offensive tackle in high school, Richmond could find a home as an offensive guard in the collegiate ranks.

Jack Jones and Venzell Boulware are both four-star prospects who could also contribute right away on this O-line. The Vols' offensive line resembles a game of musical chairs at the moment, especially in the immediate aftermath of the Jackson injury. Jones and Boulware could see quite a bit of game action this season, assuming fall camp goes well for them. Jones is an in-state talent who may not start right away but could earn playing time if he proves he is polished enough. Regardless of what happens in 2015, Jones looks like a future mainstay on the line, perhaps at offensive guard. Like Jones, Boulware may not be a starter on Saturdays in 2015. But who really knows? Offensive lines are constantly undergoing remodeling, and Boulware might just get his shot.

The O-line is never a glamorous position group, but Tennessee's big boys up front have the opportunity to lead the way, quite literally, for the Vols this season.