You saw what a dominant offensive line could do in the most recent national championship game.
You saw it on Alabama’s first possession when the Crimson Tide took on the strength of Notre Dame’s defense, and basically took it apart play after play.
The outcome was obvious following that first touchdown drive. If its heralded defensive front seven couldn’t handle Alabama, what hope did Notre Dame have?
That’s what a dominant offensive line can do.
And therein lies the greatest hope for the upcoming Tennessee football season.
On a team where the question marks are large and numerous, the offensive line stands apart. It’s experienced, talented and well decorated.
It lost only one starter, Dallas Thomas, from last season and replaced him with Alex Bullard, who started all 12 games in 2011.
Four of its five starters all made at least third-team All-SEC.
“We’ve always said the team will go as far as the offensive line will go,” senior offensive guard Zach Fulton said.
So the Vols will climb onto the backs of Fulton, Bullard, Antonio Richardson, James Stone, and Ja’Wuan James and see just how far they can go.
It’s odd when you think about it.
Offensive lines — even successful ones — often do their work with little recognition. They are viewed as a complementary element to the “skill-position” players that surround them.
Sure, Alabama had a great offensive line last season. But what wasn’t great about the 2012 Tide? Its offense looked like an All-SEC team, with star players all over the place.
UT’s offensive stars are now limited to the line. They won’t knock a hole in an opposing defense and have an Eddie Lacy come roaring through.
And the Vols don’t have the kind of receivers and passer they had last season. They’re limited.
However, maybe if this offensive line is as good as its billing, it can push past some of those limitations.
That billing is based mainly on its pass protection in 2012. It led the SEC by allowing only eight sacks.
But Tennessee’s offensive line also distinguished itself against the best pass rushers on its schedule.
Much was made of Jadeveon Clowney’s game-deciding forced fumble in South Carolina 38-35 victory. The play was an aberration, though. South Carolina’s All-American defensive end was stifled for much of the game, thanks greatly to Richardson’s sterling play.
Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, who almost dismantled some offenses single handed, was even less of a factor than Clowney against the Vols.
More will be required of UT’s offensive line this season. The Vols need to be able to run the football better than last season when they ranked fourth in the conference in average rushing yards per carry.
“We want to have a 1,000-yard rusher,” Fulton said.
Although the Vols don’t have any All-SEC candidates in their backfield, a 1,000-yard rusher isn’t a farfetched goal for a line of this caliber.
The greater goal is a winning season. As good as these linemen have become, that would be a first.
So you can understand why they wouldn’t have a preference for how they succeed — whether it’s through pass protection or run blocking.
“Whatever works,” Fulton said.