Vols aiming to have nation's top offensive line

University of Tennessee offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James hands a football to head coach Butch Jones before the team picture during media day at Neyland Stadium, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

University of Tennessee offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James hands a football to head coach Butch Jones before the team picture during media day at Neyland Stadium, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

In this photo taken on Aug. 3, 2013, Tennessee offensive lineman Antonio Richardson attends NCAA college football practice in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

In this photo taken on Aug. 3, 2013, Tennessee offensive lineman Antonio Richardson attends NCAA college football practice in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

In this photo taken on Aug. 3, 2013, Tennessee offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James takes part in practice with the NCAA college football team in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

In this photo taken on Aug. 3, 2013, Tennessee offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James takes part in practice with the NCAA college football team in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

In this photo taken on Aug. 3, 2013, Tennessee offensive lineman Antonio Richardson takes part in NCAA college football practice in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

In this photo taken on Aug. 3, 2013, Tennessee offensive lineman Antonio Richardson takes part in NCAA college football practice in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

In this photo taken on March 9, 2013, Tennessee offensive line coach Don Mahoney instructs players Marques Pair, left, Zach Fulton, Ja'Wuan James, James Stone, and Alex Bullard during the NCAA college football team's practice in Knoxville, Tenn.  (AP Photo/Knoxville New Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

In this photo taken on March 9, 2013, Tennessee offensive line coach Don Mahoney instructs players Marques Pair, left, Zach Fulton, Ja'Wuan James, James Stone, and Alex Bullard during the NCAA college football team's practice in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Knoxville New Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's offensive linemen savor the challenge they're facing and the attention they're receiving.

The Volunteers return four starters from a line that allowed only eight sacks last season. Because Tennessee lacks star power at the skill positions, offensive tackles Antonio "Tiny" Richardson and Ja'Wuan James rank alongside linebacker A.J. Johnson as the Volunteers' most recognizable names.

Richardson and James are part of the line that leads an offense without much experience anywhere else. The Vols have a new starting quarterback and must replace first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson and second-round selection Justin Hunter in the receiving corps.

"It's a lot of responsibility, but the biggest thing is there's not any pressure," Richardson said. "We've been together so long, the cohesiveness is there."

Richardson, a junior, is the line's lone non-senior starter and a potential first-round draft pick. James has started every game since he arrived on campus. Center James Stone has 27 career starts. Guard Zach Fulton has started 29 games. Alex Bullard, a Notre Dame transfer who started 12 games in 2011 and primarily worked as a reserve last year, replaces Miami Dolphins third-round draft pick Dallas Thomas at the other guard spot.

Stone says they want to establish themselves as the best offensive line in the country. Teammates believe that's a realistic goal.

"They look like what everyone perceives them to be," running back Rajion Neal said. "They're animals. They're straight beasts up front. That's what we need, and that's what we're going to depend on."

North Texas and Middle Tennessee were the only Football Bowl Subdivision teams to allow fewer sacks than Tennessee last year, yet the Vols didn't have a single lineman earn first-team all-Southeastern Conference honors from the league's media or coaches.

Tennessee's linemen are getting much more attention now, but additional accolades will come with more victories. The Vols open the season Aug. 31 against Austin Peay.

"There is a chip on their shoulder with everything," offensive line coach Don Mahoney said. "So much has been made about each guy and their skill set, what they've done and how talented they are. But still, in the end, as I've told them, it boils down to us as a team, as a school, as a program, all those things. They get that."

Tennessee's new coaching staff is finding ways to make sure this group doesn't get caught up in preseason acclaim. Mahoney said the line must start creating running room as well as it protects the quarterback.

His linemen have taken heed.

"It's always great to keep the quarterback clean, but it's only half of the job, as everybody knows," Stone said. "I feel like this year it's an opportunity to go back there and prove we can run block as well as pass block."

At one point in training camp, Tennessee coach Butch Jones complained that "too many people want to crown" the linemen and said they "need to step it up." Just a few days later, Jones was marveling at how quickly and thoroughly they had responded to his message.

"They responded like I thought they would," Jones said. "They're very prideful."

Now they're ready to respond to suggestions that Tennessee will struggle to end a string of three straight losing seasons. The senior linemen have endured two coaching changes and plenty of upheaval. The one thing they haven't experienced is a winning season at Tennessee.

They're ready to change that.

"We've got to make the most of this," James said. "This is our last four months playing on the same team. It feels like we've been here forever playing together. So we're just trying to go out there each day in practice and work on something... so we can have no regrets at the end of the day."

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Comments » 31

wigmeister writes:

Can't wait to watch them work!

VFL_Troll_Patrol writes:

I know Josh Dobbs is just a freshman who needs more time to bulk up, but I wish I could see him start! The O Line should help a lot too. Im hoping that this will help generate more offense too. With the new pro style fast paced offense. GBO

*Im always watching*

UT Fan Videos at:
http://www.youtube.com/user/BudrayJef...

AWOLVol writes:

We have these five who could start for just about anybody in the nation. When we were a dominant offense, we had eight or ten who could start for anyone in the nation. These five guys are great. I just hope we're developing quality depth behind them because they can't do it all on every offensive snap of the season. Not to mention all five of these guys will be gone next year (assuming Richardson bolts). We need these guys to not only be great linemen during games, but great mentors to the younger guys coming up behind them.
From what we know of them, they sound like just the guys for that kind of mentoring.

GO VOLS!!!

td writes:

The performance the offensive line and running backs (plus injury avoidance from key contributors at any position) will seal the fate of Team 117. A dominant running game can dictate tempo from "milk the clock" to "relentless play-after-play smash mouth." If this line can open holes, and if the RB's can protect the ball, and if they can get it going downhill series after series, no defense can survive that degree of punishment. That type of play is the essence of pure football -- physical dominance of your opponent destroying their will to continue with them praying the clock would speed up and end the torture.

snowpeapod#263184 writes:

One of the best groups, individually and collectively, to ever wear the orange & white. This group will be remembered for years to come. IMO

murrayvol writes:

Here's hoping we can find some skill people to take advantage of what these guys can do. GBO

FearTheVols1252 writes:

On the flip side of this coin, I've got to believe that practicing against this group all the time will make our Dline that much better. Some damage will be done in the trenches this year.

NINEisgonnabeFINE writes:

It won't matter. On September 17th, this offensive line is going to get blown away. Fowler, Powell, and Easley are gonna have a field day. This is not the team or the atmosphere you want your inexperienced QB making his SEC debut against. Especially after coming back from the west coast against a power like Oregon. Games three and four are gonna be ugly. Sorry if this hurts your kool-aid filled heart.

EIGHT!

Snapshot writes:

in response to NINEisgonnabeFINE:

It won't matter. On September 17th, this offensive line is going to get blown away. Fowler, Powell, and Easley are gonna have a field day. This is not the team or the atmosphere you want your inexperienced QB making his SEC debut against. Especially after coming back from the west coast against a power like Oregon. Games three and four are gonna be ugly. Sorry if this hurts your kool-aid filled heart.

EIGHT!

Are you just a natural born a-hole or do you have to work at it? The Vols are certainly in your head for some reason.

Theo writes:

in response to Snapshot:

Are you just a natural born a-hole or do you have to work at it? The Vols are certainly in your head for some reason.

Given the ease with which he achieves this state, I'd say natural born. Pretty much like most gator fans-new money, classless, clueless.

Razzle writes:

in response to NINEisgonnabeFINE:

It won't matter. On September 17th, this offensive line is going to get blown away. Fowler, Powell, and Easley are gonna have a field day. This is not the team or the atmosphere you want your inexperienced QB making his SEC debut against. Especially after coming back from the west coast against a power like Oregon. Games three and four are gonna be ugly. Sorry if this hurts your kool-aid filled heart.

EIGHT!

Who???

orangecountyvols writes:

Vols,

This is going to be quite a line.

Another "line" is this idiot troll, Nine is a bonafide loser". The troll is just like the others, gets up in the morning, heads to the computer having nothing else to do.........and babbles his jealousy out on GoVolsExtra. Yes,
the ultimate obsession with something........these trolls with their envy with Tennessee.

123forVOLS writes:

I hope they are and the rbs exploit those big openings for big gains and tds. We will need them. Go Vols!

south_alabama_vol writes:

in response to NINEisgonnabeFINE:

It won't matter. On September 17th, this offensive line is going to get blown away. Fowler, Powell, and Easley are gonna have a field day. This is not the team or the atmosphere you want your inexperienced QB making his SEC debut against. Especially after coming back from the west coast against a power like Oregon. Games three and four are gonna be ugly. Sorry if this hurts your kool-aid filled heart.

EIGHT!

Louisville didn't have any trouble with them

GONAVY writes:

Last year, we heard the Vols line would be the most dominant line in the SEC..

NINEisgonnabeFINE writes:

in response to south_alabama_vol:

Louisville didn't have any trouble with them

Louisville had a real QB.

UK didn't.

:)

CroKev writes:

in response to NINEisgonnabeFINE:

Louisville had a real QB.

UK didn't.

:)

What does Kentucky have to do with it? Really, man, you're starting to lose it...

Vol43 writes:

in response to murrayvol:

Here's hoping we can find some skill people to take advantage of what these guys can do. GBO

Exactly. Our offensive line should be very good. It all begins with a good foundation, the offensive line. I think Coach Butch and company are gonna have these guys ready to go. No more second half meltdowns.

clemvol writes:

Looks to me like a year coming with great anticipation. Great offensive line, unknowns in most or all the skill positions, unproven leader at quarterback and a defense that no one knows what will happen. I know that there are a lot of folks that are concerned about quarterback, receiver, and running back but there has never been a team that has instant experience. You have to start somewhere so just calm down and enjoy every game and the season. This year is going to be fun. P.S. I still say 7 wins. GO VOLS

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

A great offensive line will only help their cause. Here's to much success in 2013..GBO!!

Central_IL_Vol writes:

in response to NINEisgonnabeFINE:

It won't matter. On September 17th, this offensive line is going to get blown away. Fowler, Powell, and Easley are gonna have a field day. This is not the team or the atmosphere you want your inexperienced QB making his SEC debut against. Especially after coming back from the west coast against a power like Oregon. Games three and four are gonna be ugly. Sorry if this hurts your kool-aid filled heart.

EIGHT!

"On September 17th, this offensive line is going to get blown away." By whom? That's a Tuesday, MORON! You must hitting the booze in your momma's cabinet again!

Blow it out your ARSE, UFAG Gator BOTTOM-FEEDING TROLL!

GO VOLS!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to GONAVY:

Last year, we heard the Vols line would be the most dominant line in the SEC..

Well, are you suggesting that Vandy has a better line, or that more OL will be drafted by the NFL?

BTKidd writes:

in response to orangecountyvols:

Vols,

This is going to be quite a line.

Another "line" is this idiot troll, Nine is a bonafide loser". The troll is just like the others, gets up in the morning, heads to the computer having nothing else to do.........and babbles his jealousy out on GoVolsExtra. Yes,
the ultimate obsession with something........these trolls with their envy with Tennessee.

They have beaten us 8 straight times. If you didn't keep enabling incompetent coaches and giving your award "losing" football advice, maybe we might start beating these teams. Then and only then will they stop infiltrating this site. They stayed away only after UT took my softvol advice and subsequently waxed them in the tournament this year.

Vol43 writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Well, are you suggesting that Vandy has a better line, or that more OL will be drafted by the NFL?

Hey BB wuts up? Me and the wife at the Bearskin lodge in gburg. One last vacation weekend before football. This gonavy guy. I've seen him here before and I thought he may have served like you and I but he's nutin more than a stupid dore. We're gonna kick the livin poop out of those guys and I can't wait. Frankin is a jerk and his mouth is gonna do him in. Can you imagine wut a butt he's gonna make of himself this year especially in Knoxville?

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to Vol43:

Hey BB wuts up? Me and the wife at the Bearskin lodge in gburg. One last vacation weekend before football. This gonavy guy. I've seen him here before and I thought he may have served like you and I but he's nutin more than a stupid dore. We're gonna kick the livin poop out of those guys and I can't wait. Frankin is a jerk and his mouth is gonna do him in. Can you imagine wut a butt he's gonna make of himself this year especially in Knoxville?

Not much going on this side of state. Grilling some rib-eyes for my family and waiting for KO weekend. Take care friend & GBO!!

edee writes:

Pride of the Southland got the fans rockin on Rocky Top at BRISTOL, Baby. Go BIG ORANGE......No GRAY in Bristol..Guess it's Jones' time next Saturday....Is there real competition first game...let's hope not

jaydubuc writes:

in response to NINEisgonnabeFINE:

It won't matter. On September 17th, this offensive line is going to get blown away. Fowler, Powell, and Easley are gonna have a field day. This is not the team or the atmosphere you want your inexperienced QB making his SEC debut against. Especially after coming back from the west coast against a power like Oregon. Games three and four are gonna be ugly. Sorry if this hurts your kool-aid filled heart.

EIGHT!

They may get whipped out west, but there is no way the Gators are gonna have a field day with this o-line. If the Vols lose to them, it won't be by much. So you continue your delusional thoughts till UT comes to town.

BreatheUT writes:

in response to south_alabama_vol:

Louisville didn't have any trouble with them

Florida was overrated last year and Louisville proved it with their 2-star and 3-star talent dragging Florida up and down the field in the bowl game.

DeltaCharlie3 writes:

in response to snowpeapod#263184:

One of the best groups, individually and collectively, to ever wear the orange & white. This group will be remembered for years to come. IMO

Really, remembered for what? As a line that had a career losing record and never went to a bowl game?

UTAlum88 (Inactive) writes:

ESPN saying Worley is our starting QB next Saturday...
http://espn.go.com/college-football/s...

VolsFanInAfghanistan writes:

in response to DeltaCharlie3:

Really, remembered for what? As a line that had a career losing record and never went to a bowl game?

There you are DC3, I was wondering when you'd show back up in here to talk phooey about us. I guess this means you'll be bringing your other VOL hating buddies alone with you? I look forward to your insight into college football and how we should have, could have, would have. I guess you and Forbes Ford or whatever his name is today will enjoy sipping on moonshine and laughing it up. These gentlemen that wore the orange and white for 4 years and stuck it out should be remembered for playing with their heart and soul regardless of going to bowl game as you say. Theres more to them than you think. Honor, Courage, Commitment to the University of Tennessee. What do you know about any of that?

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