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Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Poll: Top returning SEC offensive lineman

By Edward Aschoff

We're continuing to look at the future, as we take a glance at some of the big uglies returning in 2012.

The guys who get things started on offense and protect all those fragile quarterbacks deserve a little credit, don't ya think?

The SEC might be saying goodbye to a pretty good crop of offensive linemen, but next season won't lack much talent up front, either.

But who is the best one returning in 2012?

First, you have arguably the most versatile lineman in the country in Alabama's Barrett Jones, who found a way to play just about every position on the offensive line during Alabama's national championship run in 2011. Jones, who decided to return for his senior season, won the Outland Trophy last year as the nation's top interior lineman.

Jones is great, but one of his teammates might challenge him for the moniker of the SEC's top lineman. That lineman is tackle D.J. Fluker, who started 12 games at right tackle last season. At 6-6, 335 pounds, Fluker makes it hard for defensive linemen to get by him. Without Fluker anchoring the right side of the line, Alabama's offense wouldn't have had the success it did in 2011.

What about fellow SEC Western Division standout Alvin Bailey? Arkansas' young lineman really improved as the season went on. He was named to the All-SEC second team after a solid sophomore season with the Razorbacks and showed that he's one of the more athletic lineman around.

You also have Kentucky guard Larry Warford. The veteran has had a stellar career and was an All-SEC second team member in 2011. Kentucky's offense struggled mightily last season, but any team would love to have Warford blocking for it.

You also have youngster Chaz Green at Florida. The rising sophomore tackle was arguably Florida's most consistent lineman in 2011. While Florida's line struggled, Green made strides throughout the year and was named the No. 9 freshman overall by ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay.

With Alabama's William Vlachos and Georgia's Ben Jones departing, LSU center P.J. Lonergan will likely enter the year as the SEC's top center. He was banged up at times in 2011, but his teammates agreed that LSU's line is much better when he's in and healthy.

Then there's his teammate, rising junior Chris Faulk, who ranked third on the team with 73.5 knockdowns in 2011. He was a second team All-SEC member. He started 12 games at left tackle for the Tigers this season.

South Carolina guard A.J. Cann had a great freshman season for the Gamecocks and should become a bigger name among SEC offensive linemen during the offseason and next season.

And you also can't forget Vanderbilt's Wesley Johnson. He isn't the biggest lineman out there, but he certainly held his own on the Commodores' line in his second season. Johnson is another one of those youngsters who should really make some noise in 2012.