SEC: Alex Hurst

GeauxTigerNation links: Seniors exit

November, 15, 2012
Gary Laney writes Insider: LSU will say its goodbyes to its 14-man senior class in their last home game Saturday against Ole Miss. At most positions, the Tigers have replacements ready to step up and star.

Laney Insider: 5 storylines -- Ole Miss at LSU
What was supposed to be a major strength for LSU has turned into more of a ragtag unit.

LSU's offensive line had the makings to challenge Alabama's as being the nation's best, but injuries have forced Les Miles and his staff to mix and match up front. It hasn't always been pretty, but with three underclassmen starting in the win over South Carolina this past weekend, you could see some obvious growth from LSU's linemen.

Star left tackle Chris Faulk had already been lost for the season, while fellow starting tackle Alex Hurst, who moved from right tackle to left, has been away from the team dealing with personal issues. That left the Tigers with youngsters La'el Collins, Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander to pick up the slack.

And boy did they.

The Tigers beat up South Carolina's talented defensive front and gashed the Gamecocks for 258 rushing yards.

On Wednesday, Miles said that there wasn't a change in game plan when it came to the offensive line; it was just player improvement.

"We've tried to do some things that help us in protection," Miles said. "It really has not changed game plan.

"The shuffling certainly has been an issue, but we really think we're really getting quality play from some of our young players. I don't think it's affected game plan significantly and certainly not play call."

Miles said that he's unsure if Hurst will return to the team this year.

"I do not know the chances of him returning here to this point," he said.

That only opens the door for more playing time for LSU's younger linemen, which, if Saturday was any indication, might not be such a bad thing.

"To this point, we're running the stuff that we would plan to run," Miles said. "We may be a little different with the names and the numbers on the jerseys that are in there playing … but the productivity is something that we'll continue to expect to be at the level of LSU."

Anthony Johnson update

In a Sports Illustrated story discussing possible NCAA violations by former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, current defensive tackle Anthony Johnson was named as a player whose picture was used on fliers promoting a party, which could be considered an NCAA violation if he was aware his likeness was being used to promote something.

Miles said he has spoken to Johnson about the matter and Johnson assured him that he paid to get into a club, but that his likeness used to promote was done so without his permission. Johnson also told Miles that he asked for his picture to be taken off the fliers.

"What I'm told is our guys did the right things and did not participate in a planning stage or a promotional piece," Miles said.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 14, 2012
Let’s hand out the helmet stickers for Week 7 in the SEC:

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel: Proving yet again that he can make big plays with his arm and legs, Driskel did it Saturday with his legs in rushing for a career-high 177 yards and three touchdowns in Florida’s 37-17 win over Vanderbilt. His 70-yard touchdown run sealed the Gators’ sixth consecutive victory with 2 minutes, 20 seconds to play after the Commodores had pulled within a touchdown. Driskel also had touchdown runs of 37 and 13 yards.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze: Had Ole Miss held on last week to beat Texas A&M, Freeze would be getting some serious consideration for midseason Coach of the Year honors in the SEC. Still, it says volumes about the direction in which this program is headed that Ole Miss could come back from that bitter loss last week and spank Auburn 41-20 on Saturday to end the Rebels’ 16-game SEC losing streak. Freeze has this young team believing right now, and the Rebels have their sights set on a bowl trip in his first season.

LSU offensive line: The Tigers underwent another shakeup in their offensive line Saturday, as tackle Alex Hurst missed the game. Keep in mind that they’ve been playing without their best tackle, Chris Faulk, since the first week. None of that mattered against a South Carolina defensive line that was hailed as one of the best in the country. The Tigers won the battle up front all night in their 23-21 victory over the Gamecocks and paved the way for 258 rushing yards. Coming into the game, South Carolina was ranked second in the SEC against the run and was giving up just 83.8 yards per game.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel: They might as well start calling the SEC total offense record the “Johnny Football” record. He broke his own record Saturday in Texas A&M’s wild 59-57 win over Louisiana Tech with 576 yards in total offense. Manziel accounted for six touchdowns. He passed for 395 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 181 yards and three touchdowns. His final touchdown was a 72-yard romp to put the Aggies ahead 59-44 with 2:04 to play.

Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson: In only two and a half quarters, Wilson put up the kind of numbers a lot of quarterbacks would take over a three-game stretch. He was 23-of-31 for 372 yards and tied a school record with five touchdown passes in the weather-shortened 49-7 rout of Kentucky. He hit 10 different receivers and was 11-of-12 in the first quarter for 263 yards and three touchdowns. Wilson now has 14 touchdown passes in six games.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- As the Golden Band from Tigerland struck up LSU’s alma mater following the Tigers' dramatic 23-21 win over South Carolina, quarterback Zach Mettenberger and offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa couldn’t find enough people to hug.

With ear-to-ear grins, rosy cheeks and victory sweat running down their faces, the two stood a few yards from the mob of players raising their fists and helmets to the sky with each note that blared from above, and savored the moment, as gorilla-sized weights slid off their backs.

A week after their inept offense helped produce LSU’s first loss of the season, all seemed forgotten.

“Really, that’s what we should have been doing all year,” said Mettenberger, who finished Saturday night with 148 yards on 12-of-25 passing. “We knew we could do it.”

The Tigers didn’t do it with much style, but a week after being pushed around by Florida, LSU was the more physical team and grinded like the Tigers did in 2011.

The game plan that buried LSU in the Swamp benefited the Tigers on Saturday, as they wore out South Carolina’s defense by running 78 plays -- 28 more than last week -- which amounted to 406 yards. LSU pounded South Carolina’s vaunted defensive front with 258 rushing yards, with three running backs running up double-digit carry totals.

In a game in which the Tigers’ backs were firmly against the wall and any chance of winning the SEC West -- let alone winning the entire league -- would have been dashed with a loss, LSU stood tall with the kind of rugged offense and smothering defense that pushed it to 13 wins last season.

[+] EnlargeLSU's Jeremy Hill
Derick E. Hingle/US PRESSWIREJeremy Hill rushed 17 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns against South Carolina.
“Out team understands these type games,” coach Les Miles said.

“When we play like that, we are pretty good.”

LSU still has issues when it comes to consistently throwing the ball downfield, but it’s going to be tough to beat these Tigers when they run like that. The running game finally put this game into manageable third downs, as the Tigers converted seven of their first 10 third downs and finished the game 11-of-19 on third down.

Last week, the Tigers converted one of 13 third downs.

“The defense played great, and the offense got better,” Miles said.

And this was a total team effort. On Friday, there was a players-only meeting called. Feelings were aired out, and players left re-energized and focused, wide receiver Jarvis Landry said. It motivated a team in what was essentially a must-win situation.

“It really touched the hearts of the men that were in the room and it showed today,” Landry said.

“It was something that was overdue.”

Players said it was a chance for this group to come together more as a unit, and it showed most in how the offensive line played. Three underclassmen -- La'el Collins, Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander -- started, and left tackle Alex Hurst wasn’t even in the building as he deals with personal issues. Against one of the league’s best fronts, the makeshift line overpowered the Gamecocks.

It also showed in running back Jeremy Hill, the talented freshman who has seen limited action. With the Tiger Stadium lights beaming down and his team’s season in the balance, Hill served up the play of the day with his 50-yard touchdown run that gave LSU its late 23-21 lead in the fourth quarter. He nearly finished off the Gamecocks with that run, and finished the day with 124 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries.

“We kind of wore those guys down,” Hill said. “As the game went on, they got tired, so we just kept running downhill, hitting them hard, and eventually we were going to break one. That’s kind of what I did.”

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney seemed to agree.

“Some guys came out to play, but some guys didn’t,” he said. “It may have been because of injuries. It may be because they were scared.”

On Saturday, LSU’s offense delivered the blows, and the defense cleaned up the rest.

“They were just demolishing South Carolina’s defense,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “You can’t help but feed off of something like that.”

And that’s the way LSU has to play from here on out. The passing game is what it is, but the offensive line’s grit and the running game’s power will propel this team to its goals because it knows the defense will always have its back.

This was the game LSU needed, and it’s the type of game the Tigers intend to keep having.

“We gotta win out. That’s the big thing that we all know,” Landry said. “Every game for us is a national championship to us. It’s that type of mentality that we’re going to take every Saturday from here on out.”

Welcome to the Bayou

October, 13, 2012
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Greetings from Tiger Stadium. We have a big one between LSU and South Carolina.

Two top-10 teams and two very, very talented defenses will be going at it under the lights Saturday in one of college football's best environments.

The Tigers are limping in after that 14-6 loss to Florida, but interesting things happen under the lights in this place, and something tells me The Hat will have a few new things in store for the Gamecocks. It will be interesting to see how South Carolina deals with not just the crowd noise but with its own emotions after last week's blowout victory over Georgia.

This is South Carolina's first real road trip and the Tigers have their backs against the wall.

It'll be interesting to watch both of these offenses tonight. The Gamecocks have been very balanced and have one of the SEC's most efficient quarterbacks in Connor Shaw. That fractured shoulder hasn't been much of an issue at all. The Gamecocks will face their toughest test up front, and that is a concern for offensive-line coach Shawn Elliott. His line has been shaky at times this year, and the tackle spots are key. Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell will have their hands full with Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo going at them.

For LSU, the Tigers were already without top offensive lineman Chris Faulk and will now be without starting left tackle Alex Hurst, who continues to deal with personal issues. Josh Dworaczyk will start at left tackle, where he has really struggled. Trai Turner will also start for the injured Josh Williford at right guard, while Vadal Alexander will start at right tackle; both are freshmen. LSU will have three underclassmen starting on the offensive line ... with Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor and Kelcy Quarles to battle.

Talk about a lot of pressure up front ...

LSU could take another hit up front

October, 11, 2012
LSU’s offensive line was one of the strengths of the team a year ago in the Tigers’ run to the BCS National Championship Game.

But they haven’t been the same this season ever since losing left tackle Chris Faulk in September to a knee injury. And, now, it looks like they could be without their other tackle Saturday against No. 3 South Carolina.

Senior Alex Hurst, who had moved from right to left tackle for the past two games, is dealing with personal issues, according to Les Miles. It’s up in the air as to whether Hurst, who has missed practice time this week, will play against the Gamecocks.

Also, right guard Josh Williford is questionable after suffering a head injury last week in the loss to Florida. He still has to be cleared medically and is a game-time decision.

The Tigers have been searching for the right combination in the offensive line since losing Faulk, who was their best lineman and a potential first-round NFL draft pick.

This is not the week you want to be plugging new guys in up front and shuffling other guys around. South Carolina’s defensive line is one of the best in the country, and the Gamecocks’ two ends, Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, are super disruptive coming off the edge.

Just ask Georgia, which had no answers for them last week.

If Hurst can’t play Saturday, Miles said sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk would slide back in at left tackle. Dworaczyk started there in the 41-3 win over Washington, but has been a guard most of his career.

The other projected starters would be La’el Collins at left guard, P.J. Lonergan at center, Trai Turner at right guard and Vadal Alexander at right tackle.

Of that group, Collins and Lonergan were the only ones to start in the opener.

The Tigers gave up four sacks last week in the Florida loss and have given up 15 in six games, tying them for 10th in the league.

Lunchtime links

October, 11, 2012
I wonder how Chris will react when I leave the weekend with a four-game lead?
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If you didn't already know, line play is pretty important in the SEC.

Well, you're going to find out just how important it is today when Florida and LSU square off.

For the Gators, we've certainly seen an improved and more physical offensive line, but keep an eye on the left tackle spot. Xavier Nixon might be penciled in as the starter, but freshman D.J. Humphries could get a lot of time there today with the way Nixon has been playing. He's a talented youngster, but he'll have his hands full with Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.

LSU also has its own issues at left tackle. Replacing the injured Chris Faulk hasn't been easy. Veteran Josh Dworaczyk didn't exactly get the job done when he was there, so look for Alex Hurt to get more time there. And the Gators are going to try and bring a ton of pressure his way.

If these left tackles struggle, it'll be a long day for both teams' quarterbacks.

GeauxTigerNation links: O-line shuffling

September, 19, 2012
Gary Laney writes: Insider LSU opens SEC play at Auburn this weekend, and Jordan-Hare Stadium has been less than kind to the Bayou Bengals. LSU has lost five of its last six games at Auburn.

Laney: There has been some major shuffling along LSU’s offensive line, but coach Les Miles likes the way his players have responded. And it’s difficult to find issues with the production.

LSU must press on without Chris Faulk

September, 7, 2012
LSU will see its resiliency and depth tested yet again.

First, it was Tyrann Mathieu, the team's most dynamic playmaker on defense and special teams and a Heisman Trophy finalist from last season. Mathieu was dismissed from the team in August for repeated violations of the school's drug-testing policy for athletes.

The latest blow came on offense. Junior left tackle Chris Faulk injured his knee in practice this week, and multiple reports are now surfacing that it's ligament damage and that he could miss the entire season. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on Thursday that Faulk was "likely done for the 2012 season with a major knee injury that will require surgery and long-term rehabilitation."

The 6-foot-6, 323-pound Faulk was one of the Tigers' most athletic offensive linemen and a key in being able to block the never-ending stream of explosive edge pass-rushers you see in the SEC.

In fact, had you picked three or four players at the start of training camp that the Tigers could least afford to lose, Faulk would have been in that group along with Mathieu. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. had Faulk rated as the No. 3 junior offensive tackle in the country.

The Tigers have a couple of different ways they can go without Faulk. It's not like they haven't recruited well in the offensive line the past few years. The plan this Saturday against Washington is to start sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk at left tackle. LSU coach Les Miles said before the season that Dworaczyk would be the Tigers' utility man up front. Plugging in Dworaczyk means nobody else has to move, although just about all of Dworaczyk's game experience has been at guard.

Moving senior Alex Hurst from right tackle to left tackle is also something the Tigers will consider. Like Faulk, Hurst is an NFL draft prospect. Plus, moving Hurst would get promising true freshman Vadal Alexander on the field at right tackle.

Sophomore La'El Collins moved inside to guard last season after coming to LSU as a highly rated tackle prospect. He started at left guard in the opener, but is somebody else that could move to tackle if the Tigers have more injuries.

The good thing is that they have options, and they've shown in the past under Miles that they don't easily get off track even when they do lose key players.

When we did our preseason countdown on the SEC blog of the 25 best players in the league, Faulk checked in at No. 14 and Mathieu would have been in the top five had he not been kicked off the team.

Very few teams could get away with losing two players of that caliber (at those positions) this early in the season and still be a serious contender for the national championship.

LSU is one of those teams, although the Tigers' path to Miami just got a lot harder.

Lunchtime links

August, 31, 2012
The offenses weren't pretty last night in the SEC opener, but the rust is off and a game has been played. Now, bring on the weekend!
HOOVER, Ala. -- The 2012 SEC media days All-SEC team was announced Thursday, and LSU led the conference with the most first-team selections with seven. The media has voted for a preseason All-SEC team and predicted the order in which each team would finish since 1992.

It should be noted that the media has only picked the correct SEC champion four times since 1992. Those correct picks were Florida in 1994 and 1995, LSU in 2007 and Florida in 2008.

Here are some notes from the league on the All-SEC team:
    [+] EnlargeMarcus Lattimore
    Daniel Shirey/US PresswireSEC members are expecting big things this season for South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore.

  • The 222 voters is an all-time high for SEC media days. The previous high was 177 voters in 2010.
  • South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore was the leading vote-getter this season with 201 of 222 votes. He is the fourth running back in the past six years to be the highest vote-getter (2007 – Darren McFadden, Arkansas; 2008 – Knowshon Moreno, Georgia and Percy Harvin, Florida; 2009 – Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes, Florida; 2010 – Mark Ingram, Alabama; 2011 – Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina).
  • Lattimore (2012) and Jeffery (2011) have been the leading vote-getters the last two seasons.
  • Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones is a three-time member of the SEC media days first team
  • South Carolina has had a sophomore make the media days first team for the third straight season – Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina, DE (2012); Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina, RB (2011); Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, DB (2010).
  • Since 2000, Arkansas’ Darren McFadden is the only unanimous selection to the SEC media days All-SEC team, collecting all 80 votes.
  • LSU had the most first-team selections this season with seven. Since 1992, the most players on a first team were nine by Alabama in 2011 and eight by Alabama (2010) and Florida (2009).
  • LSU leads with the most overall selections this season with 13. The total is the second highest ever, behind Alabama’s 16 last season. Prior to last season, Alabama (2010) and Florida (2009) had the most overall selections with 12.
  • LSU is predicted to win the SEC championship by the media for the first time since 2007. It is the second time since 1992 that LSU has been predicted to win the league title. LSU did win the SEC title in 2007 and went on to win the BCS title.

Here is what the complete first team looks like:


QB: Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (127)
RB: Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (201)
RB: Knile Davis, Arkansas (118)
WR: Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee (106)
WR: Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas (67)
TE: Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn (158)
OL: D.J. Fluker, Alabama (171)
OL: Alex Hurst, LSU (125)
OL: Chance Warmack, Alabama (124)
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M (87)
C: Barrett Jones, Alabama (183)


DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (140)
DL: Barkevious Mingo, LSU (126)
DL: Sam Montgomery, LSU (124)
DL: Corey Lemonier, Auburn (102)
ILB: Nico Johnson (84)
OLB: Jarvis Jones, Georgia (178)
OLB: Sean Porter, Texas A&M (81)
DB: Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (184)
DB: Eric Reid, LSU (142)
DB: Robert Lester, Alabama (131)
DB: Bacarri Rambo, Georgia (126)


K: Caleb Sturgis, Florida (127)
P: Brad Wing, LSU (153)
RS: Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (159)
AP: Dennis Johnson, Arkansas (86)

For a look at all three teams check out the SEC's official website.

Here's the predicted order of finish for the SEC champion and the votes:

1. LSU - 129
2. Alabama - 65
3. Georgia - 14
4. South Carolina - 6
5. Arkansas - 4
6. Auburn - 2
7. Florida - 1
8. Ole Miss - 1

Predicted order by division:


1. Georgia (132)
2. South Carolina (72)
3. Florida (12)
4. Missouri (2)
5. Tennessee (4)
6. Vanderbilt
7. Kentucky


1. LSU (139)
2. Alabama (72)
3. Arkansas (6)
4. Auburn (4)
5. Texas A&M
6. Mississippi State
7. Ole Miss (1)
Earlier, we ranked all 14 SEC offensive line groups, so it's time to look at the league's top linemen.

Past rankings:
Here are our top 10 SEC offensive linemen:

1. Barrett Jones, Sr., Alabama: The reigning Outland Trophy winner is one of the most versatile lineman in college football. He played just about every position on Alabama's line last year and is moving to center this fall. He isn't the biggest lineman, but he's one of the toughest.

[+] EnlargeBarrett Jones
Sean Meyers/Icon SMIThe versatile Barrett Jones will move to center this fall to anchor Alabama's offensive line.
2. Chance Warmack, Sr., Alabama: He was overshadowed by Jones last year, but Warmack is an absolute stud. The athletic guard has great size, strength and mobility and some people at Alabama think he might be the best pro prospect on this extremely talented offensive line.

3. Luke Joeckel, Jr., Texas A&M: He isn't just a legit All-America candidate, as Joeckel could be a first-round pick in next year's NFL draft. He's very imposing at left tackle and should anchor the Aggies' solid line this year. He'll make whichever young quarterback that takes the starting job feel much more comfortable.

4. Chris Faulk, Jr., LSU: He started 13 games at left tackle last year and was one of the toughest linemen to beat in the conference, registering 73.5 knockdowns. He's very explosive, quick, powerful and is very effective in both pass protection and blocking in running situations.

5. D.J. Fluker, Jr., Alabama: He's Alabama's biggest offensive lineman, standing 6-foot-6 and weighing 335 pounds. Fluker probably deserved more attention than he received last year, but pro scouts are enamored by his athleticism and power. The right tackle is currently projected by many to be an early first-round pick in next year's NFL draft.

6. Alex Hurst, Sr., LSU: This will be his third straight year to start at right tackle for the Tigers. He registered 71.5 knockdowns last season, with 10.5 coming against Arkansas. The 6-6, 340-pounder isn't just a monster on the field, he's also one of LSU's top performers in the weight room.

7. Larry Warford, Sr., Kentucky: Warford has come a long way since his freshman year. He's been Kentucky's top lineman for the past couple of seasons and is rated high on a lot of NFL draft boards out there. He's an athletic and versatile player, who could line up at other positions if needed.

8. Alvin Bailey, Jr., Arkansas: He's the Hogs' most talented lineman and has started all 26 games of his Arkansas career. The right guard has been essential to helping Arkansas' running game, but he's also very good in pass protection. He was a second-team All-SEC member last year.

9. Gabe Jackson, Jr., Mississippi State: He's the linchpin of the Bulldogs' line and has 26 starts in his career. The left guard is easily Mississippi State's most gifted lineman and showed his worth over and over last season by being very consistent, even when the Bulldogs were forced to constantly reshuffle things up front.

10. Jake Matthews, Jr., Texas A&M: The son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, Jake Matthews will help solidify Texas A&M's side opposite Joeckel. He might have only been an All-Big 12 honorable mention last year, but with his impressive power and ability, he's a legit All-SEC candidate this fall.
Barrett JonesNed Dishman/Getty ImagesA move to center shouldn't slow Alabama's Barrett Jones, last season's Outland Trophy winner.
Our preseason SEC position rankings continue with the big uglies. The real muscle down in the trenches. Offensive lines are crucial in every level of football, but teams seriously do live and die by the play of their offensive lines in the SEC.

Past rankings:
On to the SEC's offensive line groups:

1. Alabama: Four starters return (with 95 combined starts), there's size, there's athleticism and this line just screams first-round NFL talent, starting with mammoth tackle D.J. Fluker and guard Chance Warmack. Reigning Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones is moving to center, but with his versatility he should excel there. Add former top recruit Cyrus Kouandjio at left tackle and this is arguably the country's top offensive line.

2. LSU: Like Alabama, this line is full of experience, as four starters return and so does Josh Dworaczyk, who was granted a sixth-year after a knee injury caused him to miss all of 2011. Some think he was LSU's best lineman before last season began. Tackles Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst are two of the best in the league and center P.J. Lonergan is tough to beat. Former highly-touted recruit La'El Collins should also contend for time this fall, too.

3. Texas A&M: This could be the strength of the team. Left tackle Luke Joeckel is a future first-rounder, while right tackle Jake Mathews has All-SEC potential. Senior center Patrick Lewis provides a very sturdy anchor in the middle. Guards Jarvis Harrison and Cedric Ogbuehi are young, but both got good experience last year, as Harrison started five games and Ogbuehi started six. Depth could be an issue, as most reserves are younger.

4. Arkansas: The Hogs have one of the better center-guard combos in the league in Travis Swanson and Alvin Bailey. Both have received preseason accolades and should be even better in 2012. Sophomore tackle Brey Cook came in with a lot of hype and if he develops in his second season, this line will be really good. Sophomore Mitch Smothers proved he can play just about anywhere and big left tackle Jason Peacock is back, but is still in the doghouse after his arrest this spring.

5. South Carolina: Replacing Rokevious Watkins at left tackle won't be easy, but the staff feels like redshirt freshman Brandon Shell might be the man for the job. He's incredibly talented and athletic and improved his blocking ability during his redshirt year. Center T.J. Johnson and guard A.J. Cann are coming off of solid seasons, but the right side has questions. Right tackle Mike Matulis started five games last year, but missed spring while recovering from shoulder surgery and right guard Ronald Patrick recorded zero starts last year.

6. Tennessee: The good news is that everyone is back. The bad news is this is the same line that was incredibly inconsistent last year in the run game, as Tennessee ranked 116th in rushing offense. However, the staff feels it has a better lineup with the emergence of sophomore Antonio Richardson at left tackle. Stud Dallas Thomas moves to left guard and Ja'Wuan James, who has started 25 games at right tackle, provides some good stability. The line has 99 combined starts and allowed just 18 sacks last year, but the proving ground with this group is establishing that it can come off the ball and be a better running team.

7. Missouri: The Tigers lost three starters from last year, but that doesn't mean Mizzou is without experience. Old man Elvis Fisher was granted a sixth year after last year's season-ending knee injury and will provide a major boost at left tackle. And three other linemen return with starting experience from last year: tackle Justin Britt, who took over Fisher's spot last year, and guards Jack Meiners and Travis Ruth. One thing to keep an eye on is the line's durability. The average weight of this group is roughly 295 pounds.

8. Auburn: Three starters return to a line that has a ton of young depth. Center Reese Dismukes is the anchor and one of the top centers in the league. Guard John Sullen and tackle Chad Slade combined for 21 starts last year. The staff really likes redshirt freshman Greg Robinson at left tackle and former top recruit Christian Westerman will compete for time after sitting out last year. Guard Eric Mack made strides this spring before he was shot near the hip during the tragic shooting that occurred near Auburn's campus in June.

9. Mississippi State: Injuries and constant reshuffling along the line caused the Bulldogs' offense to struggle for most of last season. Three starters are gone, but junior guard Gabe Jackson, who is one of the league's best, is back and so is right guard Tobias Smith. If Smith, who suffered a season-ending knee injury early last year, is healthy, this line should be very strong along the interior. Dillon Day started six games last year and returns at center, while junior college transfers Charles Siddoway and Dylan Holley are pushing for time.

10. Florida: The Gators return four starters to a line that struggled all last season. Will Muschamp said he saw vast improvement up front this spring, but tackles Xavier Nixon and Matt Patchan must show more consistency and leadership. Jonotthan Harrison is solid at center and guard Jon Halapio has improved each year. Sophomore tackle Chaz Green and impressive early enrollee D.J. Humphries will compete for time as well.

[+] EnlargeKenarious Gates
Radi Nabulsi/ Georgia may have O-line questions, but likely none concerning junior Kenarious Gates.
11. Georgia: Yet again the Bulldogs have questions up front. Junior Kenarious Gates is very versatile and athletic and is Georgia's most reliable lineman. The staff was pleased with guards Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette coming out of spring, but a lot is riding on sophomore David Andrews making it at center. If he has to move, Burnette will have to move to center and more reshuffling will come. Inexperience is worrisome and true freshman John Theus should get plenty of chances to take one of the tackle spots.

12. Vanderbilt: Thanks to offensive line coach Herb Hand, this group was one of the most improved in the league last year. He'll have a tall task again with a lot of youth and inexperience. Left tackle Wesley Johnson is one of the most underrated linemen out there, while Ryan Seymour has been solid up front. The right side has issues and the depth is a concern. Injuries made it tough for this line to get through spring practice, and six freshmen are coming in to compete for spots during fall camp.

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost three starters from a line that struggled throughout 2011, but vets Larry Warford and Matt Smith are back to provide a solid center-guard combo. However, they'll be asked to help a cluster of youngsters. The left side is gone and will be replaced by youngsters Zach West (redshirt freshman) and Darrian Miller (sophomore). Right tackle Kevin Mitchell started just one game last year. Any sort of injury up front would be devastating for the Cats.

14. Ole Miss: This is arguably the Rebels' weakest position. Hugh Freeze wasn't thrilled with the line this spring, continuing to say it didn't handle the offense's tempo well. Guard Matt Hall, who had double-digit starts last year, left the team this spring. Center Evan Swindall was Ole Miss' most consistent lineman this spring, while senior A.J. Hawkins moved to guard. Comfort was an issue for everyone, and the tackle spots were filled this spring by Emmanuel McCray, who missed all of last season, and JUCO transfer Pierce Burton.
The SEC has a nation-leading 19 players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which is awarded annually to the nation's best defensive player. Alabama leads the SEC with five players on the list, while LSU is second with four.

Here are all 19 SEC players on the Nagurski Trophy list:
For the complete Nagurski Trophy watch list, go here.

The SEC also leads the country with 19 players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, which is presented annually to the nation's top interior lineman. Alabama leads the SEC with four players on the list, including reigning Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones.

Here are all 19 SEC players on the Outland Trophy watch list:
For the full Outland Trophy watch list, go here.