- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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The SEC preseason position rankings roll on today with a look at the offensive lines.
Arkansas: Bret Bielema didn’t put his line on the cover of the team’s media guide for nothing. In his program, they are the rock stars, not the skill players. And with good reason. The only starter they lose is Brey Cook, and Frank Ragnow is a more-than-capable replacement. Dan Skipper, Sebastian Tretola and Denver Kirkland all have NFL potential. The line will average just shy of 328 pounds per player.
Georgia: They helped make Todd Gurley a star. When Gurley went down, they turned Nick Chubb into a phenomenon. It’s a wonder Georgia’s line doesn’t get more credit, but they will here. With four of five starters back, including standout tackle John Theus, they show no signs of stopping. The only thing keeping Georgia from being No. 1 on this list is its ongoing task of replacing longtime starting center David Andrews.
Auburn: Here’s another team without its longtime starting center. But, again, though Reese Dismukes is gone, there is a lot to like here. Shon Coleman, Devonte Danzey and Avery Young are back as starters, and Alex Kozan returns from injury. Former Ole Miss standout Austin Golson appears to be a good fit at center and Braden Smith will push for a starting job.
LSU: You talk about powerful lines. Here’s one. Vadal Alexander, who passed up the NFL draft, is only the tip of the spear. Jerald Hawkins is back at tackle and Ethan Pocic is back and capable of playing all five positions. Les Miles called projected center Josh Boutte, "The biggest man I’ve ever known."
Alabama: Alabama has what amounts to two cornerstone players in left tackle Cam Robinson and center Ryan Kelly. Robinson, though just a sophomore, is one of the most talented linemen in football. And when it comes to Kelly, you can’t discount the value of a fifth-year senior at center. But other than those two, there are question marks given the inexperience of Bradley Bozeman, Ross Pierschbacher and Dominick Jackson.
Texas A&M: The Aggies have a pretty good core of starters, too, with Mike Matthews, Joseph Cheek and Germain Ifedi all back. Who starts at left tackle is a concern, but the biggest reason for optimism is new offensive line coach Dave Christensen, who is said to be emphasizing toughness for a line that has been accused of playing soft in recent years.
Missouri: Remember what we said about experienced centers being invaluable? That applies to Missouri’s Evan Boehm, who might be the most experienced lineman in the conference with 39 starts. But the Tigers have two other starters back: Connor McGovern and Taylor Chappell. Nate Crawford holds promise at right tackle, but there could be growing pains for the former defensive lineman.
Ole Miss: The depth is better than in years past, but the Rebels' line is still top-heavy. Laremy Tunsil is arguably the best tackle in the country, but he can’t play all five positions. Fahn Cooper has yet to break through at right tackle and center is still unsettled with Ben Still as the front-runner. Guard Justin Bell has experience, but Aaron Morris has health concerns.
South Carolina: Forget the quarterback issues. Who is going to block now that A.J. Cann and Corey Robinson are gone? Their best piece, Brandon Shell, has moved from right to left tackle. Their projected right tackle, Mike Matulis, has had three shoulder injuries and recently had his ACL repaired. The good news? Center Alan Knott, who struggled last season, was one of the most improved players this spring.
Mississippi State: The offensive line, more than anything else, should be Mississippi State's biggest concern. Not the loss of Josh Robinson at tailback and not the overhauled defense. With Ben Beckwith, Dillon Day and Blaine Clausell all gone, the offensive line is starting over. Only a pair of Justins -- Justin Malone and Justin Senior -- are back. Devon Desper and Jamaal Clayborn and Rufus Warren have varying degrees of inexperience.
Kentucky: The Wildcats gave up too many sacks and negative rushing plays last season, but coaches insist they're on an upward trajectory with four starters back and help on the way through recruiting. One such newcomer is George Asafo-Adjei, who has the potential to start as a true freshman. He might be only 18, but at 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds, he's physically mature.
Tennessee: Losing Marcus Jackson with an injury was not the way to start preseason camp. Not when you allowed an SEC-worst 43 sacks a season ago. But coaches are optimistic about the line’s ability to retool thanks to its success recruiting. Freshmen Jack Jones, Charles Mosley and Drew Richmond could all make the starting lineup.
Florida: Trip Thurman is back and ... no one else. Though the quarterback situation isn’t ideal, coach Jim McElwain didn’t inherit the best situation on the offensive line as four of the starters from a year ago were drafted by the NFL. If David Sharpe can live up to expectations at left tackle and true freshman Martez Ivey can play beyond his years at the other tackle spot, that will be a start.
Vanderbilt: With concerns about who starts at quarterback, the Commodores must improve the running game. And that starts up front with a line that produced a league-worst 109.2 rushing yards per games last season. The good news? Four of five starters are back, including senior center Spencer Pulley.
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1145dEdward Aschoff and Chris Low