The Vols lost a bevy of talented starters off their 2016 roster this offseason. Gone are players like Derek Barnett, Josh Dobbs, Cam Sutton, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin who made dozens and dozens of starts in their Tennessee careers. Almost every unit returns less experience this season than it had last year.
But there’s one unit for Tennessee that doesn’t have that problem. And it’s one of the most experienced units in all of college football.
According to data compiled by college football analyst Phil Steele, the Vols’ offensive line returns the second-most starts in the entire FBS. Tennessee’s combined 111 starts by their various offensive linemen is second only to San Jose State’s 125 starts. The Vols have the most experienced offensive line in the entire SEC, and Auburn comes in a close second with 106 returning starts. The closest SEC East team is South Carolina with 98 returning starts along the offensive line. Mississippi State hast the fewest returning combined starts among their offensive linemen with just 30.
Senior guard Jashon Robertson has the most starting experience of the Vols’ returning offensive linemen with 34 career starts over three seasons. Senior Coleman Thomas returns with 26 career starts, redshirt senior Brett Kendrick with 19, and junior Chance Hall with 13.
Experience doesn’t always equal quality production, however. The Vols’ offensive line has been much-maligned over the last few seasons, and this season is a make-or-break year for the unit, especially considering the amount of experience it returns. Tennessee’s offensive line will be counted on to be one of the more consistent units this season because of their lack of youth. Even if ballyhooed five-star freshman Trey Smith manages to start as a true freshman, he will still be surrounded by experienced veterans ready to help out or step up if he can’t get the job done.
The Vols may not return a ton of experience overall as a team, but the offensive line is one place where Tennessee knows what it has with its roster. Now that unit just needs to produce as expected.