SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic has continually listed Tennessee’s offensive line as the second-best O-line in the SEC entering the 2020 season. On Monday afternoon, the former Auburn offensive lineman took it a step further and named Tennessee the fourth-best offensive line in the entire country.
In Cubelic’s list of the five best offensive lines in the country that he tweeted out on Monday, only Alabama, Ohio State, and Notre Dame were ranked higher than the Vols. Oklahoma, Tennessee’s Week 2 opponent, rounded out the bunch at No. 5.
MY top 5 CFB OL’s for 2020: pic.twitter.com/MYzHJmNpXI
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) June 22, 2020
The Vols return a combined 97 starts along the offensive line for the 2020 season. Senior Trey Smith, Cubelic’s top returning guard in the SEC, will anchor the line alongside sixth-year senior Brandon Kennedy. Cubelic recently ranked Kennedy as the third-best center in the conference. The Vols benefited from having the same left guard/center combo all of last season, and that will remain the case in 2020 after Smith turned down the NFL and Kennedy received his sixth-year waiver.
Georgia transfer Cade Mays will help Smith and Kennedy anchor the interior of the line assuming he’s granted immediate eligibility. Mays’ skill-set and style of play best fit at the guard position, where he’ll likely slide in at right guard opposite of Smith.
Rising sophomores Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright are expected to anchor the tackle positions at left tackle and right tackle, respectively. Morris is coming off of offseason hip surgery, but he started 12 of the Vols’ 13 games last season as a true freshman and earned Freshman All-SEC honors. Wright struggled down the stretch due to an ankle injury, but he’s expected to play a key role along the line this year after receiving significant playing time as a freshman.
Redshirt senior Jahmir Johnson, redshirt junior K’Rojhn Calbert, junior Jerome Carvin, and senior Riley Locklear all have starting experience as well. Each player will play a significant role along the line as they provide key depth pieces, and Calbert or Johnson could even challenge for a starting position this season.
Last season, the Vols took steps forward along the offensive line, especially as the season went on. Tennessee went from allowing 92 tackles for loss and 23 sacks in 12 games in 2018 to 69 tackles for loss and 21 sacks in 13 games in 2019. Along with that, the Vols’ rushing attack went from averaging just 3.7 yards a carry in 2018 to 4.1 yards an attempt in 2019.
Those are modest improvements, but Tennessee’s offensive line went from undeniably the biggest weakness on the offensive side of the ball in 2017 and 2018 to actually proving to be an asset over the last month-plus of the season in 2019.
Now, Cubelic expects the Vols’ O-line to take another step forward and be one of the best in the nation in 2020.