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May 25, 2012

Breaking down the offensive tackles

After taking over a roster largely bereft of depth at key positions, Derek Dooley's systematic overhaul two-plus years ago began first and foremost with his offensive line.

As noted in our Wednesday breakdown of the line's interior, the Vols have no more experienced and talent-laden group than their offensive linemen. It's hard not to think there will ultimately be multiple NFL draft picks from the group, and specifically first-day draft picks at the tackles position.

Ja'Wuan James quietly had as fine a spring as anyone, and Antonio Richardson is, well, superstar potential at his position.

Focusing on the key protectors of Tyler Bray and the guys playing the closest thing to a glamour position on the offensive line, we continue our positional breakdown with a look at the offensive tackles.

Breaking down the OT's:
Starter: Ja'Wuan James, right tackle, 6-6, 320, JR

Improved: Already a solid technician, James showed improved ability to physically dominate this spring.

Summer target: Gifted and experienced, James could really be a strong leader if he can tap into that intangible factor of his game.

Starter: Antonio 'Tiny' Richardson, left tackle, 6-6, 330, SO

Improved: Adapted quickly to being a starter and protecting Tyler Bray's blindside in spring camp.

Summer target: It's simply about comfort level and ease of knowledge in the system. Richardson can dominate; he would tell you he needs sometimes to slow down and take a deep breath.

Backups: Kyler Kerbyson, Alan Posey

Improved: Kerbyson - redshirt season was a huge benefit for Kerbyson, who so often dominated at Knox Catholic, to learn to play with greater strength and technique; Posey - similar to Kerbyson and also hugely benefited from being reshaped by strength coach Ron McKeefery.

Summer target: Kerbyson --- It's a tough spot because of the talent and experience in front of him, but Kerbyson --- who spent time this spring at guard and tackle --- needs to just focus on do everything in his power to be ready in the Vols' rotation or if an injury should arise. Posey is much more physically ready to contribute if needed than a year ago. He's stronger, has slimmed down to a more effective size and like Kerbyson, just has to try and maximize whatever reps and opportunities he gets.

Ja'Wuan James - James was one of the youngest Vols when he enrolled in school mid-term two years ago and quickly earned a starting spot going into his rookie season. Now 25 starters later, James is still a young junior but perhaps more than ever seems primed for a breakout season. He really excelled this spring in adding a new level of physical play to his game, and he's always been sound technically. James has had few penalties his first two years as a starter. It's reasonable to project a big year for James that could include a decision about early entry into the 2013 NFL Draft.

Antonio 'Tiny' Richardson -- Quite possibly the most overall talented player at any position on the Vols' roster. Richardson has remarkable power and athleticism for a man with the obvious misnomer of 'Tiny.' The consensus is that Richardson is headed toward an eventual first-round draft selection as long as he continues his progression. He won't get outworked, and he's a very, very well-liked player on the team. Dooley referred to as much multiple times this spring. Richardson just is a natural leader, and the Vols need their offensive line to be a position that sets the tone physically on the field and mentally with their leadership.

Kyler Kerbyson There haven't been enough redshirts on Tennessee's roster the past couple of years; a lack of depth simply wouldn't allow it. But Kerbyson, an extremely intelligent player, benefited greatly from being able to use his initial season of college football to sit out, learn and get stronger. He still needs to continue getting stronger, and he can help his case for more immediate playing time by continuing to show a willingness to play either guard or tackle. Gaining continued comfort in the playbook and continuing to build off the benefits of his time in the weight room are keys for Kerbyson moving forward.

Alan Posey - Posey trimmed down to 317 after a year with McKeefery, and the benefits were obvious in spring camp. The Athens, Ga., native moved better, showed improved stamina and also like Kerbyson much stronger and more prepared for the physical battles inherent along the trenches in the SEC. Posey has just got to continue his physical transformation. He owns a really good personality for playing in the trenches and isn't afraid to do the dirty work. Like Kerbyson, it's about doing everything he can to position himself to be a contributor for both depth and in case of injury in 2012.



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