July 17, 2013
By Brian Rice
HOOVER, Ala. -- The offensive line is expected to be the strength of the Tennessee Volunteers in 2013, and that strength was put on full display for the first time on Wednesday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey as the Vols met the 1,200 assembled media at the SEC Football Media Days.
Senior Ja'Wuan James made his second trip to Hoover to meet the media as the established leader of the unit that has been rated by some in the media as one of the top offensive lines in the country. James, who has started all 37 games in his Tennessee career, said he and his linemates relish the opportunity to provide the leadership role for the 2013 Volunteers.
"We are the group with the most experience and I like that," James said. "The young guys can look to us and it's on our shoulders to build confidence in them. I've been trying all offseason to build the confidence in the younger guys, and they've been doing a good job of maturing and stepping up. Their opportunity is now and I think they're ready to go out there and prove it."
Junior Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, another anchor of the Vol line, also relishes the leadership role his unit has been given.
"It all starts with leadership," Richardson said. "That starts with our line because we have the most experience on the team."
Growing into the team's most experienced collection of athletes has been a long process, and it hasn't always been an easy one. Both players reflected on the struggles as the line gelled over the past 3 seasons.
"It's been three years of hard work, just grinding, grinding, grinding," Richardson said. "Two years ago, they were saying that we had the worst line in the country, now they are saying that we are one of the best, so it just shows how hard we've worked as a unit."
James echoed his teammates' assessment.
"Two years ago, everyone was talking about how bad we were, giving up 45 sacks in a season," he said. (But) we've worked hard and the effort has been instilled in us."
Head coach Butch Jones said both the talent and the leadership of the offensive line would be critical to the success of his inaugural team.
"You win games up front," Jones said. "Obviously to have a returning offensive line that we have is very comforting. They have a lot of expectations going into this season, rightfully so. Then there's the responsibility of those older players up front to really mentor our freshmen, so when they leave the program that they understand the standard and expectation that it is to play offensive line at the University of Tennessee.
"They've done a great job and they've been great ambassadors for our football program. "
For Richardson, the feeling is mutual.
"He's always trying to build a person relationship with his players," he said of Jones. "When you have a coach like that, it's going to make you want to run through walls for him.