By: Courtney Fritts
The Vols' offensive line has traveled a very hard and narrow path the past three years since head coach Derek Dooley took over the play-calling.
Coming into this season with 106 previous starts among the five, the 2012 starting O-line has more experience as a whole than they've had since the Philip Fulmer era in 2005, which had 122.
Leading his pack from the end is junior right tackle Ja'Wuan James. When James arrived in Knoxville his freshman year, the starting offensive line claimed a cumulative total of three starts in past seasons. The line has clearly grown since then into having a significantly greater amount of playing time.
A Sewanee, Ga., native, James has started in every game he has been at Tennessee, totaling to 25 starts in two seasons. Beginning as a true freshman in 2010, he has stayed at right tackle and earned the approval of his teammates to protect the quarterback.
With the help of James in 2011, the offensive line allowed the third fewest amount of sacks in the SEC with just 1.5 per game. The 2010 Coaches Freshman All-SEC awardee was one of seven true freshmen to start in 2010. Three football seasons later, this junior is more experienced and more physical now than ever before.
"All our coaches have said it - the team will only go as far as the offensive line can take them," James said. "We are ready. We are leading everyone in the right direction and just doing everything we need to do right so everyone will follow us."
It's easy to follow five men averaging 319 pounds and 6-foot-5 inches tall.
"I feel a lot stronger now [than this past spring]," James said. "When you use the technique you play a lot better."
As right tackle, James' position is extremely crucial because he has contact one-on-one with a defensive player every snap and has little to no help in blocking his opponent. Coming into this season strong, James says he has been focusing on playing fast.
"In the games, the mental part is out of it now," James said. "I understand the playbook and I am just trying to go out there, play fast and use my techniques."
With all their experience and knowledge, the Vols are approaching what could be the best offensive line Tennessee has ever seen.