Winning Starts Up Front, and Tennessee Must Build from Scratch in 2014

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJanuary 30, 2014

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Second-year head coaches have been wildly successful in the SEC over the last decade. 

Urban Meyer and Gene Chizik each won national championships in their second years at Florida and Auburn, respectively. Nick Saban took an undefeated record into the SEC Championship Game in 2008, and Will Muschamp led Florida to an 11-1 regular season record in 2012.

Which of the second-year head coaches will find success in 2014?

Auburn's Gus Malzahn is a safe bet considering he led his Tigers to within 13 seconds of the crystal football in Year 1, but could Tennessee's Butch Jones reverse the Volunteers' fortune in his second season on Rocky Top?

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones
Tennessee head coach Butch JonesDave Martin/Associated Press

He's already coaching circles around his predecessor, Derek Dooley. Despite a 5-7 season in 2013, he notched a win over South Carolina which finished No. 4 in the final AP and USA Today coaches' polls. On top of that, it's looking like the Vols—which currently rank sixth in the 247Sports team recruiting rankings—are getting a talent injection this offseason thanks to Jones' efforts on the recruiting trail.

Could Jones be the next in a long line of second-year success stories?

Not likely. At least, not at the level some of those other coaches enjoyed.

The SEC is still a line-of-scrimmage league, and Tennessee doesn't have a single starter returning along either its offensive or defensive line in 2014, according to

Not one.

Tennessee DL Jordan Williams
Tennessee DL Jordan WilliamsJonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Sure, there are players with experience like defensive end Jordan Williams, who started the first three games last season while Jacques Smith worked back to 100 percent, but other than him, there's not much for Jones to work with. 

At least not in terms of established stars, anyway.

But help is on the way in the form of the 2014 recruiting class.

Dontavius Blair is a 6'8", 303-pound junior college transfer offensive tackle who enrolled at Tennessee early to get a jump start on his first year in the SEC. Pencil him in as a starter right out of the gate.

There's no shortage of talent. If Kyler Kerbyson, Marcus Jackson and some of the returning offensive linemen can take the next step, then the Vols will be fine. But this will be an all new group that will have to learn to work together, which is not an easy thing to do with so much upheaval on the offensive line.

On the defensive side of the ball, 4-star ends Dewayne Hendrix, Joe Henderson and Derek Barnett, along with 4-star defensive tackle Charles Mosley provide a solid base for the future with the potential to provide depth right off the bat.

Tennessee DL Corey Vereen and head coach Butch Jones
Tennessee DL Corey Vereen and head coach Butch JonesWade Payne/Associated Press

Corey Vereen was solid in limited action last season, notching 13 tackles and one sack in nine games, and could become a star now that the door is open. But these players have to come together in a hurry and prove that they can be reliable.

The uncertainty up front will breed inconsistency on both sides of the ball, which will make it hard for Tennessee to make that gigantic leap forward.

But what about just a big step? The SEC East is wide open, and if Jones can catch lightning in a bottle and some of these pieces come together early, it would get the Vols to a decent bowl game.


*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports and all statistical information courtesy of