Texas A&M Aggies: Ryan Kelly

Earlier today we ranked all 14 teams based on their offensive line. Now it’s time to look at the top tackles, the top guards and the top centers and determine who will stand out above the rest this fall.

[+] EnlargeCedric Ogbuehi
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherTexas A&M expects big things from Cedric Ogbuehi, who is expected to move over to left tackle this fall.
1. OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Sr., Texas A&M: The recent string of left tackles in College Station has been nothing short of remarkable. Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews each were selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft the past two years, and there’s a strong possibility that Ogbuehi will make it 3 for 3. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound senior played right tackle last fall, but he’s expected to move over and replace Matthews at left tackle this season.

2. OT La'el Collins, Sr., LSU: The Tigers had nine players drafted last month, more than any team in college football, but it could’ve easily have been 10 had Collins opted to leave school early. He was projected to go as high as the second round. Instead, he will return for his senior season, try to improve his draft stock and anchor LSU’s offensive line.

3. OT Laremy Tunsil, So., Ole Miss: The Rebels’ 2013 recruiting class was full of five-star prospects, but none played better than Tunsil last season. He appeared in 12 games, making nine starts at left tackle. He allowed just one sack all year. He was a second team All-SEC selection, a member of the SEC All-Freshman team, and the coaches expect him to only get better as a sophomore.

4. C Reese Dismukes, Sr., Auburn: In a league full of standout centers, Dismukes tops the list. He wasn’t the most talented player on Auburn’s offensive line last season, but you can make the argument that he was the most important during the Tigers' run to the BCS title game. He’s started every game in the past three years, and he’s looking to end his career on a high note.

5. OG A.J. Cann, Sr., South Carolina: The 37 career starts made by Dismukes over the past three seasons is impressive, but Cann has him beaten. The South Carolina senior has made 38 straight starts at left guard since taking over as a redshirt freshman in 2011, and after serving as the captain in 2013, he’ll again be counted on for his leadership this fall.

6. C Ryan Kelly, Jr., Alabama: The transition from All-American Barrett Jones to Kelly shouldn't have been a simple one, but the fact that it occurred without a hiccup is a testament to Kelly's ability not just athletically, but intellectually. Injuries, however, caused him to miss four games last season. Now recovered, he has every shot to to win the Rimington Trophy.

7. OT Corey Robinson, Sr., South Carolina: At 6-foot-8 and 348 pounds, it’s hard to miss Robinson when you watch the Gamecocks play. He has the size that makes everybody, NFL scouts included, take notice. The former defensive tackle has found a home at left tackle and will be in charge of protecting Dylan Thompson’s blind side this fall.

8. C Evan Boehm, Jr., Missouri: What can’t Boehm do? As a true freshman, he started 12 games at left guard, earning freshman All-American honors. He moved to center last season and led an offensive line that paved the way for a stellar Tigers rushing attack. The junior could probably play tackle if he wanted, but he’ll stay at center, where he could have a big season.

9. OG Vadal Alexander, OG, LSU: If going against Collins at left tackle weren't intimidating enough, imagine seeing the 6-foot-6, 342-pound Alexander lining up right next to him on every play. The two of them can open a hole big enough for a truck to run through, and it should be plenty big enough for five-star freshman Leonard Fournette.

10. OT Chaz Green, Sr., Florida: The other nine offensive linemen on this list all played last season, but Green is the wild card of the group. He missed the entire season after tearing his labrum during fall camp. He has all the talent -- he started in 10 games in 2012 and was a freshman All-American in 2011 -- but how will he bounce back?
How important is offensive line play?

Go back and find the last time a team with an average offensive line won the SEC championship. The translation: If you’re going to win a title in this league, you better be good and deep up front offensively.

That said, we take a look today at our offensive line rankings in the SEC for the 2014 season.

1. South Carolina: The Gamecocks are losing some key pieces from last season’s 11-win team, but their offensive line stacks up as the best of the Steve Spurrier era. The left side with senior tackle Corey Robinson and senior guard A.J. Cann is outstanding, and junior Brandon Shell returns at right tackle. All three have NFL potential, while sophomore Cody Waldrop is healthy again and on the preseason Rimington list as the top center in the country.

2. Texas A&M: Talent has flowed through the Texas A&M offensive line the last few seasons, and even with top-10 picks in the NFL draft departing each of the last two years, the Aggies should again be as strong as anybody. Cedric Ogbuehi, moving from right tackle to left tackle, will be the next first-rounder to come out of College Station. It looks like sophomore Germain Ifedi will move from guard to right tackle, and junior center Mike Matthews is the latest gem to come out of that family.

3. LSU: Four starters are back for the Tigers, and they also like their young talent. La’el Collins passed on the NFL draft and returns for his senior season. He’s a franchise left tackle. The left side of the line, period, should be strong with 6-6, 342-pound junior guard Vadal Alexander returning, and sophomore Ethan Pocic is good enough and versatile enough that he could be a factor at a couple of different positions.

4. Auburn: A year ago, Greg Robinson came out of nowhere to be the best offensive lineman in the league and go No. 2 overall in the NFL draft. Avery Young and Shon Coleman are in line to replace Robinson at left tackle, and the other four starters are back. Senior center Reese Dismukes leads a unit that ended last season as the best offensive line in the league and should be right there at the top again in 2014.

5. Missouri: The Tigers are big, experienced and deep. They also have some versatility with a couple of guys who’ve played different positions. Junior Evan Boehm is one of the top centers in the country, and senior Mitch Morse is moving over from right tackle to left tackle to replace Justin Britt. Gary Pinkel’s track record for putting together a strong offensive line speaks for itself.

6. Alabama: For a change, Alabama doesn’t enter the season with one of the top two or three offensive lines in the league, but that doesn’t mean the Crimson Tide won’t get there. Junior Ryan Kelly is All-SEC material at center, and as talented as Cam Robinson is, it’s never ideal to start a true freshman at left tackle. Senior right tackle Austin Shepherd is one of the more underrated players in the league.

7. Mississippi State: The heart and soul of Mississippi State’s line a year ago, mammoth guard Gabe Jackson, is gone, but look for senior center Dillon Day to fill that role in 2014. The Bulldogs also return junior Blaine Clausell at left tackle and senior Ben Beckwith at right guard. One of the keys will be junior Justin Malone staying healthy after missing most of last season with a foot injury. He brings experience, size and talent to the interior of that line.

8. Florida: The Gators should be just fine if they’re able to play most of the season with their starting five. The problem comes if somebody gets hurt, and that’s been a recurring theme. The tackle tandem could be one of the best in the league with junior D.J. Humphries on the left side and fifth-year senior Chaz Green on the right side. Again, though, Green has struggled to stay healthy.

9. Ole Miss: The Rebels have some impressive young talent in their offensive line, including sophomore Laremy Tunsil at left tackle, but they’re precariously thin. Losing right tackle Austin Golson was a blow, and they need returning senior Aaron Morris to stay healthy. He was the Rebels’ best lineman before he got hurt last season. True freshman Rod Taylor also has what it takes physically to come in and play right away.

10. Georgia: Senior center David Andrews is the anchor of the group, but three starters from a year ago are gone. Junior John Theus started eight games at right tackle last season and could move to the left side, but senior Mark Beard started at left tackle in the spring game. Fifth-year senior Kolton Houston is also back and could wind up at right tackle or left guard.

11. Vanderbilt: The deepest position on Vanderbilt’s roster is the offensive line, which has rarely been the case in Nashville. Four-year starter Wesley Johnson will be difficult to replace at left tackle, but talented sophomore Andrew Jelks is poised to move from right to left tackle. The interior of the Commodores’ line is especially stout, led by senior center Joe Townsend.

12. Arkansas: After having no choice but to play a pair of true freshmen last season, the Hogs should see that pay dividends in 2014. Bret Bielema knows what a menacing offensive line looks like, and he has some talented building blocks in sophomore left tackle Dan Skipper and sophomore guard Denver Kirkland. Replacing All-SEC center Travis Swanson will be dicey.

13. Tennessee: The Vols are faced with having to replace all five starters. Fortunately for them, junior Marcus Jackson redshirted last season and provides some experience at guard. They need junior college transfer Dontavius Blair to make an immediate impact at left tackle, and true freshman Coleman Thomas may end up being the starter at right tackle.

14. Kentucky: The Wildcats’ struggles in the offensive line last season were well chronicled. They gave up a league-worst 37 sacks, but return four starters. They’re hopeful that a season together will lead to more continuity. The veteran of the group is senior Darrian Miller at left tackle, and sophomore Jordan Swindle has a nice future at right tackle.

Top of the line in the SEC

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
1:00
PM ET
Granted, spring practice hasn't even started yet, but we here at the SEC blog want to give a little love to the "big uglies" in the offensive line. Go back and look at the last few SEC champions/national champions, and it's no coincidence that those teams were outstanding on the offensive line.

Who will be the top five offensive linemen in the league next season?

That's a tricky question because a lot can change between now and next fall, and offensive linemen all develop at different rates. For instance, did anybody have Auburn's Greg Robinson as the SEC's premier offensive lineman this time a year ago? Robinson exploded during the 2013 season and is now being projected by ESPN's Mel Kiper as the No. 2 overall selection in the 2014 NFL draft.

There's sure to be a player or two just like Robinson that really emerges next season. With that said, here's our early take on the SEC's top-5 offensive linemen going into the 2014 season. They're listed alphabetically:

[+] EnlargeLa'el Collins
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsLa'el Collins has the potential to become one of the nation's most dominant left tackles.
A.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina, Sr.: The heart and soul of a South Carolina offensive line that should be one of the best in the league next season, the 6-4, 314-pound Cann already has 38 career starts to his credit. He's a force at left guard and teams with tackle Corey Robinson, giving the Gamecocks an imposing left side of the line.

La'el Collins, OT, LSU, Sr.: The Tigers breathed a sigh of relief, and with good reason, when the 6-5, 315-pound Collins decided to return for his senior season. He has everything it takes to be one of the most dominant left tackles in the college game. He was a second-team All-SEC selection last season by the coaches and started his LSU career at guard.

Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn, Sr.: A starter for the Tigers since the day he walked onto campus, the 6-3, 297-pound Dismukes is the class of a deep and talented center crop in the SEC next season. He's tough, smart and has the kind of nasty streak coaches love. Dismukes was a first-team All-SEC selection by the coaches last season and a big reason the Tigers led the country in rushing with an average of 328.3 yards per game.

Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M, Sr.: When you start listing the top offensive tackles in college football, don't forget about Ogbuehi. He'll be moving from right tackle to left tackle to replace Jake Matthews and has already proven that he's a top run-blocker and pass-protector at both guard and tackle. The 6-5, 300-pound Ogbuehi is an exceptional athlete and came back for his senior season despite receiving a first round grade from the NFL draft advisory board.

Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss, So.: Even though the 6-5, 315-pound Tunsil is the youngest of this group, he might have the most pure talent. He took over the Rebels' left tackle duties last season as a true freshman and started nine games, earning second-team All-SEC honors from the AP as well as freshman All-America honors. He allowed just one sack all year from his position, and with an entire offseason and spring workouts under his belt, he should take an even bigger step in 2014.

Five more to watch:

SEC lunchtime links

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
12:00
PM ET
Plenty of goings-on in the SEC today. Let's dive right into it:

SEC lunchtime links

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
12:40
PM ET
It's Wednesday which means the SEC coaches and players have turned their attention to Saturday's opponent. See what's being said, who's going to play or not play and how teams are preparing in a sampling of news across the league.
  • Alabama center Ryan Kelly is expected to a miss a couple of weeks with a “stretched” MCL. That means more playing time for Chad Lindsay, who is making the most of his opportunity.
  • Coming off a huge win over LSU, Georgia is still on high alert as it heads to Knoxville this weekend for a matchup with SEC East foe Tennessee.
  • Since Lane Kiffin was fired, there have been rumors linking Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin with the open USC position. He says the rumors are just part of the job as the Aggies head into an open week.
  • LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. muffed a punt against Georgia on Saturday that led to a touchdown. It’s not the first miscue for the dynamic return specialist, but he knows how to respond from a mistake like that.
  • Connor Shaw was expected to miss at least a couple of weeks with a shoulder sprain, but the South Carolina quarterback could play against Kentucky on Saturday.
  • Florida boasts one of the top defenses in college football, so the Gators’ offense has resorted to an old-school approach -- a simple, keep-away philosophy.
  • Ole Miss was shutout last Saturday at Alabama. Head coach Hugh Freeze says it starts with the offensive line, and they will need to play better this weekend against Auburn.
  • Missouri has yet to start SEC play, but through four games, the Tigers’ offense has passed the test under new coordinator Josh Henson.
  • Auburn cornerback Chris Davis has missed the last two games due to injury, but the Tigers are eager to get their “extra spark” back on defense this week against No. 24 Ole Miss.
  • The trash talk has already started between Arkansas and Florida this week. Florida defensive lineman Damien Jacobs called out the Razorbacks’ offensive line, saying they play a little dirty. He singled out Hogs’ center Travis Swanson.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There was something off about Nick Saban's demeanor following Saturday's season opener. He sounded too calm, too collected in the aftermath of the Alabama's 35-10 win over Virginia Tech. It wasn't that he was disinterested, but his post-game comments lacked the fervor we've become accustomed to when his teams don't play up to par, which was the case even though the scoreboard inside the Georgia Dome might have indicated otherwise.

Alabama's notoriously critical head coach was placid at the podium in Atlanta. Never mind the poor play from his offensive line, the inability to move the ball effectively on the ground or AJ McCarron's inconsistency passing the football, Saban wasn't ready to jump down his team's throat just yet. His "We've done nothing to prove we're No. 1" speech never made its customary appearance. Defending champion Alabama was 1-0 and he seemed content with that.

But on Tuesday, after three days of watching film, Saban met the press with a wholly different attitude. For the first time all year, he sounded genuinely upset. He said the Virginia Tech game should serve as a "wakeup call" and called for an improved effort from his team, which in itself wasn't shocking. … Then he promptly jumped on his soap box and talked about how we "live in a society now where everybody wants to do what they want to do."

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNick Saban wants better execution from several areas when Alabama plays Texas A&M.
"Nobody wants to be obedient," he said. "Nobody wants to pay attention to rules or whatever. When you make a rule you've got to have your dog on a leash, somebody wants to have their dog not on a leash. That's the way it is.

"We can't have a team of people like that."

Saban raised his voice, cut off comments and even turned questions around on reporters during his news conference. All it took was someone to ask about the health of McCarron's toe and Saban was off to the races.

"You know, AJ’s mobility is fine," he snapped, "and his mobility was fine in the game and there was nothing wrong with him in the game and I’m, you know, sort of sick and tired of talking about this B.S. All right? Cause it’s nothing."

This was the Nick Saban we expected Saturday night. This was the Nick Saban more than willing to shout a message to players through the media.

With a date against No. 7 Texas A&M fast approaching, the heat is being turned up around the football facilities. The Aggies upset Alabama at home less than a year ago and no one around Tuscaloosa has forgotten how that loss felt. It very nearly kept the Tide from repeating as national champions. Highlights of Johnny Manziel's Heisman Trophy performance have played on televisions in the weight room and all players have been asked about around campus is how they'll stop him this time.

Everything has led up to this: Manziel, Texas A&M and the rematch of the year.

And in that respect, a sloppy game against Virginia Tech might have been exactly what Alabama needed. Had UA played perfectly in Week 1, whose to say what the team's mood would be today? Would complacency have set in? Would players have been overconfident heading into Texas A&M?

Alabama may still be ranked No. 1 in the country, but the attitude inside the locker room is that of an underdog.

"Obviously, we're 1-0 and that feels good," center Ryan Kelly said, "but we knew as a team afterward that we didn't make them quit. We felt like they walked away with a sense that they [Virginia Tech] didn't let Alabama take control of them. I think that's what everybody was disappointed about. We could have played a lot better than that and we know we're a better team."

When Kelly arrived at Alabama, he never expected a 25-point win to be viewed as a disappointment. But, as he said Tuesday, he caught on quickly.

"I didn't really know what type of beast I was walking into, I guess," he said. "That's just how it is at Alabama. The standard has been set high by the guys before us. We're always going to carry it out that way."

With an extra week to prepare for Texas A&M, Alabama has time to get back to that standard.

The offensive line, which was the best in the country last year, was suspect at first glance. NFL scouts said they simply got beat and that if their play doesn't improve, you could kiss the Tide's title chances goodbye. Those comments alone should provide a chip on every lineman's shoulder. They saw a tenacious front seven against Virginia Tech and lived to learn from it. The hope is that with time, the revamped line can establish the chemistry necessary to go on the road and move the chains.

The success of the offense as a whole depends on it. As we saw against the Hokies, without help up front, neither Alabama's passing game nor its running game could move the ball consistently. Three of the Tide's five touchdowns came on defense and special teams, and both scores on offense came from drives that began inside Virginia Tech territory.

"This week is very important because we get back to what Alabama's offensive line is about and that's being physical and making the defensive line quit," Kelly said. "I think that's what we're going to bring to Texas A&M."

Moving the ball and finishing off drives will certainly be at a focus against the Aggies, who finished first in the SEC in scoring a season ago. Keeping up with Manziel and the Aggies’ up-tempo attack won't be easy. Going three-and-out seven times as it did against Virginia Tech could prove disastrous.

The good news amid the sense of disappointment is this: Alabama's front seven played well against an offense that should look similar to Texas A&M's. Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas isn't near the playmaker Manziel is, but he's nonetheless a good substitute with his ability to move the pocket and pick up yards with his feet.

Against Thomas, Alabama reversed its history of trouble against mobile quarterbacks. The defense adjusted and adapted, pressuring Thomas without losing containment. Thomas, who averaged 269.2 total yards per game a year ago, settled for just six yards on the ground and 56 yards through the air on Saturday.

Should the defense have similar success against Manziel next week, Alabama could be in good shape to leave College Station undefeated and in the driver's seat to return to the national championship. Just don't tell Saban that. He's still fixated on correcting mistakes.

In the end, it was hard to tell whether there was more good or bad to come from the season opener. But maybe that was for the best. The defense looked good and so did the special teams, but having every phase of the team running on all cylinders would have made for a boring lead up to what could be the most anticipated game of the season.

Disgruntled though he may be, Saban was able to see the silver lining. A day removed from his rant to the media, he put the game in perspective, saying it was a relief to have his players see they weren't as good as they thought they were.

Having that edge could be the difference.

"It was a wakeup call to some of the areas of our team that didn't execute very well," Saban said on Wednesday morning. "I don't think there's any question about the fact that if we take this the right way, it can help us improve."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Drive Through: Can Aggies Win The SEC?
A twitter follower wants to know if the Aggies can win the SEC. Heather Dinich responds.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Saturday, 9/20