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Mammoth-sized linemen becoming more prevalent in SEC

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Wade Payne / Associated Press
Tennessee defensive tackle Daniel McCullers is one of the biggest, and best, prospects in the SEC.

Plenty of size on the line of scrimmage has marked Southeastern Conference football for decades. But a more recent wave of talent up front -- some starters, some backups -- has given the word "big" an entirely new meaning.

There are 44 linemen in the SEC, most of them on offensive side of the ball, who weigh 325 pounds or more. Another six, five of them on offense, weigh in excess of 350 pounds. And at most schools in the league, the 6-foot-5 offensive tackle is no longer the tallest guy on the roster.

"In recent times, guys get bigger, and bigger and bigger, it seems," said Alabama coach Nick Saban on Wednesday. "Offensive line is certainly a part of the team where size, physical prowess, being a mauler type guy that's really big and has a lot of strength and power can really be effective. ... We have some big guys around here. But you've got to have the athleticism to move and play your position. If they don't, maybe guard is the only place they can play. But I think there will be more and more big guys. It seems to be all the time."

If you think the average college lineman is big, then you should take a look at some of the biggest linemen to play in the SEC.

For a smattering of some of the league's biggest players, including the tallest (6-foot-11 Kentucky guard John Gruenschlaeger), and the heaviest (385-pound Alabama tackle Brandon Hill), check out the photo gallery (at right).

LSU's Vadal Alexander (6-6, 342 pounds) carries his weight as well as any of the league's line-of-scrimmage monsters, having started at both right tackle and left guard in his first two years on a college field.

"He's a big, strong, capable man. He surely could have been our starting right tackle. ... Vadal has a real concept of what's going on, so he moved very comfortably to the guard spot," said LSU coach Les Miles. "He's very athletic, so we can play him left side. He's come along very nicely."

Alexander is one of six linemen on the LSU roster alone that weigh 330 pounds or more.

Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson (6-4, 335) certainly carries his weight well, and is expected to be playing with it on Sundays next year in the NFL. SEC starters weighing 325-plus that are considered NFL draft prospects to varying degrees include Alexander, Tennessee left tackle Antonio Richardson (6-6, 327), South Carolina's offensive tackle tandem of Corey Robinson (6-8, 341) and Brandon Shell (6-6, 325), Tennesee nose guard Daniel McCullers (6-8, 351), Arkansas defensive tackle Robert Thomas (6-3, 325) and Texas A&M guard Jarvis Harrison (6-4, 325).

Others, like Gruenschlaeger, a backup guard, have found that all that size is not always a blessing.

"Jack had an ankle injury toward the end of camp that was a pretty good ankle injury that put him behind, basically toward the end of camp and the beginning of the season here. So he's been a little behind the eight ball getting caught up with that," said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops. "And as you can imagine, the things you just talked about, being that tall and having an ankle injury definitely doesn't help him. So he needs to be completely healthy to have a chance to play with the talented defensive linemen that we play against all the time. He's a big body, he does some very good things, he helps us in certain areas. But he's been a backup on the O-line right now."

Ole Miss starting guard Jared Duke towers 6-foot-7 and weighs 375, though the senior will be making only his eighth career start Saturday at Alabama. Florida's injury-riddled offensive line may soon be in need of junior college transfer Trenton Brown, a reserve tackle who is listed at 6-8, 363.

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Tennessee's McCullers (6-8, 351) is one of the few super-sized linemen who plays on the defensive side of the ball. He's ranked the No. 4 senior NFL prospect in the nation by NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt, although UT coach Butch Jones said McCullers, who dropped a significant amount of weight in the offseason, is still a work in progress.

"He's playing with greater stamina, and that's a tribute to the hard work he's put in throughout the course of the offseason. But Daniel is still going through learning our standard and expectations of consistency in performance each and every day," Jones said. "Not only on game day, but off the field, on the practice field. He's an individual who is extremely intelligent. He takes what you tell him and tries to apply it to the practice field. But the big thing with him is just learning, again, the standard of performance we have. The expectations, the effort required on each and every snap."

Saban said the biggest player doesn't always rise to the starting lineup, however.

"There are other players who aren't that big, who are very good players as well," he said. "I don't think they should be overlooked, or should it ever be thought that you have to be that big to be a good player."

There is little doubt the bar is being raised, however, and 325 pounds may soon be "the new 300", if it isn't already.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

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