The Vols also lost starting guard David Ligon from their 2006 line. On a positive note, three starters return – senior tackle Eric Young (6-4, 305), junior guard Anthony Parker (6-3, 305) and sophomore center Josh McNeil (6-4, 280).
Battling for the other two starting jobs are seniors Michael Frogg (6-4, 290) and Steven Jones (6-4, 305), junior Ramon Foster (6-6, 325), sophomores Chris Scott (6-5, 305), Jacques McClendon (6-3, 330) and Vladimir Richard (6-4, 297), plus redshirt freshmen Ramone Johnson (6-6, 325) and Darius Myers (6-6, 315).
Although Sears was the Vols' best run blocker, Adkins said the Vols "will miss his leadership – the way he worked – as much as anything."
The obvious question: Who will be the line's leader in Sears' absence?
"Hopefully, we'll have some guys take that leadership role," Adkins said. "I think we've got a couple of guys heading in that direction. Josh McNeil is one. Ramon Foster was as physical this spring as any time since he's been here. And Eric Young ... it's his time for him to be That Guy. And Anthony Parker has played a lot of football around here."
Adkins was encouraged by the line's progress in spring practice. Continued improvement in preseason camp is a must, however.
"We've got progress to be made before we go to California and play," Adkins said, "but I think this group is eager and willing to do that."
The development of a cohesive line is Priority No. 1 for the Vol attack this preseason. Tennessee has three quality tailbacks – Arian Foster, LaMarcus Coker, Montario Hardesty – who count on the line for running room and a quality quarterback, Erik Ainge, who counts on the line for protection.
Increasing the pressure on the 2007 line is the fact Tennessee is committed to running the ball more and utilizing a no-huddle approach on occasion. That means the blockers must be physically tough and mentally sharp.
"Certainly, that's the mentality we took from Day 1 of spring practice," Adkins said. "I think we made some improvements in spring practice and we need to take that mentality – plus a few new schemes and the no-huddle attack – and see what we can do with it."