Munchin' Miller

All of the negative talk about Tennessee's defensive line isn't causing one Vol to miss any sleep. And it certainly isn't causing him to miss any meals.

Sophomore Corey Miller is eating four times per day - three plates per meal - in an attempt to bulk up into an SEC-sized defensive tackle. He already added 40 pounds since graduating from Byrnes High in Wellford, S.C. 19 months ago but still packs just 264 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.

"I can hold another 15 to 20 pounds," he said following a Wednesday afternoon practice for veteran Vols. "I'm going to try to put that on, beef it up and help my team any way I can."

Miller arrived on The Hill as a 225-pound end but wound up playing the final few games of last season as a 250-pound tackle. That was about 50 pounds less than the average SEC defensive tackle but he found himself adapting quickly and liking the 3 technique (tackle) even better than the 5 technique (end).

"I'm actually a lot more comfortable at the 3," he said. "I ended up playing there last season, and I'm really comfortable with it. Hopefully, I'm going to gain some more weight and get after it."

Considering that he spends as much time each day working his digestive tract as he does working his other muscles, Miller should gain plenty of weight in the weeks ahead.

"I'm eating four times a day, stacking three plates at a time trying to get it in," he said, shaking his head in amusement.

Miller said he hopes to play this season at around 272 pounds. That's still awfully small for an SEC defensive tackle but he believes he knows how to compensate for his lack of heft.

"Speed," he said. "Low man wins, so I use my speed. Whoever makes contact first (wins most battles). And, being a little smaller than the average dude, technique is huge for me."

Miller, who started two games as a freshman last season, is one of several sophomores who project to play key roles on the Vol defense this fall. He insists they won't use inexperience as an alibi.

"Being young is not an excuse," he said. "We can't use that as an excuse anymore. It's time we all step up. It's time for the sophomores to play like juniors and the juniors to play like seniors."

The fact most of Tennessee's players now have a full year's experience in coordinator Justin Wilcox's defensive system should help a lot.

"It makes a big difference," Miller said. "We're starting off strong. Everybody's starting back in the playbook, learning everything to get ready to go. We've got a big season ahead of us."

Miller conceded that the challenge of playing both end and tackle as a rookie last fall was "pretty difficult," but added: "When it comes right down to it, you've got to do whatever you've got to do in order to play."

In retrospect, playing both positions in 2010 gave Miller a level of versatility that makes him even more valuable in 2011.

"That actually will help me going forward," he said. "I want to be as versatile as I can and help my team in any situation - whether it's at end, 3 technique or at the nose."

Given Tennessee's glaring lack of depth across the defensive front, it may need Miller to play at least two spots, if not all four. Still, he believes the D-line is going to surprise the critics who proclaim it the team's weak link.

"That's motivation," he said. "When they count us out, we've got a lot to prove, so it's time for us to step it up."

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