"It will surprise most people," Caldwell said, "but Wes Brown is the fastest of 'em all. He has great speed and a great burst."
That's surprising mainly because Brown is a white guy. At a position normally manned by African American players blessed with exceptional quickness, the 6-4, 256-pound junior sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. With 2007 starters Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds lost to graduation, however, Brown is listed No. 1 at left end this spring and projected to start in the fall. That probably comes as a surprise to some Tennessee fans, as well.
"Wes is about as consistent as you can be," Caldwell said. "He is one of the best leaders you'll ever be around. He works his butt off and does everything right. Wes is a lot like Jason Hall – a great technician. His strength level is now where it needs to be. So, going into his junior year, I'm expecting Wes to play well."
The Vol aide is hoping Brown can give the Vols the "speed off the edge" that is so vital to a strong pass rush.
"It makes all the difference in the world," Caldwell said. "The one thing an offensive tackle hates is speed. It's easy on 'em when we run right down the middle on 'em. But when you can get out of your stance and get him (offensive tackle) on his heels, then you've got a chance to do some different things with him."
Brown is hoping to lock down the end spot opposite rugged Robert Ayers this spring. Ayers, a 6-3, 270-pounder, has a world of potential but has not yet parlayed it into performance. He finished his junior year on an upswing, however, and could be poised for a big senior season.
"I think Robert's done a great job being a leader in the offseason – in the weight room, in the class room, in our morning runs," Caldwell said. "He's stepped up front and done everything we've asked him to do. Now he's got to carry it over to the field. I have no doubt that he will.
"I think he's playing with more confidence and aggressiveness. The more confident and comfortable he is, and the more we can just let him go play – reacting, instead of having to think a lot – the better he's going to be."
Despite their skills and experience, Ayers and Brown are no locks to start. That's because the Vols have two enormously gifted sophomores pushing for first-team jobs. Chris Walker is a 6-3, 230-pounder from Memphis who has been a pleasant surprise. Ben Martin is a 6-3, 240-pounder from Cincinnati who was a consensus All-American in high school.
Like Brown, Walker and Martin have the quickness to upgrade a Vol pass rush that has been mediocre in recent years.
"They're two guys with speed," Caldwell said. "They have great work ethic. They're everything you're looking for, so we're excited about getting 'em out here and letting 'em get better these 15 days (of spring practice). I think they'll get even better when we get into two-a-days."
The major problem facing the talented sophomores is inexperience. Being stuck behind Mitchell, Reynolds, Brown and Ayers severely limited Walker's and Martin's 2007 playing time. In fact, they barely saw enough action to break a sweat.
"A couple of years ago we lost (starting ends) Parys Haralson and Jason Hall," Caldwell noted. "Of course, Antonio and Xavier had played quite a bit going into that year. Two-deep, this is probably as much youth as I've had to coach.
"The two young guys – Chris Walker and Ben Martin – really have not been in a full-time rotation. But I think their athletic ability can make up for their inexperience. Going through spring practice and preseason practice, I believe they'll be able to do a really good job next fall."
Ditto for Wes Brown, the guy with the pale skin and the quick feet.