Following the 5-stars

Tennessee signed three 5-star defensive prospects a year ago – one for each level of its defense.

There was an end (Cincinnati's Ben Martin) to bolster the front line. There was a linebacker (Huntington's Chris Donald) to strengthen the second line of defense. There was a corner (Eric Berry of Fairburn, Ga.) to upgrade the back line.

As Vol fans no doubt recall, their contributions last season ran the gamut from mind-boggling to marginal.

Berry could be found in the starting lineup, where he opened all 14 games for the 2007 Vols.

Martin could be found in a mop-up role, getting a few snaps at the end of lopsided games.

As for Donald ... well, he was harder to find than Osama Bin Laden. Splitting time between linebacker and defensive end, he never saw the field in a real game, ultimately redshirting.

So, what's in store for this celebrated trio in 2008?

Berry, 5-11 and 205 pounds, appears destined to become an All-American and one of the brightest stars in Tennessee history. Just nine months after graduating from high school he is on the preseason watch list for the 2008 Lott Trophy, given annually to college football's premier defensive player.

Martin, a little undersized at 6-3 and 240 pounds, is not yet a household name but he's inching closer to becoming a significant contributor for the Vols. When projected starting end Wes Brown suffered a concussion in the early stages of last Saturday's full-scale scrimmage, Martin wound up spending most of the day with the No. 1 defense.

"Ben's a guy who can give us some help," defensive coordinator John Chavis says. "Ben's not ready to go play in the SEC today. He needs more time in the weight room. He's already improved tremendously but that (strength) is going to be as important as anything.

"He's got the right temperament and he's got the skills, so we're counting on him getting there."

Donald, 6-1 and 225 pounds, hasn't settled into a role yet but at least he has settled into a position. Now entrenched at linebacker, he dropped tailback Daryl Vereen for a two-yard loss in last weekend's scrimmage. Except for occasional stints as a stop-gap measure at end, middle linebacker is now Donald's home.

"We had to play him some down (at end) in the scrimmage because of some injuries," Chavis notes, "but he's getting better. He's not ready to go play in a ballgame today but he's a lot closer than he was when we started three weeks ago.

"He's made a ton of progress."

The Vols hold their third full-scale scrimmage of the spring Saturday afternoon. As a proven star, Berry will see limited action. Martin and Donald, conversely, will get every opportunity to show they're ready to contribute in the fall.

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