Pass-rush specialist

One guy can elevate a team's pass rush from average to superior all by himself. Reggie White did it. Chuck Smith did it. Leonard Little did it. Shaun Ellis did it.

If there is such a player on Tennessee's current roster it probably is Ben Martin. The 6-3, 245-pound sophomore from Cincinnati recorded 14 sacks as a high school junior and eight more as a senior, despite playing a linebacker position.

After spending his freshman year of 2007 learning to play defensive end and adjusting to the speed of the college game, Martin appears ready to make his mark for the Vols. He registered five stops in preseason scrimmage No. 2 and recorded one of the three sacks by linemen in scrimmage No. 3.

Asked if the improved performance is due to a stronger comfort level or stronger technique, Martin replied, "It's a little of both but mostly technique."

Strength and quickness are vital, yet technique plays a much bigger role in the pass rush than most fans realize. Martin says ends coach Steve Caldwell has been working the defensive ends long and hard on pass-rush techniques in recent weeks.

"We've worked on a lot of stuff – getting off the ball, seeing the ball out of the corner of our eye, getting our first step longer and coming off the ball faster," he said. "The first scrimmage to now our technique's gotten a lot better. Coach has been drilling us hard all week. Last week was a real rough week, and we responded."

The Vols responded, all right. Martin had a sack in the final tuneup scrimmage, as did fellow ends Wes Brown and Robert Ayers. Linebackers Ellix Wilson and Nevin McKenzie had two apiece, giving the stop unit a whopping seven sacks on the day. What was the difference?

"I can't say we did anything different," Martin said. "We just did certain things better than we usually do."

For a guy who was accorded a five-star rating in high school, Martin is surprisingly modest and soft-spoken. He exhibited this side of his nature when asked how soon he'll be ready to play a major role on the Vol defense.

"Only they know when I'm ready," he replied, referring to UT coaches. "Whenever Coach Caldwell feels like I'm ready to play he'll put me in there."


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