From groin to growin'

If things go as expected, Tennessee will build a big early lead Saturday against UAB, then turn the game over to its young players.

Guys like sophomore defensive ends Chris Walker and Ben Martin, for instance. Both are 6-3, 240-pounders with tremendous upside but limited experience. Both saw action in Game 1 at UCLA and both were somewhat unnerved by the experience.

"I expected them to play better," Vol defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell admitted. "In fairness to them, though, both were out with groin strains the week before, so they missed preparation that I think probably would've made them more comfortable. I think both of them were a little wary of pulling it again, so they probably weren't playing as fast as they could."

Walker, from Memphis, and Martin, from Cincinnati, played so sparingly as true freshmen in 2007 that they may have been a little awed in the 2008 opener, as well.

"That was the first game where they've ever been in the rotation and been depended on," Caldwell noted. "They were kind of big-eyed out there. I know they'll be better this week, and I know they'll continue to get better because they're both great athletes and great young men that can do good things."

Tennessee's head coach also felt Walker and Martin were a little overwhelmed by their first real taste of big-time college football.

"I thought the first couple of series they were in shock ... at the speed of the game," Phillip Fulmer recalled. "They didn't look quite like themselves, as they had in practice. After that, they settled down and played pretty good.

"I think they'll be better and better as they go along. That's usually the case with young guys that haven't played a lot. They got a lot of work last year in practice and a little game time ... not much. This is their first extended snaps, and you can watch them grow up in front of your eyes."

Although he recorded just one tackle in the opener, Walker believes he benefited greatly from the experience.

"For me, the big benefit was finally getting to play some college football," he said. "I think I played kinda timid the first series but after that I loosened up and I think I got that (timidity) out for the rest of the season."

Why was he timid in the opening game?

"It was just something I had to get used to," he replied.

Assuming Tennessee takes command early against UAB, the Vols' second-teamers should see plenty of action in the second half of Saturday's game. That's an exciting prospect for a guy like Walker.

"I'm just going to have to be ready, practice hard so I know everything that's going to come at me," he said. "It's going to be exciting, especially in front of our home crowd."

Although the Blazers were beaten soundly by Tulsa (45-22) and Florida Atlantic (49-34) in their first two games, they have enough firepower to give Tennessee's defense some problems. Walker insists that Vol defenders are not overlooking UAB.

"It's a team coming into Neyland Stadium that's going to be very excited to play us, and we can't let our guard down against anybody," he said. "We have to be ready to play, and I think we will be."


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