Sleeper to keeper

Signed as a linebacker, he was overshadowed by heralded classmate Chris Donald. Moved to defensive end, he was overshadowed by heralded classmate Ben Martin.

Ten games into his sophomore season, however, Chris Walker isn't likely to be overshadowed much longer.

Despite missing the Wyoming game due to injury and being limited in several other outings, the talented sophomore from Memphis ranks third among Vol defenders in sacks with 2 for 10 yards in losses. He has one other tackle for loss, along with a fumble forced and a quarterback hurry.

Walker's best outing occurred while he was fighting through an injury. In Game 7 vs. Mississippi State he led all Vol defensive linemen with 3 solo tackles. Two were minus-yardage stops, with one being a sack.

At 6-3 and 230 pounds, Walker is a bit small for a defensive end. He makes up for his lack of heft, however, with tenacity and technique.

"He's a very talented guy that has worked hard," defensive coordinator John Chavis said recently. "A lot of it (success) is his personality and his demeanor."

Like former Vol defensive ends Will Overstreet and Parys Haralson, Walker has a non-stop motor that helps him to neutralize 300-pound offensive tackles and routinely get back in plays when he seems to be out of the picture. Clearly, he loves the game and he loves to compete.

"It's important to him," Chavis said. "He's going to work hard to get done what he needs to get done. He's applied himself. Coach Caldwell has done a great job coaching him but the talent is there.

"If you put the great attitude, the talent and the good coaching there, you have an opportunity to see good things happen on the field."

The fact that Walker ranks among the brightest young prospects on Tennessee's roster is interesting. As a high school senior, he wasn't nearly as prized a linebacker recruit as Donald, a Parade and USA Today All-American from Huntington rated America's No. 1 'backer prospect by one scouting service. Donald redshirted in 2007, however, and didn't record his first tackle of 2008 until Thursday's junior varsity game.

When Walker was moved to end during his freshman year, he immediately found himself in the shadow of Ben Martin, pegged "a future All-American" by no less an authority than Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer. One year later, however, Walker is considered at least as good a defensive end prospect as Martin.

"Chris and Ben are getting better and better each week," defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell said recently. "They've got more confidence in themselves. The more confidence they get, the more they'll play and the better they'll get."


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