Pass-rushing demon

He was green as grass when he switched from linebacker to defensive end as a freshman. But he looks like a different player now that he's been around the block a few times.

In fact, getting "around the block" has become Chris Walker's specialty. The 6-3, 232-pound sophomore is rapidly emerging as a pass-rushing demon for Tennessee's football team. He spent so much time harassing quarterbacks in the first three spring practices that he was singled out by Lane Kiffin following Friday night's workout.

"The ends have rushed great for three days in a row," the head man said. "Walker seems to be kind of unblockable right now."

Told of the comment, the personable Memphis native literally beamed.

"Man, I'm just trying to take in everything Coach O is teaching me," Walker said, referring to defensive line coach Ed Orgeron. "One of the things I pride myself on is playing hard and getting to the ball."

Although he was stuck behind senior Robert Ayers and junior Wes Brown last fall, Walker played enough in relief to register 14 tackles, 2 sacks, a quarterback hurry and 2 forced fumbles. He's performing at an even higher level this spring.

"I'm playing with a lot more intensity," Walker explained. "Coach O demands that we play faster, and I think that's something he's getting out of us – playing harder and getting us to that next level."

Walker isn't the only end playing well. Fellow junior Ben Martin is having a quality spring. So is Brown. As a group, the ends are performing so impressively that Kiffin has praised them following each of the first three practices. Naturally, that's encouraging.

"It prides us," Walker said. "We have a standard that we've set; now we've got to keep up and keep building that standard. It just makes us want to work harder and let him know he can count on us in the games."

Although Walker and Martin have added considerable weight and strength since arriving on campus as undersized freshmen 20 months ago, not all of their improvement is physical. Some of the progress is due to becoming technically sound.

"A lot of it," Walker said. "Coach O is a technician. Our first step is always critical. That can make the difference between making a play in the backfield or the running back going for 20 yards. He's always taught us to get that first step down and be a technician."

Clearly, Chris Walker is becoming a very good technician ... now that he's been around the block a few times.


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