Fowlkes' tale

When he arrived at Tennessee nine months ago he was a wide receiver competing against defensive players who were smaller than him. Now he is a defensive end competing against offensive players who are bigger than him. WAY bigger.

"I played wide receiver at first, and I was going against cornerbacks that were like 185 pounds," redshirt freshman Steven Fowlkes said this week. "Now I'm going against guys that are 300 pounds."

Although he has added 20 pounds of muscle since arriving at UT as a 6-4 215-pounder last August, Fowlkes is still dwarfed by the massive offensive tackles he faces in practice each day. Chris Scott and William Brimfield check in at 346 pounds each. Jarrod Shaw goes 332.

"They're pretty big," said Fowlkes, a native of College Park, Ga. "I got my first shot at 'em last year. This year I'm just trying to use my speed, and I've got a little strength now. I'm just trying to use my speed on the edge, like Coach O (Ed Orgeron) teaches. If I do that, I'll be doing all right."

Because he gives away roughly 100 pounds whenever he lines up opposite one of the Vols' super-sized tackles, Fowlkes concedes that adding some weight ranks at the top of his to-do list.

"I'm about 235," he said. "I'm getting there. I'll be all right. Before Christmas break I was like 250. Then I went home and lost some weight, and we did some (offseason) running."

Fowlkes' ideal playing weight is probably in the 260-pound range. He was within 10 pounds in December and vows to return to that level during the coming offseason.

"I'm going to get it back this summer," he said of the lost weight. "I'm going to stay positive about that. I'm going to get it back real quick."

Fowlkes is not the only relative lightweight playing end for Tennessee. Projected starters Chris Walker (6-3, 232) and Ben Martin (6-3, 239) are similarly undersized. They've found ways to overcome their size, and Fowlkes believes he has picked up a lot just by watching them.

"I've learned that no matter how small you are, you can still make plays," he said. "We're all about the same size and build."

Whereas Fowlkes is having a good spring and Martin is having a fine spring, Walker is having a phenomenal spring.

"Chris Walker is a beast right now," Fowlkes said. "He's playing proud. If I can stay intense and stay focused, I see myself doing the same thing."

As a middleweight going against heavyweights, Fowlkes realizes he can't slug it out with 340-pound offensive tackles in the trenches ... not on a consistent basis, anyway.

"Sometimes, if I get low enough in my base, I can get 'em," he said. "But I just try to be smart about using my speed. I try to hit 'em with a little power and get 'em off balance. It's all about speed and power."

Naturally, Fowlkes' power is a lot better than it was 20 pounds ago.

"My strength's done got a lot better," he said. "Last year I was being pushed off the ball a lot. Now I'm able to stand my ground and make plays off my strength and my quickness."

As far as he has come in terms of strength, however, he has just as far still to travel.

"I've got to get a lot better in the weight room but I try to stay positive about everything," he said. "That's my motto: Stay positive and keep working. By my senior year I want to be bench-pressing the world, you know?"

Fowlkes could find a niche at Tennessee as a third-down pass-rushing specialist. His lack of heft isn't as much of a handicap in passing situations, whereas his superior speed can be a tremendous asset. He says he was a pretty good pass rusher during his prep days.

"I played some outside linebacker in a 3-4 back in high school and I could overpower guys with my speed," he recalled. "Now, at this level, I've got to hit 'em with speed. Then, when I get 'em thinking about my speed, I've got to him 'em with some power.

"It (developing pass-rush techniques) has been hard and I've got a lot to learn, but I've learned a lot from Coach O so far."

Despite his shortcomings in terms of heft and strength, Fowlkes has played well enough this spring to be running second-team at end. Even he seems a little surprised by what he has accomplished.

"Sometimes I just make plays," he said. "I don't even feel myself making plays until I watch it on film ... 'I did that?' You know?"

If Fowlkes can add 15 to 20 pounds of muscle without losing his superior quickness, there's no telling how good he could be.

"I don't think I've reached my full potential yet," he said. "I'm going to continue working, watch a lot of film of the great pass rushers – Julius Peppers, Mario Williams, everybody like that – so I can learn from them.

"I think with my learning ability, along with my athleticism, in my future I'll be pretty good."


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