UT's best pass defender?

It's no secret: The absolute best pass defense is to sack the quarterback before he can unload.

That being the case, junior defensive end Chris Walker surely ranks as Tennessee's best pass defender. He was a terror all spring, sacking and hurrying Vol quarterbacks seemingly at will ... until the Orange & White Game, when restrictions on the defense put the kibosh on the pass rush.

In the final tuneup scrimmage before the spring game, however, the first-team defense recorded seven sacks. Walker, voted UT's Most Improved Defensive Player, contributed two of them.

You have to wonder: Is Tennessee's pass rush as good as it appeared in the April 10 scrimmage?

"That," Walker said, "was just a little tip of it."

Despite packing just 232 pounds on a 6-3 frame, Walker regularly whipped Vol offensive tackles that outweighed him by as many as 100 pounds. His blazing speed off the edge, coupled with some tricks he learned from defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, have made Walker virtually unstoppable on the pass rush.

"I'm learning with Coach O, watching film every day of guys like DeMarcus Ware (Dallas Cowboys), Justin Tuck (New York Giants) and all of those guys," Walker said. "It's something I'm soaking in right now and hoping I can get better at."

Given how much time Walker & Company spent in the offensive backfield during Tennessee's just-concluded spring practice, you have to wonder: Is the pass rush that good or is the pass protection that bad?

Walker conceded that the young offensive linemen were handicapped because they "still haven't learned all of the protections. The offensive line was just out there playing ball. I think once they get all of that down, come next fall I think it's going to be a real fun time."

Most likely, new blockers and a new offense probably combined to make Tennessee's pass rush look a little more formidable than it really is. Still, Walker believes the defensive scheme being installed by new coordinator Monte Kiffin will produce considerably more sacks in 2009 than the Vols recorded in 2008.

"He just lets us go for the ball," Walker said of Kiffin. "There were times last year we had to play a lot of contain. Now we're just going out there playing ball."

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