Is the sack back?

If you're looking for an indictment of Tennessee's pass rush, here it is: The Vols' three worst sack totals of the past 20 years were recorded in 2006 (17), 2007 (24) and 2008 (23).

Big Orange fans may have forgotten that this program recorded a school-record 50 sacks in 2000, but one Vol player hasn't. He's looking to move Tennessee back towards that lofty level.

"We want to get back to where Tennessee's always been," junior Chris Walker said this week, "and get some pure pass rush from the ends."

The Vols had superior pass rushers at end in the 1990s - guys such as Chris Mims, Chuck Smith, James Wilson, Todd Kelly, Horace Morris, Ben Talley, Steve White, Leonard Little, Jonathan Brown, Shaun Ellis and Will Overstreet. All but Morris went on to play in the NFL.

Perhaps Walker and fellow junior Ben Martin can provide in 2009 the pressure on quarterbacks that has been missing for most of the past decade.

"I hope so," Walker said. "Coach O (line coach Ed Orgeron) has been working us really hard to try and get our speed rush off the edge."

Martin was a much higher-rated prospect coming out of LaSalle High in Cincinnati three years ago but Memphis-born Walker has been the more productive college player to date. The two have a friendly rivalry that could benefit the Big Orange cause this fall.

"It helps a lot having Ben on the other side," Walker said. "Every time I look at Ben he's like, 'I'll meet you there.' I'm trying to get there (to the quarterback) before he does."

Because Tennessee has a new defensive coordinator (Monte Kiffin) and a new scheme (Tampa 2), most observers figure there will be some growing pains in 2009. Walker disagrees. He's convinced the Vols are quite comfortable with their new system.

"We have a really good grasp on it," he said. "It's like we've been running it for five or six years."

The Vols also are comfortable with their new position coaches - Orgeron (line), Lance Thompson (linebackers) and Willie Mack Garza (secondary). All three are animated and emotional on the practice field.

"To see them jumping around, having fun, yelling and jumping, is something that gives us a lot of energy," Walker said. "When I don't have any energy I look at Coach O, and seeing him running around helps me a lot."

Maybe Vol ends can run around this fall with the enthusiasm Orgeron displays. And maybe Tennessee's sack total can return to being a source of pride instead of a source of embarrassment.

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