Hold that line

A little front could be a big problem for Tennessee's defense this fall.

Three of the four linemen who will start Saturday's opener vs. Western Kentucky are undersized by major college standards. Chris Walker (6-3, 232) is roughly 30 pounds lighter than most defensive ends. On the other side Gerald Williams (6-4, 248) is some 15 pounds lighter than the norm. Wes Brown (6-4, 270) is roughly 30 pounds lighter than the average tackle. The only position at which the Vols meet the national average is nose tackle, where the starter will be either Dan Williams (6-3, 327) or Montori Hughes (6-4, 312).

Given the front four's glaring lack of heft, you wonder if they can hold up against opponents who just line up and run the ball right at them.

"I think we can," Walker said. "Our coaches are going to do a really good job of game-planning and putting us on the move. We are kind of small but we're really quick and really fast.

"When we're on the move we're really good. I think our coaches recognize that, and they're going to (exploit) that for us."

While the front's lack of heft may be a problem against the run, its abundance of speed should be a huge benefit against the pass. Walker, Williams and Martin can really apply pressure on quarterbacks, so the Vol pass rush should be exceptional.

"I like it," defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said recently. "In practice it's been awesome. Some days we'll go 12 or 13 sacks."

In addition to speed, the Big Orange defensive line has developed some depth over the course of preseason camp. Williams made incredible strides en route to claiming the first-team job at left end.

"Man, it's just like a light bulb came on in Gerald's head," Walker said. "I think a bunch of that came from him just knowing his stuff and playing with a lot more confidence than he did in the spring.

"Seeing him emerge the way he has is something that's really huge for us because we have that depth now with Ben (Martin) and Gerald and Willie (Bohannon) and Steven (Fowlkes). That's something that's going to help us a lot in the long run.

"We're going to run a lot of linemen at people. We're going to try and wear people down. When it comes to the fourth quarter, that's when we'll be at our strongest because we're all fresh."

Martin, a former High School All-American, began preseason camp as the No. 1 left end. The celebrated junior from Cincinnati is now bracketed second-team with Bohannon, a redshirt freshman.

"Ben's a good guy," Orgeron said. "There's a rotation there, and those guys are all starters to me. They're going to rotate, they're going to play equal reps and they're going to have fun."

And, ideally, they're going to push one another.

"Like Coach says, competition is always going to make everybody better," Walker said. "Gerald knowing that Ben is coming on and Ben knowing that Gerald came on is something that's going to make both of them better and it's going to make our team better."

Orgeron thinks his defensive front became a lot better in August workouts due to facing all of the bells and whistles that are built into head coach Lane Kiffin's Vol offense.

"The guy's a genius on offense if you ask me - his formations and everything that he does," Orgeron said. "He's fantastic ... one of the reasons I wanted to come here."

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