Who's the D-line coach?

Marlon Walls

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Each morning Marlon Walls drops by the Tennessee football offices to see who his position coach is this month.

OK, that's an exaggeration ... but only a slight exaggeration.

Here's why:

Dan Brooks was Tennessee's defensive line coach when Walls signed with the Vols out of Olive Branch (Miss.) High School in February of 2008. Walls never played for Brooks, however. Flagged by the NCAA Clearinghouse, the player spent 2008 at Hargrave Military Academy; sacked by Tennessee, the coach resurfaced at Clemson.

By the time Walls re-signed with Tennessee in February of 2009, Ed Orgeron was the Vols' defensive line coach. After coaching Walls in '09, however, Orgeron bolted for Southern Cal.

Chuck Smith was Tennessee's defensive line coach in 2010 but Walls didn't get to play for him, either. An Achilles injury forced the player to redshirt that season.

When Smith was shown the door at season's end, Lance Thompson took over as defensive line coach for 2011. He fine-tuned Walls that fall, then returned to Alabama.

John Palermo served as Tennessee's D-line coach last fall. After working with Walls for 10 months, he was cut loose as part of the Derek Dooley purge in December.

Enter Steve Stripling. For those keeping score at home, he is Tennessee's sixth defensive line coach since Marlon Walls initially signed with the Vols in February of 2008. That must be an NCAA record.

"Coach Stripling called me right after he got the job," Walls recalled, "and he said, 'You guys have had five freakin' position coaches in five years!'"

For Walls, it's six in five years if you count Brooks, who was the D-line coach of record when Walls signed his scholarship papers in '08.

Obviously, the lack of continuity in Tennessee's defensive line meeting room has been problematical. Being an upbeat sort, however, Walls sees a positive amid all of the negative. He has learned D-line play from just about every perspective imaginable.

"I think it helps us a little bit because you pick up on defenses a little faster," he said. "I know that's crazy to say — that we're getting used to change."

For what it's worth, Walls believes the instability of Tennessee's defensive staff is about to end. He is very impressed with the new assistants.

"I think these guys are going to be here for a long time," he said. "I hope so. They're already helping us out more than ever before. Coach Stripling is a great guy. He knows what's going on, so it's my job to just shut up and listen. We're excited, man."

Tennessee's 2012 defense was so bad that Walls believes the returning veterans are eager to redeem themselves in 2013.

Steve Stripling is the latest in the revolving door of defensive line coaches in Knoxville.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
"I think we're hungry," he said. "We're tired of talking about it; we're ready to go out there and do something about it. We've got a lot of seniors. We've had some hardships here but I think it's going to help us in the long run. We're hungry. That's the only word I can come up with: We're hungry."

No wonder. The Vols allowed 35.7 points per game last fall, prompting some to call them the worst defense in program history. Even Walls was shocked by how inept the defense proved to be.

"I was," he said. "As a player here at the University of Tennessee, you know what great defenses you've seen. When you get out here and finish like that it's disappointing. But last year is last year. We're wiping it away.

"We know we can be a good defense ... a great defense ... especially with this coaching staff. We're looking for it. Our expectations are high. This coaching staff is going to make sure we get there."

One thing Walls likes about the new staff is its switch from last year's 3-4 scheme back to Tennessee's traditional 4-3 base.

"I think we've got the personnel for it," he said. "With the two big guys in the middle (Maurice Couch, Daniel McCullers) and some guys with speed on the outside, I think that's what we're a fit for. I think that will help us out ... less double teams."

Another positive: Football seems to be a lot more enjoyable under the new regime than the previous regime.

"This coaching staff most definitely preaches having fun," Walls said. "They know how hard it is on us. As players, we appreciate it. And I think this team is tired of going 5-7."

Given the nightmare Tennessee's defense endured in 2012, merely bringing in new staffers and a new scheme is a welcome change.

"I think it helps out a lot," Walls said. "Most guys on this team just wanted a fresh start, to see something new. I like the coaches' attitude they're bringing: We're Tennessee, and we're second to none. I love it, man.

"It was a good change. Sometimes change is good."

Unless you change defensive line coaches five times in five years. That might be a little extreme.

Check out InsideTennessee highlights of the Tennessee D-line and other units at work under the new coaching staff during spring practice back in mid-March below:

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