Fisher fills glaring need

Fisher fills glaring need

He was a forgotten man last fall but he's determined to make University of Tennessee fans remember him this fall.

If he accomplishes that goal Walter Fisher could play a big role in Big Orange Country. That's because he plays defensive tackle, where Tennessee is scrambling to replace first-round NFL Draft pick Justin Harrell and second-rounder Turk McBride from its 2006 squad.

After being hampered by shoulder problems virtually since his arrival from junior college 20 months ago, Fisher believes he is on the verge of a breakout season now that he is finally healthy.

"It feels great," he said. "The team's looking for a lot more from me, and I'm anxious to get out there and show 'em what I can do when I'm 100 percent. I'm ready to prove a lot of people wrong."

Fisher took the first step in that direction Tuesday, performing so well in UT's first full-pads workout that head coach Phillip Fulmer singled him out for praise. That shouldn't be surprising. When healthy, Fisher has always been a dynamic defender.

He was voted Mr. Football in Tennessee after recording 130 tackles and leading Nashville Hillsboro to the state title in 2003. He signed with UT in February of 2004 but couldn't qualify for admission, so he spent a season at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.

Switched from linebacker to end shortly after joining the Vols, he showed flashes of brilliance in the spring of 2006. When Harrell suffered a season-ending biceps injury two games into the '06 season, Fisher moved from end to tackle to bolster Tennessee's depth.

How did it feel going from a 245-pound linebacker to a 255-pound end to a 265-pound tackle in a matter of months?

"I'm pretty sure that was already decided before I even got up here," he said, flashing a smug grin. "I was on a mission when I got here that I was going to get bigger. I already knew I was going to D-end or D-tackle."

Compared to roaming the field as a linebacker, the life of a defensive tackle is a dirty job. You're constantly being held, chop-blocked and double-teamed by 300-pound offensive linemen. Still, Fisher has no complaints.

"Anything to help the team," he said. "I could play center ... it wouldn't matter to me."

Fisher recorded just eight tackles in 2006, with two of them being for minus yardage. Now that his surgically repaired shoulders have had time to heal, he vows to be much more productive in 2007.

"The shoulder surgeries slow you down," he said. "You're timid on hitting again. It slowed me down a lot. When you're not working out and you're gaining weight, it throws off your momentum."

Although many fans consider defensive tackle a weak link in Tennessee's defense, Fisher begs to differ. He thinks Demonte Bolden, J.T. Mapu, Dan Williams and himself will be just fine.

"We've got four different types of players," he said. "We've got Demonte, who's a bruiser, a head-banger. You've got Mapu, who's skilled, quick and big. You've got Dan Williams, who takes up about three gaps.

"Me ... I try to do all three if I can. We've all got different attributes we bring to the table."

When healthy, Walter Fisher brings a lot to the table. The key is: Can he stay at the table for 12 games?

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