Martin goes to school

Martin goes to school

When Tennessee's Wes Brown suffered a concussion in the early stages of last Saturday's scrimmage, his head wasn't the only one that was spinning.

Brown's backup, sophomore Ben Martin, suddenly found himself working with the first-team defense at left end. He had enjoyed a fantastic career at Cincinnati's LaSalle High School but a minor knee injury limited him to mop-up action as a Vol freshman in 2007. Thus, he was taking a big step up in class Saturday afternoon.

"It was a good experience for me because I got to go against the 1s," he said, referring to the Vols' first-team offensive players. "These are the kind of guys that'll be playing in the games on Saturday, so it really helped me recognize what I need to work on."

At 6-3 and 240 pounds, Martin definitely needs to work on keeping opposing blockers from locking up on him. He learned this lesson the hard way while giving away 85 pounds going against 6-6, 325-pound Vol offensive tackle Ramon Foster.

"Big Ramon is good with his hands," Martin said. "If he gets his hands on you, it's pretty much done. He doesn't let go. You can smack, rip, do whatever you want ... but he's not letting go."

Still, the key against a man/mountain like Foster is no different than the key against a 240-pound fullback.

"Pad leverage and using my hands better," Martin said. "My coach (Steve Caldwell) tells me everyday in practice that the lower I stay the easier it will be to pass rush."

Martin's pass-rush skills made him famous in high school. He recorded 14 sacks as a junior defensive end, then moved to linebacker as a senior and recorded eight more. Parade tabbed him All-America, while Scout rated him the No. 1 player in Ohio and a five-star prospect.

Despite the hype surrounding his arrival on The Hill, Martin said he has never felt any pressure at Tennessee.

"That doesn't mean anything to me," he said. "I came here to work, and that's what I'm here to do. Every day I'm just going to come out, work and try to get better."

Martin needs to get significantly better because the level of competition is significantly better than what he faced in high school. He dominated against high school players with quickness, strength and athleticism alone.

"Yeah, it was a combination of those things," he conceded. "Here, it's more about technique. In high school you'd give a little head and shoulder fake, the guy would lunge at you and you'd just swim over the top of him. That was pretty much it right there."

Minus 2007 starters Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds, defensive end is considered a potential trouble spot for the 2008 Vols. So is defensive tackle, making the front four a real question mark for the season ahead. Martin, however, is confident the defensive line will be just fine.

"I feel very good about this defensive line," he said. "Once we get all the guys in practice, it's going to be a good defensive line."

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