Marlon Walls is finally eligible to play football at the University of Tennessee. UT assistant head coach Ed Orgeron can appreciate that almost as much as Walls.
“We’re just so happy for Marlon and his family that after all the hard work he’s done, he’s finally got the chance to play for Tennessee,” Orgeron said after a Thursday afternoon practice. “There was a lot of work done on everyone’s part.
“We feel like Tennessee is the right place for Marlon to get a great education. We’re confident that Marlon is going to have success here.”
Walls is a much different player than the one Orgeron first recruited as the head coach at Ole Miss. Back then, Walls was a 215-pound linebacker at Wooddale High School in Memphis.
He’s done a lot of traveling since then. And added a few pounds along the way.
Now, he’s a 6-foot-2, 290-pound lineman, who could provide depth to a thin defensive front.
“He’ll probably going to play tackle,” Orgeron said. “From what I could see, he’s in pretty good condition but he hasn’t worked out with us one time. But we feel like he will bring some quickness inside.”
Orgeron is surprised at the size of the former linebacker.
“We see guys throughout our career (who become much bigger),” Orgeron said. “He didn’t look like he had the body type.
“But you sure want guys who have athletic ability like that. So we’re excited.”
So is Walls, who was back home in Olive Branch, Miss., when he got the news.
“I’m hitting the road tonight,” he told the News Sentinel by phone Thursday afternoon. “I’m ready to roll.”
His journey to UT has been anything but direct.
He transferred to Olive Branch for his senior year of high school, committed to Ole Miss, then signed with the Vols. When he didn’t qualify academically, he enrolled at Hargrave Military Academy, where he played last season.
He re-signed with UT in February.
Tight Competition: Starting jobs are up for grabs almost everywhere, but the competition is especially close at tight end between Luke Stocker and Jeff Cottam.
“It changes daily who the starter is,” head coach Lane Kiffin said. “That’s exactly how I want it.
“The competition has made them both better. Both are definitely playing better than they were in the spring. They’re playing better in the run game especially.”
Stocker left practice early with an ice pack on the inside of his right foot, but after practice said he was OK.
Punter Praise: Kiffin is gaining confidence in junior punter Chad Cunningham,
“His numbers have been really good compared to the spring,” Kiffin said. “He really had a good off-season.”
Cunningham said this has been his best preseason camp.
“I’m a totally different punter than I was last year,” Cunningham said. “Consistency wise and hang-time wise, I’m so much better.”
Cunningham averaged 39.5 yards per punt in the first five games when starter Britton Colquitt was suspended last season. Two of his punts were blocked.
Safety Dance: Prentiss Waggner continues to see plenty of first-team snaps at safety alongside All-American Eric Berry. Defensive backs coach Willie Mack Garza said Waggner has the inside track to land the starting job over junior Dennis Rogan because of experience at the position.
Rogan has started 12 games for the Vols, but all of those starts were at cornerback. Waggner practiced solely at safety in the spring while Rogan was at corner.
“He had a good spring, and he’s really stepped up now,” Garza said. “So I would say that Prentiss would have an advantage because he’s played the position all through the spring and Dennis Rogan didn’t.
“But Dennis is a very smart football player, very intelligent, has great savvy, and understanding of the game. It didn’t take him long to pick it up, but it’s still a learning process for him.”
UT is also taking a look at freshman Janzen Jackson at safety, along with senior walk-on Derrick Furlow, whom Garza complimented.
Rogan isn’t seeing anytime at corner, Garza said, but a move back would be natural.
“Oh yeah,” Garza said, “He’s got the skills to go out and play corner.”
Practice Report: Quarterback Nick Stephens threw a couple of interceptions. Jackson and redshirt freshman safety Rod Wilks had the two interceptions. ... The offense struggled to run the ball in an early session, but was more successful later. Senior Montario Hardesty had the best day of the running backs.
Injury Update: Starting defensive tackles Dan Williams and Wes Brown both returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday night’s practice. Starting defensive end Chris Walker also returned.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284.