For Chris Walker, the transition didn't take long.
A backup the last two seasons at defensive end, the junior quickly embraced a starting role during spring practice. More than just lock down a job, Walker served notice that he's well on his way to becoming a star.
Even coaches on the other side of the ball couldn't help noticing how disruptive the 6-foot-3, 232-pound junior was in practice and scrimmages.
"He doesn't look real big," new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said, "but I tell you what, he's hard to block,"
Just don't expect Walker to buy into the hype yet.
"To me that's just what it is, hype," says Walker, named the Vols' most improved player on defense this spring. "I'm working to keep that up and I have a lot of people to keep happy. I don't want to disappoint anybody. I'm working hard for that, and I'm just trying to keep playing at the level I did this spring."
If spring practice was any indication, the Vols could be on their way toward improving on last year's total of 23 sacks, which ranked 10th in the SEC.
First-year defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, regarded as one of the best line coaches in the country, inherited another talented defensive end in junior Ben Martin. Martin, a former Parade All-American, figures to start opposite Walker to give the Vols legitimate speed rushers on both sides of the line.
But as with recent years, the biggest questions about Tennessee's defensive line come in the middle.
In addition to end Robert Ayers, a first-round draft pick in April's NFL draft, tackles Demonte' Bolden and Walter Fisher are gone from last year's group. Those two players combined for 55 tackles and nine tackles for loss. Ayers led the team with 15.5 tackles for a loss last season - a total that ranked third in the SEC - although he had just three sacks.
With Bolden and Fisher gone, the Vols have little depth at defensive tackle aside from senior Dan Williams. Of course that's a big aside, says linebacker Rico McCoy.
"It's a different ballgame when Big Dan's in the game," McCoy said of the 6-3, 327-pound Williams. "That's the bottom line. He's a beast. He's been playing like a monster the last two years if you ask me. I can tell a difference when he's not in the game."
The Vols hope senior Wes Brown will make a difference moving inside to tackle after starting all 12 games last season at end. Brown, who had three knee surgeries during the offseason, is on track to play this fall.
The Vols could also get a contribution from Montori Hughes, a true freshman tackle who drew praise from coaches and teammates alike during spring practice. Walker said Hughes continued on the same path during offseason workouts as well.
"As always," Walker said. "Montori's just a freak athlete. It's just exciting to watch him work and play."
UT could also get help from Victor Thomas, Chase Nelson and Andre Mathis at tackle, while redshirt freshmen Willie Bohannon and Steven Fowlkes are the likely reserves at end. Highly touted prospect Gerald Williams appears to have found a home at defensive end after beginning his career at linebacker. True freshmen Marlon Walls and Arthur Jeffrey will begin fall camp on the defensive line as well.
And despite a lack of depth at some spots, Walker sees a bond developing up front.
"I think we're building a lot of good chemistry," he said. "We're kind of thin in some areas, but I think just building that chemistry with each other and knowing how each other is going to play and expecting a lot out of each other is going to elevate that play for everybody."