Defensive end Chris Walker has been a standout so far during the early stages of Tennessee’s spring practice.
While Walker has turned heads, he’s been wowed by a fellow defensive lineman, too.
True freshman defensive tackle Montori Hughes has only been on campus for a few months, but he’s already caught Walker’s attention.
“That kid’s going to be a monster,” Walker said. “He’s just a raw athlete right now. Give him two more years, three more years under coach (Ed Orgeron), he’s going to be a good player. I’m really excited about him.”
Hughes, at 6-foot-2, 312 pounds, certainly has the size to hold his own, but Walker sees more than just size when he looks at Hughes.
“He really just surprised us with his quickness and his speed and his agility and how strong he is to be a true freshman,” Walker said. “It’s really remarkable how strong he is, how naturally strong he is. He has a really good motor, plays really hard, so it’s going to help out.”
The Vols certainly need help at defensive tackle, although it is uncommon for true freshmen to make a significant contribution at the position.
Aside from Dan Williams, of UT’s returning defensive tackles, only Andre Mathis recorded a tackle last season. And Mathis spent most of last season playing defensive end.
Hughes enrolled in January and is not available for comment under UT’s policy that prohibits media from interviewing true freshman.
Deja Vu: Center Josh McNeil had one of those weird moments when he first saw UT coach Lane Kiffin and defensive line coach Orgeron walking the halls of the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.
McNeil met both when he took an official visit to Southern Cal before signing with the Vols in 2005 as one of the nation’s top prospects at center.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Wow, I honestly never thought I would see these guys again,’” McNeil said. “It’s just funny the way things work out.”
McNeil, a native of Mississippi, enjoyed the coaches, Kiffin and Orgeron included, at USC. What he didn’t like was life in Los Angeles.
And even though he’s playing for Kiffin now, the big-city life still holds little appeal.
“Los Angeles, man, just wasn’t for me,” McNeil said. When a reporter jokingly asked if eight-lane highways don’t work for him, McNeil quipped, “No they don’t. And they still don’t.”
Good Timing: Safety Eric Berry, for one, is glad the Vols scheduled their first practice in pads before spring break.
“I probably would have hated to come in after spring break, after we’ve relaxed and had a week without working out and all that other stuff and just came in surprised with how practice would be,” Berry said.
Scheduling: Spring practice resumes Tuesday with additional workouts scheduled for Thursday and Saturday. The Vols will follow a similar schedule leading up to the Orange and White game at 3 p.m. on April 18.
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.