Photo by Adam Brimer
Another Tennessee defensive lineman is headed to the training room.
That won’t necessarily be enough to send the coaching staff scrambling back to the drawing boards, though.
Sophomore defensive tackle Marlon Walls became the second expected starter up front to suffer a likely season-ending Achilles injury on Saturday, joining senior defensive end Ben Martin, who went down with the same issue on Thursday.
And though health concerns have already prompted one personnel move, the Vols won’t be making any drastic changes to their schemes to compensate for them.
“Our Achilles heel so far has been our Achilles heel,” UT coach Derek Dooley said Sunday afternoon. “Marlon, he looks like he’s going to be out for a while. Same injury as (end) Ben (Martin), so that’s too bad. But we moved over Victor Thomas back to the defense, so that’s the only real personnel move we’ve made to this point.
“(When evaluating schemes), what’s a little bit different about a 3-4 from a 4-3 is you really need three big guys. In a 4-3 you need two big guys, so you can get away with some lighter ends in a 4-3. Well, if you go to 3-4 you say there’s one less defensive lineman, but you’re adding one more big guy because you’re reducing them down. Even though it’s less linemen, it’s more big guys you need.”
The Vols added one more to the mix by shifting Thomas back to defensive tackle from center, but even before the injuries this week they didn’t have the size to fit a 3-4 attack — and losing two bodies doesn’t make it any more feasible.
Heading into camp, UT was reasonably comfortable with its depth and style on the defensive line. And though the former has taken a huge hit with Martin and Walls perhaps gone for the year, the latter won’t dramatically change because of it.
“Not to my knowledge (it won’t),” defensive end Gerald Williams said. “If the coaches make that change, then that’s what we’ll do. But for now, we’re still with our same scheme for the spring and we’re going to keep rolling with that.
“Our defense, we’re strong. As you see, the next guy steps in, Steve Fowlkes stepped in at tackle and isn’t missing a beat. (They) never quit, never quit. They’re Division I guys, and they’re on scholarship just like everyone else here.”
Thomas was expected to use this season to supply some depth on the other line, but his offensive days are over again for now.
The senior will be thrown back in with freshman Arthur Jeffery, Fowlkes, junior Rae Sykes and senior Minor Bowens to find a partner for rising star Montori Hughes at tackle. And if there’s any bright side for the Vols, it might be that the early rash of injuries will give them plenty of time for auditions.
“We’re looking at going into a 2-5 (defensive front), maybe a 1-6,” Dooley joked. “We’re going to be the first team ever to employ the 1-6 — and the one better be one big guy.
“But here’s the thing about football — you can’t sulk too long. Injuries are a part of it, and you just adjust and move on. It doesn’t mean you don’t hurt for the guys that are injured, but they’ll be fine. It’s opportunity. One man’s loss is another man’s opportunity.”
Two opportunities are available on the line already. But the number of spots UT will employ there still hasn’t changed.