Call it a comeback: Ben Martin gets through first practice

Tennessee defensive lineman Ben Martin adjusts his helmet during the Vols' first practice of the season Tuesday at Haslam Field.

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2011

Tennessee defensive lineman Ben Martin adjusts his helmet during the Vols' first practice of the season Tuesday at Haslam Field.

Ben Martin back after injuring both Achilles

The first goal was modest, but it's already out of the way.

The comeback effort for Ben Martin is officially under way, though the Tennessee defensive end did what he could to downplay it after finally leaving Haslam Field as an active participant once again.

Rather than talk about winning a starting job or finishing his career with a huge senior season that was delayed by an Achilles injury last year early in fall camp and another added since then, the conversation is mostly limited to smaller achievements and incremental progress. And for a man returning from two significant surgeries for his first practice in a year on Tuesday, just making it to another one was an encouraging sign for the Vols.

"He was able to make it through Practice One, which is the first thing he's done since I've been here in 18 months," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "I consider that tremendous progress, and I say that not really in jest. I'm serious.

"There's a lot of anxiety, you're pushing around, and I'm sure he was a little nervous. That was our goal today, get to Practice Two, and we accomplished it with him."

The second was the one that gave Martin some problems a year ago, cutting short his original senior campaign before it could start and forcing the Vols to look elsewhere for help on the line after suddenly losing an expected starter.

Since hurting the other Achilles tendon in February and undergoing another surgery, the expectations obviously aren't as great this time around for Martin — particularly since there was no guarantee he'd even be back this fall.

He admitted having some thoughts of quitting after the second setback, and Dooley has repeatedly stressed that any production the Vols got out of him would be a bonus after a year of rehabilitation. That means both UT and Martin are taking a cautious approach in camp, starting by simply trying to get him in shape, accustomed to playing at a heavier weight of about 270 pounds and learning the defensive schemes after his year away from action.

"(Quitting) crossed my mind, but in the end I love the game too much to let it go," Martin said. "Today felt good. I'm all right and just trying to get in shape, and it hasn't been bad at all.

"It doesn't feel odd for me. I'm just ready to play football, and I'm not trying to do anything extraordinary. I just want to play football and help this team win."

Whether or not he's able to get back in the rotation or have a chance to build on a 2009 campaign that included 38 tackles and 3.5 sacks, it took plenty of work to even be in position to report for another camp with the Vols.

The amount he poured into the offseason produced an award for perseverance from the team for his work in the weight room, with Martin setting an example for some much younger teammates with his work ethic and resiliency despite a rocky road during the last 12 months. The path definitely isn't paved for him now, but with one practice out of the way, Martin can move on to the next goal

"Just his attitude through it all, even though he's had the two surgeries, he's always been the guy who works harder than anyone else, he always has a smile on his face," defensive tackle Daniel Hood said. "He comes in after the workout, he works harder than anyone else, then he works just as hard during the workout. It's people like that, whenever you come in and you're feeling a little sore and you're down on yourself, he pushes you harder.

"You know, with his work ethic and everything, realistically I think he can start, he can make All-SEC, All-American — it's just being able to stay healthy and complete a season."

Before the Vols can start thinking about things like that, Martin had to complete a practice with the team again.

Now he's on to the next one.

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.

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Comments » 26

VolGrad writes:

Go Ben. We need you 100%.

GBO!

VolinCalif writes:

I think he can do it. Go vols

TheOpinion writes:

"This s*** right here, call that Come Back
Drop this 9 off, and I'll be right back" Jeezy

Bufforange00 writes:

Never Never Never Never EVER give up, young man.- Vince Lombardi

smokies_old_soul writes:

great to hear some good news for Ben Martin.

btw ....... anyone notice that the practice jerseys look sharper than the game jerseys - and the numbers look like football numbers, not little basketball numbers that are on those gawd-awful adidas skin-tites from last season.

tree_em_smokey writes:

in response to MOUNTAINofOKEMO:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Agree Okemo

zigvol writes:

in response to MOUNTAINofOKEMO:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Is this a Witch Doctor wanna be?

tennvolsman19651965 writes:

Keep up the good work Ben. I hope we see you back on the field next month. We missed you last year.

SignalMtnVol writes:

in response to InDestruCtible:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Wow. That's pretty civil. It's hard not to root for this young man, though. The determination for someone to succeed over huge obstacles always brings out the good side in people.

Good luck, Big Ben.

voloffaith writes:

in response to zigvol:

Is this a Witch Doctor wanna be?

Maybe,but he/she has been here for a while doing the lil indian thing. I just can't figure why he/she has two poster child names. First is tnmantravel etc. Then Okeefanokee/okemosabe as second. I keep reminding him/her that I pay no homage to anyone other than my GOD and especially an imaginery figure requesting essentially,though in fun(?),idol worship.

TheSolution2TheProblem writes:

he will do fine

ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog writes:

I can't even remember the last time I saw him play..Looking forward to see how he performs on the field after these achilles heel issues..Those are VERY DIFFICULT to recover from..One is bad enough, but two..Wow..kudos to him for working hard to return to the football field.

Smokey is still on the prowl for some potion to keep the injury bug away this year..Any ideas, WD??

mdvol writes:

Plenty of reason to be optimistic about Martin and the whole UT team. There are several players who are bouncing back from injuries that can add some key depth...Martin, Greg King, Naz Oliver (4 star DB from NJ), and of course Herman Lathers.

Vols go 4-0 in September.

Volunatic writes:

I hope Ben Martin has a GREAT season. He has had to deal with so much adversity and pain. It's great to read what a positive outlook he has kept throughout his recovery.
Keep up the good work, Ben!

VOLliven2it writes:

Good to see Ben back. We need him. I just hope he can stay healthy. If so, he will make an impact along the d-line. It has been a long journey to be here. Now big guy, show us the heart we all know you have. GO BIG ORANGE!

tonyvick#213307 writes:

If you really understood the magnitude of an achilles injury. Just being on the field after one is a great comeback. Being on the field after two is a miracle. This kid must be special.

lomas98 writes:

I remember when he signed. It was a big catch stealing him from Ohio St. and he was a highly regarded recruit. I thought he was going to be that next star DE that TN was accustomed to having. Hopefully he is able to contribute and make it through the season healthy.

murrayvol writes:

in response to InDestruCtible:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

One's hard enough.

givehim6 writes:

Right now the young guys need a leader on the D line to give them that spark, I know MJ can be the vocal leader but Ben can say I know your tired and hurt I am too but come on dig deeper be a Vol let's win this one guys.

oskie_score writes:

Ben Martin was just beginning to hit his stride (2009) when he first went dn w/ an injury, it's been a difficult journey but BM is resilient and relentless in his efforts.
Great example of determination. Tremendous character and resolve.
Hope the best for this young man.
Stay healthy.
Good luck, Ben!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to tonyvick#213307:

If you really understood the magnitude of an achilles injury. Just being on the field after one is a great comeback. Being on the field after two is a miracle. This kid must be special.

You got that right, TV! Just the thought of driving 270 pounds into a 300-pounder--repeatedly!--while pushing off of two iffy Achilles tendons makes me a little queasy. My fingers will be crossed for this young man every second he is on the field.

Thanks for your warrior spirit, Ben! I hope it doesn't betray you. We could really use you on the field this year, but most of all we want you to be able to take a normal walk holding your grandchildren's hands some day.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

This kid has shown flashes of greatness, just couldn't stay healthy. I think this is gonna be his time. If he's truly 270lbs as the article says, I personally think that will help. He's always been a bit undersized yet had great quickness. I think his size contributed to some of his injuries in the past. But if he can keep half of that first step and is TRULY 270lbs. he will be a beast. He and Marlon Walls, if healthy, will be key this season. Our D-line is shaping up to be rather decent.

trubleoj#657755 writes:

He REALLY wants to play Cincy. One silver lining from his injury last year forcing the redshift was the bearcats on the schedule. Beat Cincy then focus on da lizards.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Says a lot about Ben and the UT medical staff and trainers that he's even playing football

mytrifecta writes:

in response to MOUNTAINofOKEMO:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

dude really? the witch doctor is amusing...your sad take-off on his character is just sad.

GainesvilleVol1 writes:

This is what it means when they say " YOUR BLOOD RUNS ORANGE!".

GOOD LUCK BEN!!!!!

GO VOLS!!

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