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.