Jim Chaney talks about the Vols offense after practice on Thursday
Turns out, learning and retaining information about a certain position in football isn't like riding a bike.
At least that's how Tennessee's Marlon Walls, a redshirt sophomore who is now on his third position since high school, puts it.
The linebacker-turned-defensive-tackle-turned-defensive-end didn't know his latest position switch would be permanent when it was sprung upon him in the spring, but he knows it is now. That's why Walls has engrossed himself with all the intricacies and minutiae that comes with being a defensive end, a position of glaring need for the Vols heading into the 2011 season.
"When you transition, you forget so much stuff," Walls said. "If you put me back at linebacker, I probably would get embarrassed out there. As you switch a position, you take so much time spending time on that position, you forget about tackle or linebacker."
Walls checked in at 6-foot-2 and 281 pounds before the start of camp, heights and weights typically associated with players at Walls' former position, tackle. All that means is Walls, who said Friday that he's trimmed down and hopes to play at 275 pounds, is just "a big defensive end," defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said.
Some fine-tuning, though, has transpired since he made the switch midway through the spring.
"He carried some weight in the spring that wasn't real good weight and it was hard on him to move and it didn't necessarily help him," Wilcox said. "For his sake and our sake, his best spot is going to be defensive end.
"He's going to be a guy where we still need to figure it out — he may need to be a swing guy. It's just the state of where we're at right now, and that's fine."
With Chris Walker and Gerald Williams gone, and Corey Miller transitioning to tackle, the Vols return just two players — Jacques Smith and Willie Bohannon — who played substantial snaps at defensive end last season. No Vols slated to see time at defensive end this season have ever started in a college game.
That's why Walls, even with his lack of experience and unique build, is currently slated as a co-starter with Bohannon at right end. No matter what transpires over the next month, Walls will have to have a key role on UT's front four by default.
"We have to do a good job of understanding what their role is and putting them in a position where they can help us and try to limit the times they're in a position that doesn't use their strengths," coach Derek Dooley said. "Marlon has done a good job lining up on the tight end, handling the two-back runs, because he's a heavier guy. We need him for that role."
Though his role will focus on run-stopping, Walls showed noticeable excitement Friday when he discussed the additional opportunities he'll now have at getting to opponents' quarterbacks.
As for figuring out how he'll actually get to the quarterback? That's yet to be honed.
"I'm so used to being inside in such a small space that when I get outside I'm used to doing certain moves and I can't do them anymore," Walls said. "I'm just learning how to pass rush more on the outside and having more space, being able to work those moves."
Walls hasn't seen the field since 2009 after missing all of last season with a torn Achilles' tendon. He played in just seven games as a freshman, picking up two solo tackles, but he showed enough potential to elicit lofty expectations about his future of manning the middle of UT's defensive line next to Montori Hughes.
Now, Hughes is gone because of academic reasons and Walls is on the end, trying his best to cram yet another position's worth of knowledge under his helmet.
"When they told me (about the switch), they said if it didn't work out, they'd move me back," Walls said. "But I think I'm more comfortable out there, so it's a blessing."