KNOXVILLE -- Marlon Walls played the 35th game of his Tennessee football career Saturday at Florida.
It may have been the fifth-year senior's best one, too.
The 6-foot-2, 272-pounder from Olive Branch, Miss., just outside of Memphis, appeared in the Gators' backfield on multiple occasions and registered one tackle for loss, forced a fumble and pressured quarterback Jeff Driskel on nickelback Devaun Swafford's interception-return touchdown for the Volunteers in the first quarter of the 31-17 loss.
"I think so," Walls said Monday when asked if Saturday was the best performance of his career. "It's kind of a bittersweet deal, because we still got the loss, and all that really don't matter anymore. I think Coach Strip [defensive line coach Stetve Stripling] is doing a great job of teaching.
"I think I'm getting better by just listening to what he's telling me to do, and I feel like I'm starting to progress a little bit just by listening to him."
One of only three players remaining from former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin's infamous 2009 signing class, Walls entered his final season with 37 tackles, four for loss and just one sack in his three previous seasons.
Four games into his senior year, Walls already has 11 tackles, four tackles for loss -- which leads the Vols -- and two sacks.
"I thought he had one of his best performances," head coach Butch Jones said. "Marlon has been a great leader. It's important to him, and I thought he played his best football at Florida.
"We're going to need him, obviously, as we continue to progress here."
On the Vols' defensive score against Florida, Walls rushed around Gators left tackle D.J. Humphries, forced Driskel to step up in the pocket and wrapped him up at the knees as he threw.
Driskel broke his leg on the play and is out for the season, and Walls said he's already offered him some encouragement on Twitter.
"I was just trying to get to the quarterback and affect him any way I can," said Walls, who missed the entire 2010 season after rupturing his Achilles' tendon. "Unfortunately I landed on his leg, and I didn't even notice it until he went down and he started screaming. It was just a bang-bang play.
"It was just a football play, just trying to make a play for my defense."
More on the line
Tennessee's offensive line has struggled at times the past two games against Oregon and Florida, who have two of the better fronts the Vols will see this season. Against the Ducks, the Vols picked up most of their 178 rushing yards in garbage time, and Florida held Tennessee's ground game to 66 yards.
Though Oregon and Florida managed just one sack, both were able to pressure Tennessee's quarterbacks.
"I need more in terms of a level of physicality and finishing plays," Jones said of the offensive linemen, "and they understand and they know what. We're continuing to work on that. The hardest thing to to teach with an offensive lineman is playing with a pad level and playing with a low center of gravity, and a low pad level is a direct byproduct of playing physical.
"We're working on that each and every day."
Florida defensive end Dante Fowler was named SEC defensive player of the week after recovering a fumbled handoff and forcing another turnover when he strip-sacked Nathan Peterman, and defensive tackle Dominique Easley also was active and disruptive.
"That was definitely, I think, probably the best D-line in the country," Tennessee right tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "I feel like we battled. It was a battle.
"It was one of those SEC battles. In certain areas they got us, and in certains areas we got them. I just think it went back and forth a lot throughout the day."
Maggitt to redshirt?
Linebacker Curt Maggitt isn't expected to play Saturday against South Alabama, and there's a possibility the junior could be heading toward a redshirt.
"We'll see where we're at in the season as the season continues to progress," Jones said. "A lot of it will be dictated upon his wishes and his family's wishes as well."
Maggitt has been on the practice field the past few weeks, but he's yet to play.
"Curt is going to be week to week on how he progresses," Jones said.
Jones said he's "not spoken yet" to Arian Foster regarding the Houston Texans tailback's admission that he took money during his senior season at Tennessee in 2008. Jones noted the program's "current situation" under his watch, where players receive constant education regarding NCAA rules.
Foster, the three-time Pro Bowler, made his first return to Knoxville since the end of his college career for the Vols' spring game this year.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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