KNOXVILLE — Chris Walker has had a fine college career at Tennessee.
The soft-spoken, 6-foot-3, 245-pound, self-proclaimed “total mama’s boy" from Memphis has collected 84 tackles, nine sacks, 14 stops for loss and three forced fumbles in 42 games and 17 starts at defensive end. The former high school linebacker also has defended three passes and corralled two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.
And he’s done every bit of that on just one good wheel.
Walker admitted earlier this week in a one-on-one interview with the Times Free Press that he’s played these four seasons with a knee problem. The senior didn’t say which knee has provided the problems, and he didn’t disclose the specific injury, but he said he’s had three surgeries for it — including one this summer.
“It was something that happened when I got to college,” Walker said. “It’s kind of something that’s been a chronic thing that’s just come back and forth. But overall, it’s been something that I’ve been able to deal with pretty well.
“It’s just a thing, man. It’s just something that it’s just kind of there. It’s nothing that’s big that can keep me out for games, but it’s something that if I get caught in a certain position, it hurts.
“But it’s something that I move on from. Like I said, I’ve just learned to manage it.”
Walker played most of last season also with a small stress fracture in his lower back, but that’s been repaired. The knee, meanwhile, can only be managed.
“I think it’s something that with the great training staff like I have here, and if I get the chance to go to the next level, what they’ll have there, I think it’ll be something that I can manage for a while,” he said.
Walker, who considered signing with Alabama out of high school to play outside linebacker in Nick Saban’s 3-4 base scheme, is probably too light to keep his hand on the ground at the professional level. But he is considered by many a decent linebacker prospect in the NFL, and he knows teams that look at drafting or signing him will meticulously study the bum knee.
“They’re going to do a really in-depth physical, because they want to know what they’re investing their money into,” he said. “Obviously, I think that that’s something I’m going to have to go through. I know that the doctors are going to poke and prod it and see what’s going on down there, and I’m ready for it.
“And in the end, I know I’m going to be fine.”
Walker, a member of most preseason All-Southeastern Conference teams, has been a solid senior to this point. His 24 tackles are among the SEC leaders for linemen, and his versatile role in coordinator Justin Wilcox’s scheme has him lining up all over the place — including cornerback for at least one play against LSU. He’s had to cover some tight ends and running backs down the field as well.
“It’s just a different look for me, being able to cover people and do some blitzing here and there, and do some standing up here and there,” he said. “It’s a lot of different looks for me that kind of make me multiple in what I do. I like it a lot, because whatever I do that helps the team is going to make us a better team, and I’m willing to do that. If that’s covering a tight end or covering a running back on a wheel route, that’s what I’ll do.”
But he hasn’t registered a single sack. He’s been close on several occasions, but like defensive line coach Chuck Smith preaches, “Close don’t count.”
“It’s just really, really frustrating,” Walker said. “I’m getting a lot of pressures and being right there, and the quarterback is getting rid of the ball as soon as I get there. It’s really frustrating. A couple of them, there’s times where I’m just moving around and not going. But then there are other times where they’re doing quick-game stuff, and I’m getting there, but they’re just throwing it quick. I’m remembering how Rob [Ayers] was his senior year, and how he did the same thing. There were so many times when he was that close to getting sacks, and he’s just been telling me to keep pushing.
“Sacks come in bunches. That’s what I’m going to keep doing ... just keep pushing.”
Rave Reveiz review
UT linebackers coach Lance Thompson said senior middle man Nick Reveiz, the SEC leader with 10 tackles per game, has evolved from a 5-10 walk-on into a “special player.”
“He’s playing at a high level, and I’m really happy for him, because of what he’s had to overcome in his career,” Thompson said. “As a coach, and as the people that love this university and support our program know, he’s the type of young man we want representing our program, and he’s played at a winning level.
“If we had 22 guys playing at Nick Reveiz’s level, we’d all be a lot happier right now.”
First-year head coach Derek Dooley said Reveiz is on the “really small list of things I don’t worry about.”
This and that
Sophomore left tackle Dallas Thomas didn’t practice Thursday afternoon on his sore ankle, but sources said the goal was simply to give him “as much rest as possible” before Saturday. Coaches hope he’ll pass a pregame test and start at Georgia. If not, they’ll be very nervous about the alternative options.
Senior kicker Daniel Lincoln missed another day with a tweaked upper leg muscle, making it even more likely that freshman Michael Palardy will start again at Georgia.
Quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said he was pleased to see starter Matt Simms have success on designed draw plays at LSU, but don’t look for that to become a staple of the offense.
Said Hinshaw: “We have a couple of those plays, but not many. If it’s a good situation, we’ll run the quarterback. It’s something we may use some, but it’s not something where you want to run the quarterback a lot in this offense.”
Tight ends coach Eric Russell, who also handles UT’s special teams, said he was pleased to see his units “finally” have a solid game at LSU. Said Russell: “Finally, some things came together. We told our players, ‘It’s a good thing. You set a standard of what’s expected.’ LSU coming in was pretty impressive unit-wise, athletically, schematically, fundamentally. They were ranked pretty high in almost all the SEC categories. We challenged them, and our guys did go out and compete. We weren’t perfect, but we seemed to avoid some of the mishaps that have been happening and [got] guys to understand how important every little play is. It was pleasing, and I told them that.”