KNOXVILLE -- Ben Martin has gone from his usual perch atop the training table to a spot atop the University of Tennessee football team's depth chart.
The fifth-year senior, who's ruptured both Achilles' tendons in the last 12 months, will start at one defensive end in Saturday's season opener against Montana at Neyland Stadium, which surprises even coach Derek Dooley.
"I was hoping it, but I didn't [expect it]," Dooley said after practice Monday morning. "He was another one of those gravy guys. So far -- knock on wood -- he's where we want him to be, and I think he's going to help us."
The Volunteers have been careful with Martin throughout preseason camp, limiting him in reps and resting him for some practices. That's appeared to have helped the former five-star recruit, who's a different player than the pass rusher he was before each of his injuries last August and in February.
"I'm a little heavier; I play the run a lot better; I'm smarter, for sure," Martin said. "I feel good right now. I'm not surprised by [starting], but I worked hard for it and we've got some great guys backing me up. I love these guys and I wanted to do whatever I could to help them."
The Vols listed a pair of bracketed backups on the defensive line in the depth chart released Monday, which could be an indication of a 10-player rotation.
The Vols lost their second safety in a week when Dooley said after practice that freshman Pat Martin has decided to transfer in what the coach called a "mutual decision." This Martin was not on the two-deep chart and practiced with the scout team in UT's mock game last week, although he was a four-star recruit from Greenville, S.C., and one of the most vocal recruiters of other prospects in the Vols' 2011 class.
UT announced Sunday that linebacker John Propst had switched jersey numbers to Pat Martin's No. 47.
Dooley dismissed star Janzen Jackson from the team last week, leaving junior Rod Wilks and freshman Brian Randolph as the backups to Brent Brewer and Prentiss Waggner at strong and free safety, respectively.
"Those guys have both progressed in different ways," Dooley said. "Rod's a guy that's been in the program and has gone through a lot of frustration I think from not playing, but he's had a great attitude and has shown a tremendous amount of improvement. We don't bat an eye putting him in the game.
"I think [Randolph's] going to get better and better over the course of the season. He's just brand new, so he's not playing as fast as you'd like him to because he's thinking. The more he gets it, the better he'll play. He's a really smart, intelligent player, and he's a physical player. He's going to be a good player for us."
Dooley didn't attempt to sugarcoat how Jackson's dismissal was a blow to UT's secondary. Waggner, Dooley said, is now in a spot the Vols "didn't need him in," and that's had a ripple effect.
"You start getting stressed everywhere," Dooley said. "Our program's better, our team's better, but we're not as good in the secondary."
With receiver Da'Rick Rogers and tailback Tauren Poole, Dooley has his preferred size at kickoff returner with no worries about two of his most important offensive players getting hurt on special teams.
"They're both heavier guys," he said. "I always like a little heavier guy on kickoff return because these guys are coming at you full speed and you can take some big hits. They bring good size and they're good runners with the ball. I've never coached special teams worrying about guys getting hurt."
Receivers Rajion Neal (knee) and Matt Milton (concussion) returned to practice Monday in red noncontact jerseys, and receiver Zach Rogers (triceps) and tailback Tom Smith (knee) practiced fully.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.