Justin Martin working to prove himself in final year in Vols secondary

Justin Martin working to prove himself in final year in Vols secondary

April 11th, 2017 by David Cobb in Sports - College

UT's Justin Martin (8) tackles Appalachian State's Jaquil Capel (16) Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Neyland Stadium.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Justin Martin "listened to the outside noise" his junior year.

Last week, he finally got the chance to create his own.

Tennessee's football staff allowed Martin to meet with reporters Thursday for the first time in his three years with the program, as the Volunteers continued a spring practice session that reportedly has gone well for the charismatic senior cornerback.

Martin used the opportunity to articulate his gratitude for the fresh start he has with first-year secondary coach Charlton Warren, who is challenging the Nashville native to focus on techniques and fundamentals as his final college season approaches.

"It's my last year, so I feel like I've got a lot to prove to my teammates and myself, really," Martin said. "That's really it. I just feel like I could have played way better than I did last year."

A strong finish to spring practice, which ends with the April 22 Orange and White Game at Neyland Stadium, could position Martin to enter the 2017 season as a starter following two erratic years in the program.

Martin started eight games in his first two seasons with Tennessee, after spending his freshman year in junior college at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. But he struggled to maintain consistent playing time and ran into off-the-field trouble last year.

Head coach Butch Jones suspended Martin for the Vols' game with Georgia last year due to a violation of team rules.

"I don't know the history," Warren said of Martin. "I wasn't here. But at the same time, since I've been here I've seen a guy that's locked in and focused."

"(Warren) said that basically I have a clean slate," Martin added. "He doesn't know what happened before he came, so he basically told me I get a chance to start over from the beginning."

Tennessee is looking for someone to fill the void left by the graduation of cornerback Cam Sutton, a four-year staple in the secondary. Martin emerged from the junior college ranks as a consensus four-star prospect with offers from other SEC schools and little doubt about his talent.

This season will test Martin's ability to incorporate the intangibles into his game.

"You have length, you have speed and all that," Warren said. "But if you don't have techniques and fundamentals, it really doesn't matter. He's a guy that's really taken that to heart. He's a guy that's really focused every day on the details of his position and techniques, and I like what I'm seeing out of him these last couple practices."

Martin, who is among Tennessee's most active players on Twitter, reveled in his first chance to speak with reporters by posting a photo on the social media website of himself surrounded by writers and television cameras.

Jones even came up behind Martin during the interview, stood next to the player he once suspended and smiled.

"The fact that they let me meet with the media just shows they trust me a little bit more every day," Martin told the reporters. "My trust is growing."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.