KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee has an uphill climb if its to win the SEC East Division in 2017, with last year’s starting quarterback and all-time sacks leader moving on to the NFL.
For sure, Coach Butch Jones’ team has little margin for error, and it will need for all of the celebrated recruits of the past to pan out and contribute for the team to make a run.
Senior cornerback Justin Martin is one example.
The 6-foot-2, 183-pound Martin possesses all of the athletic gifts needed to star at his position, but to this point he has been a bust since signing with the Vols in the 2015 class out of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M junior college.
Martin, originally from Nashville’s Overton High School, was rated the No. 2 JUCO cornerback in the nation and No. 11 junior college player overall when he chose UT over the likes of Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Auburn, Georgia and Florida, among others.
“It’s not my job to talk about what-ifs,” Martin said Thursday, asked if he wondered how much he could have contributed had he been able to play a more significant role the past two seasons.
“I just keep my head down and grind every day and get better.”
Martin said the defense has bought into defensive coordinator Bob Shoop’s “no drama” message, focusing on communication and accountability.
“As soon as last season was over, we all met with the coaches and we all met with each other and we basically laid out the guidelines of what we wanted to do and what we wanted to accomplish, and set out with what we had to do to get it accomplished,” Martin said.
“There was a lot of behind the scenes drama with people not communicating — you don’t want to hold stuff in, because when you hold it in, eventually you will explode and that’s never good,” Martin said. “If a problem occurs we address the situation immediately.”
Shoop said last week that Martin is playing as well as he has in his career, and new secondary coach Charlton Warren has praised Martin for his focus and consistency.
Martin was asked how much more potential he has yet to show fans, and he took the time to give a measured response.
“I feel like there’s a lot I haven’t shown, and a lot that will be shown, but it’s in due time, due time,” Martin said. “It’s my last year, so I feel like I have a lot to prove to my teammates. I’ve got to prove to myself, really. I feel I could have played way better than I did last year.
“It’s important for everyone to play well, not just me.”
Martin said he believes the techniques he is learning from Warren will be the key to him getting on the field more and performing better for the Vols this season.