Coach Fulmer addresses the media - Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008
Florida linebacker, Brandon Spikes, made the comment Monday after practice that Tennessee had "quit playing" last year and that Florida was tougher than Tennessee. Coach Fulmer and some of the Vols respond to Spikes' comment. Watch »
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Don’t ask Florida coach Urban Meyer about trying to kick the ball away from All-SEC kick returner Brandon James. It’s akin to asking Bobby Knight, “What’s a game face?”
“Kick away from them?” he asked back. “How do you that?”
He then answered his question.
“You can’t do that,” he said. “You change the (direction) of your kicks, that’s how you get punts blocked.”
I realize that Meyer is a special-teams guru. I also realize that questioning his expertise on kicking and punting isn’t much different from second-guessing Norm Chow’s play-calling.
But I still don’t like the alternative: Punting the ball to James.
The Vols tried it last year. And James ran 83 yards for a touchdown.
They tried it in 2006, too. That would have resulted in another touchdown if one of James’ teammates hadn’t blocked a Vol in the back, and it was a close call.
The Vols will get another shot at James on Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium. My advice: Don’t take it.
Punt the ball out of bounds. Punt it short. Risk a block.
Anything beats punting the ball to the best kick returner in the SEC, particularly when you remember what happened last year and the year before that.
What makes the 5-foot-7 James such a monster on kick returns?
“Speed” is an obvious answer. James is fast enough to have run on the Florida track team, although there are a handful of Gators even faster.
But James isn’t just fast. He’s fast from the first step.
“Percy Harvin (Florida’s wide receiver) has got the fastest first step in college football,” Meyer said. “But the guy right behind him is Brandon James.”
Quickness and cutting ability are a couple of other obvious James attributes. Even his shortness works in his favor, according to teammate Ahmad Black.
“He’s small, so a lot of guys go down for the kill shot,” Black said.
It’s like taking a roundhouse swing at a good boxer. You don’t make contact.
Despite all of James’ physical skills, his attitude eventually convinced Meyer to make him the punt returner. The decision was made two years ago as the Gators entered Neyland Stadium.
Meyer just happened to be right behind James as they made their way through the tunnel onto the field. The crowd was large and loud enough to intimidate a veteran, much less an 18-year-old true freshman.
“I look at this little nut doing the Gator chomp,” Meyer said. “So I grabbed him and said, ‘You’re our punt returner.’ ”
James’ reaction to the good news: “Huh?”
His second reaction: “Hell yeah. Let me go out there and make a play.”
James has been making plays on kick and punt returns for two-plus years. He has averaged 14.1 yards on 54 career punt returns and 23.8 yards on 57 kick returns.
And no matter how much attention he draws, he rarely turns down an opportunity.
“I try not to call for a fair catch,” he said. “My guys do such a great job of holding up (defenders), so I can take risks. I don’t fair catch anything unless we call for a block. I have all the confidence in the world they will get the job done.”
The Gators feel the same way about James.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.