Even though he hasn’t returned a kick or punt this season, receiver Gerald Jones knows he’s not happy with Tennessee’s special teams.
“Our thing that’s killing us the most; it’s evident that kickoff, really, we’ve got to get better,” Jones said Wednesday. “There’s no question. We can’t continue to do what we’ve been doing all year to beat this (Alabama) team.”
Jones, who returned 15 punts and three kickoffs in 2008, is determined to uncover hidden yardage to help UT’s offense.
“Another thing that’s really been the key that a lot of people really haven’t realized is punt return,” Jones said.
“If they kick the ball short, me personally, I think we should run up there and call a fair catch instead of letting the ball roll 12 yards downfield.”
Jones said he expects defensive back Dennis Rogan to return more punts Saturday against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Rogan has split time with freshman receiver Nu’Keese Richardson this season. Rogan has been the more sure-handed of the two.
Jones feels better about UT’s chances returning kicks against Alabama, which has struggled covering kickoffs this season. Alabama’s 24.64 yard per return ranks 102nd in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“We’re going to throw some different things at them and try to get one to the house,” Jones said.
Injury Report: Defensive tackle Dan Williams was held out of the early portion of practice but entered drills later. Defensive end Gerald Williams did not practice but coach Lane Kiffin said the junior is expected to play Saturday.
Cornerback Art Evans was limited. Kiffin said he would be a game-time decision. Kiffin said Marsalous Johnson would replace Evans if he can’t play.
Senior receiver Quintin Hancock (foot/ankle) did not practice. Kiffin said Hancock could play Saturday even though he hasn’t practiced in a week.
Practice Report: Kiffin said he was pleased with practice Wednesday, especially the production by his quarterbacks and receivers.
“They were well over 90 percent completion percentage today,” Kiffin said.
Jostling Jones: Jones said he expects plenty of physical play from Alabama’s defensive backs, a staple of a Nick Saban coached team.
“They really get away with being physical down the field,” Jones said. “But I really don’t say that’s a good job by the cornerbacks.
“For me, I put it on the receiver. If you run a good route and your route is very detailed, it doesn’t matter … how much he’s grabbing on you, you’re going to get separation.”
Jones said UT has worked more on receiver versus defensive back drills to prepare for the contact.
Baiting Berry: Safety Eric Berry said there are usually more opportunities for takeaways against a first-year starting quarterback like Alabama’s Greg McElroy. That, however, doesn’t mean McElroy, who Berry describes as a game-management quarterback, is a pushover.
“That’s probably the hardest type of quarterback to go against is one that manages the game well, that can eat up the clock and get the first downs on third down and keep us on the field for awhile,” the junior said.
Crompton On Coverage: Quarterback Jonathan Crompton didn’t seem worried about Saban’s usage of multiple pass coverage variations.
“They can do all the wrinkles but we’re going to key who we’ve got to key,” the senior said.
Crompton said going against UT defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin helps the Vols prepare for a defensive coach like Saban.
“There’s a little bit (of similarities) but at the same time, there’s a lot of differences,” Crompton said.
Majors’ Motivation: Former UT coach Johnny Majors spoke to the team this week.
“The guys were very motivated by him,” Kiffin said. “For a guy that hasn’t coached in awhile, he can still grasp an 18-year-old’s attention. We love having him around.”
Berry Good: Berry was named one of 20 quarterfinalists for the Ronnie Lott Award, which is presented to the nation’s best defensive player based on on-field play and off-field contributions.
The award is named after longtime NFL defensive back Ronnie Lott.