Vols' kickoff coverage: 'Right now, we're doing it the right way'

Kickoff coverage one of Vols' most solid units

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley calls them his "core guys," and on most occasions where one of their names pops up, he'll usually follow by saying he needs more of them.

Tyler Wolf, Raiques Crump, John Propst and Dontavis Sapp are by no means common fixtures on the stat sheet, but they're at the heart of the most effective unit on UT's entire team: kickoff coverage.

Though it doesn't directly equate to success in wins and losses, UT is one of the nation's best at defending kickoff returns, ranking first in the SEC and eighth in the nation with an 18.36 yards-per-return average.

"It's the scheme," Wolf said after Tuesday's practice. "The coaches have a good scheme and right now we're doing it the right way, I guess."

Wolf, a senior walk-on, has been one of UT's best on kickoffs, as he leads the Vols with eight special-teams tackles, four of which came Saturday at Memphis. Wolf was second only to Eric Berry in 2009 with 10 tackles on special teams.

"Everybody was playing their assignments right," Wolf said. "They led the ball to me. We all have our lanes and the opportunity came."

Special teams might be where Wolf's career at UT ends, but it serves as a launching point for freshmen such as Crump, Propst and Sapp.

"They bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm," Wolf said. "It's the big lights for them. Never done anything like that. It's neat to have them out there. They bring a spark."

Propst and Crump both received their first real action in a UT uniform on special teams, but have found more opportunities for meaningful playing time on defense.

On Saturday, as the Vols carried a commanding lead through the second half, the two linebackers saw most of the repetitions, as Crump led the way with six tackles.

Propst chipped in with one, but had a similar, six-tackle second-half in October against Georgia.

"I've been pleased with a lot of these young guys," Dooley said. "Crump and Propst are a couple of guys who were not in the mix earlier in the year and now we really feel comfortable putting them in the game."

Sapp, one of UT's least touted signees, has worked into the rotation much more slowly, but had a big hit Saturday.

"We don't have enough of those guys - those size, speed, runner hitter guys," Dooley said. "He's been a boost for us but we've settled in on that unit so far.

"Knock on wood, we've been playing pretty good. We just need some better kicks."

Get In The Lincoln: Senior Daniel Lincoln kicked in practice Tuesday and will likely resume his duties Saturday (TV: WVLT, Noon) against Ole Miss.

"The guy hadn't missed a field goal," Dooley said of Lincoln, who was 7-of-7 on field goals through the first four games.

"I don't really want to shelve him for getting hurt."

Lincoln has missed the past five games with a sore quadriceps muscle in his kicking leg. Freshman Michael Palardy has seen moderate success in his absence, hitting five of his seven field-goal attempts, but has struggled on kicks from beyond 40 yards.

Four of Lincoln's field goals this season have come from 40 yards or beyond.

"If he was a little shaky today, I might think about it," Dooley said. "But he nailed them. He looked good today."

Teague Update: Cornerback Marsalis Teague (turf toe), who sat out the Memphis game, received some limited work Tuesday in hopes that he will be available Saturday.

"We're giving him more each day," Dooley said. "He looked a lot better today than he's ever looked so hopefully he'll be ready to go."

Stonewalled?: Dooley didn't hesitate to praise new center James Stone for his impressive debut against Memphis, but he was cautious when evaluating the freshman Tuesday.

Stone did not have any bad exchanges with Tyler Bray and Matt Simms despite the fact that Saturday marked the first time either quarterback had worked with a left-handed center.

"Sometimes, they hit that dip," Dooley said. "It's like that batter. You bring him up to the bigs in May. He's stroking it, batting .400, everybody thinks he's the answer. And then all of a sudden in June pitchers start throwing the curve, they read the book on him and he's .089.

"We've got to be careful. It's a long haul."

Andrew Gribble covers Tennessee football and recruiting. He may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble/

Get Copyright Permissions © 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2010 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Comments » 4

wigmeister writes:

This has been a heck of a lot better than last year!

Fulton_Vol writes:

Good article. I am sooooooooooooo glad the kicking team has improved. It was sorely needed after last year's horrific performances. Keep up the good work and please continue to improve, you're looking better so let's go out the right way....win out.

illinoisvolfan writes:

Keep up the good work on special teams coverage. Hopefully the special teams improvement will carry over to kick returns as well. GBO.

jack_2222#231746 writes:

Now if the Vols can get some kick and punt returns going, get the entire kicking game up to traditional standards, that's the first step to resurrection.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features