Punt return position still up for grabs
Derek Dooley used two hands Monday to show how much of a dilemma he has on punt returns.
The Tennessee coach flashed five fingers on his left and one on his right to emphasize that the Vols have muffed six punts in a 10-game span this season. He then split it two and two to show how many players have contributed to the problem and have yet to offer him a permanent solution.
"We've got to figure out a way to get through these next couple of games," Dooley said at his weekly news conference. "I promise you, I'm coaching it the same way I've been coaching it my whole career and we're working them."
Dooley said he "had an idea" whom he would be looking at to step in Saturday (TV: CSS, 7:30 p.m.) at Vanderbilt, but requested a day or two before divulging specific candidates.
Wide receiver Gerald Jones - who was the first player to muff a punt this season and eventually relinquished his job to cornerback Eric Gordon after injuring his hand - was apparently one of those players at Monday's practice.
"They've got me back there. I'm excited," Jones said. "I've got to get back in the groove of things, it's been a minute since I've caught them. But I'm pretty sure I'll be fine."
Though he wouldn't guarantee any dynamic returns, Jones said "if nothing else happens, I'll catch it."
"I'm going to make sure I do that and not try to overdo anything else," Jones said. "We really need these two wins."
Dooley wouldn't directly say if the latest player to take his hacks at the job, safety Janzen Jackson, had been dismissed from punt returning duties, but Jackson's two muffs against Ole Miss last Saturday - both of which were recovered by UT - certainly didn't elicit much confidence. Jackson also went down with an ankle injury on his final punt return, prompting Dooley to put no one back for the Rebels' next punt and then freshman wide receiver Justin Hunter out for the last one.
"Coach Dooley knows I'm better than that," Jackson said. "He knows I was just anxious to get a return and make something big happen. But it didn't go that way."
The Vols rank 110th in the nation on punt returns this season, averaging 4.07 yards per attempt.
Status Updates: Gordon and wide receiver Zach Rogers should not be hindered by their respective concussions and are expected to play Saturday, Dooley said.
"As long as they stay on that path, they should be OK," Dooley said.
Jackson appeared to be at full speed and was not wearing anything noticeable on his injured ankle during practice.
"I think it got rolled up underneath me and it got stuck in the ground," Jackson said. "But it's doing better today."
Right guard Zach Fulton (ankle), who did not play against Ole Miss, participated during the early portions of practice.
"I don't know if he'll be 100 percent," Dooley said. "We probably won't know until tomorrow, but he wasn't ready to play on Saturday, so hopefully he will be this week."
Mackey Man: Luke Stocker was one of eight players nationally named as a semifinalist for the Mackey Award, given annually to the nation's most outstanding tight end.
Arkansas' D.J. Williams was the other SEC tight end to make the cut.
"It does feel good," Stocker said. "It's good to be acknowledged for some of the production I've had this year."
Stocker, a preseason second-team All-SEC selection, has caught at least one pass in every game this season on his way to 28 receptions for 306 yards and a touchdown. In the past two games, Stocker has seven catches for 96 yards.
"I've been proud of Luke," Dooley said.
Just For Kicks: Dooley said freshman Michael Palardy would likely maintain his job as the team's kickoff specialist despite two consecutive weeks of subpar kicks.
Palardy averaged 56.9 yards per kick against Memphis and 58.6 on his nine kicks against Ole Miss.
"He's struggling," Dooley said. "I think he's just like all the other freshmen. The problem is everybody's looking at him every time he's out there. Hopefully he'll come out of it.
"Nobody hurts about it more than him. He knows he didn't perform well. But he didn't kill us."