A new direction for special teams

Dooley: Vols believe in the system

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The best punt returner in the conference was effectively shut down.

Now Tennessee could be following it up with the next guy on the list.

Using a new directional approach with punter Chad Cunningham and more aggressive style to keep LSU's Patrick Peterson in check last week at Baton Rouge, the Vols appear to have found an answer to some of their debilitating woes on special teams.

Derek Dooley wouldn't tip his hand for how he'll handle the kicking game Saturday at Georgia (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.), but the Tennessee coach clearly liked what he saw against the only guy in the league averaging more yards per punt return than Bulldogs sophomore Branden Smith.

So assuming Smith is able to get back in the lineup after suffering a concussion last week against Colorado, Dooley could be dialing up more of the same.

"We were directional a lot more against (Peterson), and that was a change schematically," Dooley said after practice Tuesday. "But I think most of the stuff is just believing in the system, trusting in the technique and playing aggressive and fast without thinking.

"They believed in the plan, they played fast, they played aggressive, there wasn't a lot of thinking and the players played better. So, I was proud of them. Against a real good squad, they got challenged. We're going to have another one this week - these guys are really good on special teams. They're fast, they've got a great returner, they've got a phenomenal kicker, so it's going to be big."

For the second week in a row, it's the return guy that figures to get most of the attention from UT (2-3, 0-2 SEC).

Aside from one 26-yard return for Peterson, a coverage unit that still ranks just 100th in the country proved it was up to the task with Cunningham angling his kicks and still averaging more than 47 yards per punt.

Now they might have to back it up against another game-breaking cornerback at Georgia (1-4, 0-3), and though Smith comes with much less fanfare, only Peterson has bettered his average of 15.2 yards per return in the SEC so far this season.

"I mean, that felt great for us on special teams, especially going against the No. 1 returner in the nation," Cunningham said. "To go out there and as a team net 42, 43 yards, I don't know if that's ever happened. All aspects of special teams, we worked hard and we knew to have a chance to beat LSU we needed to be great on special teams - and we did that and had the chance at the end, we just didn't get the breaks we needed.

"But it's a thing you have to be consistent with, and it's got to happen every week. Big plays, hidden yardage, everything comes out of special teams. I mean, it is good to have a great game against a great returner. But we need to be consistent every week in everything we do."

That's not a new emphasis for UT's much-maligned special teams, and it obviously applies to more than just covering punts. But collectively against the Tigers last week, the Vols turned in probably their best all-around performance in five games under Dooley.

Half of Cunningham's four punts were downed inside the 20-yard line, Eric Gordon provided a spark in the return game with 60 yards on two kickoff returns and a 21-yarder on a punt return and the Vols also held Peterson well below his average kickoff return yardage as well.

The only blemish was a missed field goal by true freshman Michael Palardy, who had to fill in for the injured Daniel Lincoln. But the improvements elsewhere certainly helped cover up that one misstep.

"The field position is too important, especially the way we're playing," Dooley said. "We're having to grind it out. We're not a three-and-out defense like we need to be and we're certainly not a quick-strike, fast, explosive offense.

"That means we need to make them go the long way, and maybe we can make them make a mistake."

And if the Vols happen to make a mistake on special teams, they're already facing another guy who take it a long way in the other direction.

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Comments » 27

Snapshot writes:

Finally some long needed improvement in special teams. I think Gordon did look good, if he will just keep it going.

AppreciativeAlum writes:

The team played really well against LSU.

iowavol writes:

One game isn't a trend but it is a start. You have to follow it up. Love the line from Dooley..."play aggressive and fast without thinking". That's what we need from Simms and the LB's as well. Read and react.

jobrando#216494 writes:

in response to iowavol:

One game isn't a trend but it is a start. You have to follow it up. Love the line from Dooley..."play aggressive and fast without thinking". That's what we need from Simms and the LB's as well. Read and react.

Me 2...if you trained well it just happens without thought intervention

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Truly an spec team "A" game vs LSU.

Need a repeat at Jawga.

VOLliven2it writes:

Hey hey, after Sat. we can in good conscience put the word Special in Special Teams. They looked so much better but need to keep that edge this coming Sat. The Dogs will likely come out swinging and we need to be ready early. I believe if we can hold down their emotional push early and not get behind, we can have an important win for our whole season. Be Special on kickoffs, punts, field goals etc.

volgrog#210164 writes:

Special teams ultimately killed Fulmer, in my opinion. There were a ton of special teams lapses in his last years. Florida every year Brandon James was at FL, Georgia has had a KR or PR for TD every year they beat TN in the last decade, fake punt by LSU in the SEC Championship game, Cal PR for TD, UCLA FG issues, and the list goes on. Two or more losses in both 2005 and 2008 were directly related to special teams, IMO.

I'm not a Fulmer basher in general and think he deserved another year, but special teams were horrible. He did make some changes that seemed to help in 2008, including the rugby style punt formation and bunch KOC but it was too little too late.

johnlg00 writes:

The squad as a whole has been about a step behind the rate of improvement I had hoped for, even given all their youth and inexperience not to mention several devastating injuries, but it is clearly showing signs of getting better in each phase of the game. The LSU game was by far the best UT special-teams showing, across the board, I have seen in years. Cunningham is punting with both distance and accuracy and Eric Gordon shows real promise in the return game. I'll give Palardy a pass on his first college FG attempt; he will make a lot of them for us in the coming years. Keep up the good work, guys!

tennrich1 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

The squad as a whole has been about a step behind the rate of improvement I had hoped for, even given all their youth and inexperience not to mention several devastating injuries, but it is clearly showing signs of getting better in each phase of the game. The LSU game was by far the best UT special-teams showing, across the board, I have seen in years. Cunningham is punting with both distance and accuracy and Eric Gordon shows real promise in the return game. I'll give Palardy a pass on his first college FG attempt; he will make a lot of them for us in the coming years. Keep up the good work, guys!

Before we EXPECT too much...remember to this point we have played the 4TH toughest schedule in the D1 football....oh, and that's without throwing Alabama, S. Carolina, Georgia etc in the mix...granted they struggled against a weak UAB team...but keep expectations very low for the rest of the season and we will enjoy the outcomes much more....IMO

illinoisvolfan writes:

in response to volgrog#210164:

Special teams ultimately killed Fulmer, in my opinion. There were a ton of special teams lapses in his last years. Florida every year Brandon James was at FL, Georgia has had a KR or PR for TD every year they beat TN in the last decade, fake punt by LSU in the SEC Championship game, Cal PR for TD, UCLA FG issues, and the list goes on. Two or more losses in both 2005 and 2008 were directly related to special teams, IMO.

I'm not a Fulmer basher in general and think he deserved another year, but special teams were horrible. He did make some changes that seemed to help in 2008, including the rugby style punt formation and bunch KOC but it was too little too late.

The only punt block I can remember in CPF's last few seasons came, ironically enough, against UGA in 2006. The weird thing about that play was even with the Dogs backed up to their own end zone, the punt block wasn't on. Some UGA special teamer just missed a block and the UT guy just walked in there and blocked it.

As for a UT player excelling on punt and kickoff returns in CPF's last few years, I'm coming up empty. Maybe one of our great fans out there can remember the last UT player to return a punt for six and the last player to take a kickoff in for a score. Thanks in advance for your help and GBO!!

Ayres_Hall writes:

I like Eric Gordon as the return man.

Flash - a-ah - saviour of the universe
Flash - a-ah - he'll save everyone of us
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Flash - a-ah - he's a miracle
Flash - a-ah - king of the impossible

LibertyVolance writes:

The all important kicking game. If we keep making progress in this area, we will be successful sooner rather than later. It could provide the difference against the Ga dawgs. It makes my confidence grow that this team is gaining confidence in their coaches and doing things better. Good timing and execution on the OL to prevent those darned procedure penalties is awfully satisfying to see.

volgrog#210164 writes:

in response to illinoisvolfan:

The only punt block I can remember in CPF's last few seasons came, ironically enough, against UGA in 2006. The weird thing about that play was even with the Dogs backed up to their own end zone, the punt block wasn't on. Some UGA special teamer just missed a block and the UT guy just walked in there and blocked it.

As for a UT player excelling on punt and kickoff returns in CPF's last few years, I'm coming up empty. Maybe one of our great fans out there can remember the last UT player to return a punt for six and the last player to take a kickoff in for a score. Thanks in advance for your help and GBO!!

The best special teams player in the 2000's that I can remember was probably LaMarcus Coker from middle TN, who was kicked off the team. He didn't score but had a number of long kick-off returns. I think he stopped a sure touchdown against Vanderbilt to save a win as well on special teams if I remember correctly.

I think the last KR for a TD came against Bama in 2004? I don't remember who scored.

easleychuck writes:

in response to naffy:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

And one mental giant on this board (use your mirror, son and you will see him) lacks the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time.

I am now going to list your many accomplishments in life:

DenverVol writes:

in response to easleychuck:

And one mental giant on this board (use your mirror, son and you will see him) lacks the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time.

I am now going to list your many accomplishments in life:

It's so freakin hard not to bite on every freakin' post naffy has or to call him out on the total douche that he is. But honestly he posts on every story on here to get someone to bite. Trust me, I want to put my fist through my monitor and grab his neck...but it's want he wants...to get a rise out of the good folks on here. That's all I have to say about that.

danisavol writes:

What does IMO mean

mercyseat writes:

in response to illinoisvolfan:

The only punt block I can remember in CPF's last few seasons came, ironically enough, against UGA in 2006. The weird thing about that play was even with the Dogs backed up to their own end zone, the punt block wasn't on. Some UGA special teamer just missed a block and the UT guy just walked in there and blocked it.

As for a UT player excelling on punt and kickoff returns in CPF's last few years, I'm coming up empty. Maybe one of our great fans out there can remember the last UT player to return a punt for six and the last player to take a kickoff in for a score. Thanks in advance for your help and GBO!!

I heard it was terry fair (2004) not sure of year.

mercyseat writes:

in response to naffy:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I agree 100% also throw in cody pope,art evans and prentiss waggner(he just acts like he's in a constant coma) and yeah I know he's made a few good plays but still disappointing. also luke stocker could be a bit tougher... anyway....Go Vols!

ThurmondEppy writes:

in response to naffy:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

And how much college football did you play? I thought so. Loser.

steamboatticket#484773 writes:

It's good that Lincoln is honest with the coaches about his injury, and it's good we got a backup with a leg on him. Palardy should be practicing with a new purpose, knowing he'll be in the show this week...Tennessee v. Georgia.

steamboatticket#484773 writes:

in response to danisavol:

What does IMO mean

In My Opinion...

steamboatticket#484773 writes:

in response to DenverVol:

It's so freakin hard not to bite on every freakin' post naffy has or to call him out on the total douche that he is. But honestly he posts on every story on here to get someone to bite. Trust me, I want to put my fist through my monitor and grab his neck...but it's want he wants...to get a rise out of the good folks on here. That's all I have to say about that.

Why step in it...because it's there? "Lighten up, Francis."

mercuryvol writes:

in response to naffy:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Even one-legged he could still kick your sorry @$$ into the next county(and hopefully off this board.)

mercuryvol writes:

On a more appropriate note,I don't think we have had a decent approach to ST play since "Bad News" Cafego was a coach.I believe he was actually a volunteer coach and not directly paid for his work.Correct me if I'm wrong.I DO know one thing about him-he was ALL VOLUTEER.

Ralph_Crampton writes:

I have a feeling that Lincoln will play Saturday...he can get it done if he gives it all, and he can play thru pain. You know if he kicked the field goal we missed the extra man on the field would be no big deal..I bet he plays Saturday.

VolcroW writes:

yeah i really think we found our man in Gordon, he's gonna be pretty good when he gets a few more returns under his belt. we'll see this weekend lets get um VOLS GBO

easleychuck writes:

in response to mercyseat:

I agree 100% also throw in cody pope,art evans and prentiss waggner(he just acts like he's in a constant coma) and yeah I know he's made a few good plays but still disappointing. also luke stocker could be a bit tougher... anyway....Go Vols!

Do you mind posting your sports' history so we can understand how you and the clown know so much about mental and physical toughness?

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