Russell says UT's coverage units 'better'

Simms dressed, limited in practice

Jones on team struggles, youth and Eric Berry

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Eric Russell is nowhere close to being satisfied.

But Tennessee's special teams coordinator admits he's seen recent improvement for his punt and kickoff coverage units.

"We've been solid, better," Russell said.

"That's been encouraging. I think we've had stability in those units, we haven't been changing as many people around and we've stayed relatively healthy.

"Guys are starting to understand they've been playing with good effort and they've had some intensity about 'em, a little bit of excitedness."

While UT has struggled in the return game and has yet to swing the special-teams phase of a game in their favor, the coverage numbers demonstrate improvement.

The Vols (2-5, 0-4 SEC) are fifth in the SEC in net punting and rank second in the league and 16th nationally in kick return defense.

"They're starting to take a little pride in their coverage," Russell said, "and I think when they see the effort we're putting in and they're seeing a little success on the field, it lends you to want to keep doing it and playing better.

"I think there's just a more overall understanding of what we're trying to do in our coverage schemes."

After three consecutive opponents ranked in the top half of the SEC in return yardage, UT faces No. 17 South Carolina (5-2, 3-2) on Saturday. The Gamecocks are ninth and last in the league in the two return categories.

But UT's return game has yet to find a solution, as the Vols are 11th in the SEC in both punt and kick returns. Russell said the blocking has been good and the onus is on the returner.

"We've had air, there's been space there," he said. "It's just trying to settle on a guy that can see it and understand and hit it with conviction and trust that there's going to be some air there. We've had opportunities, the ball just hadn't ran where it's supposed to at times."

Eric Gordon remains the primary punt returner, though his partner on kickoffs has changed - tailbacks Rajion Neal and David Oku each had returns against Alabama last week.

"That's a learning experience," Russell said. "Getting those guys to understand schematically how we're trying to attack and when they need to break and where they're looking - we're still trying to educate some of these guys on that.

Status Update: Quarterback Matt Simms dressed but was limited in Thursday's practice. He wore a long black stocking on his sore left knee.

Safety Janzen Jackson, tight end Luke Stocker, receiver Denarius Moore and defensive back Rod Wilks all wore red non-contact jerseys.

Cornerback Marsalis Teague (turf toe) did some work on the side, but still appears doubtful for Saturday's game. Though Art Evans returned after missing Wednesday's practice, Prentiss Waggner and Eric Gordon worked with the first-team defense at corner.

Defensive tackle Montori Hughes and guard JerQuari Schofield both practiced, though Schofield still appears to be in the emergency role he was in against Alabama last week.

No Dime: Teague's injury may impact how much the Vols use their nickel and dime packages against South Carolina's offense.

"If they start to go empty (backfield) every snap, we've got to be ready to play our best guys on the field," UT defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. "We'll get the guys ready to go the best we can and let them go out and compete."

Creer Watch: Tailback Tauren Poole said he spent Tuesday night watching his former backfield mate Lennon Creer, who left UT and transferred to Louisiana Tech after spring practice in 2009.

"That was my first time actually seeing Lennon play since he's been here and actually seeing him in some action," Poole said. "Of course I wish he was here, so we could compliment each other."

Creer, also a high-school teammate of Vols receiver Denarius Moore, ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns in Tech's 49-20 road loss to second-ranked Boise State.

Though the two didn't talk that much during their time together at UT, Poole was happy to see Creer have success.

"It's good to see him doing well because it was unfortunate the situation he was in here," Poole said, "but at least he's stepped up and he's doing well."

Patrick Brown is a freelance contributor.

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Comments » 14

CoverOrange writes:

All that means the kicking game shouldn't be a factor in this game.

If Teague doesn't play against SC I wouldn't expect him against Memphis either. Toe sprains take time to heal and you can't wrap it up like an ankle.

wyomingvol writes:

I don't post much, but no Art Evans might be a blessing....

kyvol98 writes:

in response to wyomingvol:

I don't post much, but no Art Evans might be a blessing....

I can't disagree, but it doesn't sound promising on D, for now, but it will!

jobrando#216494 writes:

I would like to give Palardy much credit for getting the ball long and high. What a difference it makes. More than happy with special teams this year.

gnm53108 writes:

in response to jobrando#216494:

I would like to give Palardy much credit for getting the ball long and high. What a difference it makes. More than happy with special teams this year.

Yep.

He's gettin alot of help tho...Our coverage is much improved.

Too bad that returner playing for the Titans dont have any eligability left...Maybe he has a brother.

FearTheVols1252 writes:

in response to jcvet33:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I'm lovin' the coverage unit this year... big improvement over previous seasons. Now, if we can just get that whole counting thing down... :-)

givehim6 writes:

It would be nice if we had the dual threat of Pool and Creer at RD, doest seem like anyone else is going to equal Pool this year. Creer is another talent Kiffin let slid between his fingers. Was not the threet of Brown that made him leave?

Prostar writes:

I'm hoping our little speed merchant commit from Bearden will get the yards we need next year on the kickoff and punts. By the way whatever happened to Matt Milton and Ted Meline. I know one went to defense, but they are as visible as Toney Williams. I thought he was going to be a load.

illinoisvolfan writes:

I'm curious as to how Patrick Brown could tell Art Evans missed Wednesday's practice. From the view on my TV last Saturday, it looked like Evans missed the Alabama game as well. CER should try Evans as a kick or punt return man. The way he avoids people in coverage as a DB, imagine if he could perform that skill as a return man.

volstokke writes:

If Teauge is out we are an extreme trouble. With us not being able to play dime or some nickel packages its gonna be bad. Plus you know Spurrier is just itching to hang half a hundred on us. Lets hope Garcia keeps us in the game with bad decisions. Go Vols!

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to gnm53108:

Yep.

He's gettin alot of help tho...Our coverage is much improved.

Too bad that returner playing for the Titans dont have any eligability left...Maybe he has a brother.

Actually Palardy IS the reason for the improvement on Kick coverage. He kicks it to the 3-5yd line and HIGH, giving the kick team time to cover more ground. The same coverage team looked PATHETIC the week before Palardy came in. BUT YES, our kick AND punt coverage is MUCH MUCH better.

As for a KR, I've got two words. 1)Devrin 2)Young!

mercyseat writes:

in response to illinoisvolfan:

I'm curious as to how Patrick Brown could tell Art Evans missed Wednesday's practice. From the view on my TV last Saturday, it looked like Evans missed the Alabama game as well. CER should try Evans as a kick or punt return man. The way he avoids people in coverage as a DB, imagine if he could perform that skill as a return man.

that's hilarious! Seriously Art Evans is in need of a pulse!

Juzkruzin writes:

Ducks wearing the USED TROJANS out!! Go BO and DUCKS. Stick it to USC, YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Juzkruzin writes:

Ducks win 53-32, USC scored on 2,3 and 4th stringers. Ducks back ran for 260 some yards. Stuck it up Kiffins azz!!

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