The broken bone in Gerald Jones' hand has left the job as Tennessee's punt returner wide open.
And a pair of defensive backs were lobbying for the opportunity after the Vols finished practice Monday in preparation for Saturday night's game against No. 11 Oregon (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.).
"That's one of my favorite positions on the field and one of those positions (where) I'm the most comfortable," cornerback Eric Gordon said.
"I've been waiting on this a long time. Hopefully I will make the best of my opportunity."
"It's the coaches' decision," safety Janzen Jackson said. "I just like to have the ball in my hands, really. We're going to definitely need some help on punt return, we didn't do that good last game. You should be looking to see some new faces back there."
Jones, a senior receiver, had two returns for minus-8 yards and muffed the game's first punt in last Saturday's season opener against UT Martin.
He hurt his hand making a catch later in the game and will miss the next two games, leaving UT coach Derek Dooley with an important decision to make on a position he's had concerns with for a while.
"It's been a concern," Dooley said at his weekly press conference Monday. "(Since) the first day of spring practice I came off the field and I said, 'I'm nervous about our punt return situation.' "
Tailback David Oku was listed as the punt returner in a depth chart released Monday, but Dooley wasn't ready to give him the job.
"I don't know if (Oku's) the No. 1 guy, we've got to figure all that out," he said. "We're pulling out old high-school film on some of these guys to reevaluate where we are."
"I'm going to get my tape right after this," Gordon joked.
"It makes me that much more versatile if I can go cover a guy, and anything can happen out there, then I can go redeem myself on punt, kick return. You can't ask for more as a player."
Oku, Jackson, Gordon and freshmen receiver Justin Hunter were the candidates Dooley mentioned.
"You always want a guy who can change the game back there," Dooley said, "but you want him to change the game for you. I think Gerald misunderstood me when I told him (that). He almost changed the game (the other way)."
Gordon feels he's got the tools to be UT's returner.
"First of all, (I'm) somebody that's going to catch the ball," he said.
"And then I just think me with the ball in space, I don't have any rules so I can pretty much just freestyle and do what I want to do. I feel like I'm just very versatile in the open field."
The Real UT: Phil Simms, former NFL quarterback and father of UT junior quarterback Matt Simms, saw his first game in Neyland Stadium against UTM.
"He was really excited to sit in the stands," Matt said. "He loved the atmosphere of the Volunteer crowd. He said it was unbelievable."
He's also got a favorite between UT and Texas, where Matt's older Chris played.
"He did say it was better than Texas," Matt said, "so I can't wait to rub that into my brother a little bit."
Status Update: Starter receiver Denarius Moore and starting guard Jarrod Shaw had walking boots on their injured ankles at Monday's practice. Dooley said both are "day-to-day" and questionable for Oregon.
Sure Tackling: UT's defense didn't miss very many tackles against UT Martin thanks to an increased focus on it during preseason camp.
"We had a great night tackling," junior linebacker Austin Johnson said.
"Back in our first scrimmage of camp, we had a really bad day tackling. From that day we really harped on tackling. I think we'll be a great tackling team for the rest of the year."
Balancing Act: Dooley was asked how he would handle the confidence boost from the opener and keep his team from becoming overconfident.
"Well, if they look at the film and they get overconfident, then we've got a bigger problem," he quipped. "We've got an intelligence issue that we have to deal with. I'll probably send them to the Thornton Center for a little work."
Patrick Brown is a freelance contributor.