Derek Dooley on Vanderbilt's offense
From his spot on the opposite sidelines, Eric Russell didn't have the greatest view for what turned out to be one of the highlights of the year in college football.
All the Tennessee special teams coach saw was a swarm of white jerseys and Arkansas wide receiver Joe Adams running in the wrong direction. For a unit that hadn't been forced to tackle many punt returners all season, it was shaping up to be one of the plays of the year for the fresh-faced UT punt team.
And then it just wouldn't end.
" 'He's not down yet, what do you mean?' " Russell recalled thinking. "All of a sudden he pops out of that thing."
Sixty yards — maybe 80 yards of actual ground covered — and seven or so broken tackles later, the Vols had surrendered their first return touchdown of the year, extending a streak of allowing at least one per season since 2005.
The play served as a back-breaker in a game the Vols eventually lost 49-7. It just won't serve as a reason to change much from a schematic or personnel standpoint against visiting Vanderbilt on Saturday (TV: ESPNU, 7 p.m.).
"You're never going to get more guys around a ball-carrier," Russell said. "Wish I had a better answer. I could say we're going to run this or do that, but no. Do what you do and do it better."
Was it an aberration? Maybe.
Before Adams' return, the Vols (4-6, 0-6 SEC) had allowed just five to go more than 10 yards and ranked fifth in the SEC in average yards allowed per return. That was despite the inconsistent punting tandem of Matt Darr and Michael Palardy, who both struggled in last week's loss.
From Russell's perspective, though, the Vols' punt team, even after nine games, was unproven. Before the Arkansas game, opponents were averaging just a little more than one return per game.
"You come out and we coach the same things and do the same things we've been doing," Russell said. "If there was better guys to do it, we'd be using them.
"We got who we got and they're our best guys for what we're asking them to do and they've got to step up and do it."
Those players, a number of whom weren't on the punt team last year, will simply have to tackle better against Vanderbilt (5-5, 2-5), which boasts a punt return unit that averages 6.36 yards per return.
"It wasn't just arm tackles or we're just getting glances on him," Russell said. "We full-out had chances to hit, wrap and we bounced right off him. It goes to pure fundamentals and want. He wanted it more than we did on that play."
Jackson Up to Speed: Coach Derek Dooley has often remarked that freshman offensive guard Marcus Jackson was one of the Vols' strongest players from the moment he arrived on campus.
That didn't mean he was in the best of shape.
Thanks to daily jogs of four miles or more, along with a rigorous conditioning schedule that has carried on throughout the season, Jackson is down to 315 pounds. He said he's made a 60-pound turnaround, losing 30 pounds of fat and gaining 30 pounds of muscle.
"I never thought I could run four miles," Jackson said Tuesday in his first interview as a Vol. "When I'm on the treadmill, I really don't think I've done four miles when I look down at it."
Jackson, who enrolled during the spring, has started the past three games at left guard.
"He played a lot better last week than he had the first couple," Dooley said. "He looked like a true freshman out there. Showed some signs that get you encouraged, then makes some bad mistakes."
Dooley said he wasn't aware Jackson had been running so much outside of practice.
"He's lost some weight and he moves better," Dooley said. "Maybe that's why he's so sluggish in practice. I'm going to go check on that."
On the Mend: Linebacker Raiques Crump and safety Prentiss Waggner (shoulder) wore green, non-contact jerseys for the third consecutive day. Both players are expected to be available Saturday.
Freshman running back Marlin Lane and offensive guard Zach Fulton, both of whom were limited earlier in the week, were in normal jerseys and worked with their respective units at full capacity.
Wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers did not have a brace on his left knee after wearing one the previous two days.