The mixed bag that was Tennessee's special teams last season has all the confidence it could possibly need shoved into one jersey.
His name is Da'Rick Rogers, and he plans to make up for what he didn't do last season — or what any Vol hasn't done since 2002: Return a kickoff for a touchdown.
"I'm back there in space, I'm fast and I'm big, I break tackles well," said Rogers, who with the rest of the Vols will open the season at Neyland Stadium today against Montana. "I'm just going to get to running and see who can tackle me."
Rogers isn't shy about his abilities as a kickoff returner, and UT's coaches aren't hesitant to praise his natural fit at the position. As Dooley said earlier in the week, Rogers has "shown some capability that he can 'spit' one," like when he ran a kickoff back 78 yards but came up short of scoring against Kentucky last year.
For the rest of UT's special teams units, the confidence certainly isn't on the same level as Rogers', but there's a better sense of stability than at this point last season, when Dooley and special teams coach Eric Russell were scrambling with a group that predominantly featured walk-ons.
"I know we've put in the work. And we've got work to do," Russell said. "There's still a lot of areas that we need a lot of improvement in, and still trying to identify personnel in. I think schematically we have an idea and just fundamentally getting the best guy out there is where we're still searching in some spots."
Russell said his kickoff unit is set, and it largely features the same players who helped make UT one of the best coverage units in the country last year. Despite consistently short kickoffs from Michael Palardy and Chad Cunningham, the Vols were first in the SEC and ninth in the country, allowing an average of just 18.9 yards per return. Only once was the unit able to benefit from a touchback.
The only hole to fill is a big one. Linebacker Herman Lathers, who is out for at least another month with a broken ankle, was a key member of the unit. His replacement, cornerback Izauea Lanier, isn't so big, but has largely filled in seamlessly.
"Our kickoff coverage unit comes with an attitude to work every day," Russell said. "They've still got a little bit of mentality that we're trying to get to these other teams. For some reason we haven't been able to quite get there on those guys yet."
The punt team, Russell said, could feature as many as eight new players. After surrendering an 80-yard touchdown to Oregon's Kenyon Barner in the season's second week, the unit was mostly reliable, allowing an average of 5.6 yards per return on the other 25 punts.
Punt returns, of course, were a comedy of errors for the Vols last season. An entire offseason wasn't long enough for UT to settle on a legitimate No. 1 returner.
It will either be Anthony Anderson or freshman Marlin Lane — or both — handling duties today.
"There are a couple of spots where we're going to see how things go and positions that are even," Russell said. "It's going to be a great test on Saturday."
A number of these units will feature starters from the offense and defense, but the bulk of the players are what Dooley describes as "core guys." It's a group led by players such as Anderson, linebackers Raiques Crump, John Propst and Dontavis Sapp, safety Rod Wilks and defensive back Eric Gordon.
Though it was a delight for him to see freshmen linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt win starting jobs, Dooley said it forced him and Russell to reconfigure their plans a bit on special teams. Starters are only used on a maximum of two special teams units, Dooley said, and Johnson and Maggitt were prime candidates to be on all four.
"You have to minimize their role," Dooley said.
Rogers' role on kickoff returns hasn't budged since he took over midway through the season and immediately proved to be a big-play threat. He'll be flanked by starting running back Tauren Poole, who provides another big body on the back end, which is what Dooley prefers.
Dooley said he doesn't bother worrying about the perceived added injury risk because he's "never coached special teams worrying about guys getting hurt."
Rogers, for one, certainly isn't nervous.
"The only nerves I have is, 'Aw, man I've got to slow myself down from celebrating when I hit the end zone,' " he said. "That's all it is."