Comedy of errors

When senior receiver Gerald Jones coughed up a fumble on Tennessee's first punt return of Game 1 vs. UT Martin, Vol fans figured it was a fluke. Instead, it was an omen.

Simply put, watching the Big Orange trying to return punts this fall has been a lot like watching a 5-year-old trying to carry a crate of eggs: You know there's going to be a mishap; you just don't know when it will occur.

After Jones' muffed punt in the first quarter of the opener vs. UT Martin, junior tailback David Oku mishandled a punted "free kick" in the third quarter of the same game. Tennessee then turned to redshirt freshman cornerback Eric Gordon. Gordon showed promise and averaged a respectable 9.2 yards per return in Games 2-5, then muffed a punt in Game 6 that gave Georgia a short-field touchdown.

Following a shaky vote of confidence, Gordon was allowed to keep the job. The reprieve was short-lived, however. He muffed another punt in Game 8 that was recovered by South Carolina. Although the Gamecocks ultimately missed a field goal, Gordon's days returning punts were done.

Next up on the punt-return merry-go-round was sophomore safety Janzen Jackson. He returned two punts for 26 yards in Game 9 at Memphis before being guilty of a muffed punt AND a fumbled punt in Game 10 vs. Ole Miss on Saturday.

Although Tennessee recovered each of Jackson's bobbles, exasperated head coach Derek Dooley was so angry that he sent no one deep to field the Rebels' first punt of the fourth quarter.

"It's been the same old deal since I took the job ... punt returns," Dooley said. "We got to a point where I didn't even put one (returner) back there because the only way we were going to lose the game was to fumble a punt.

"I know that's kind of ridiculous for a major-college football team but that's where we are. I don't have one guy that I have confidence in. I don't know what else to do."

That being the case, here are three suggestions:

1. Find someone on the UT campus who can at least catch the ball.

2. Have him fair-catch every punt.

3. Pray that homegrown commitment Devrin Young of Knoxville Bearden can solve this problem next year.

P.S. - Even when the Vols manage to successfully field a punt, nothing good happens. They rank 110th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in punt-return average at 4.07 yards per runback.

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