The Aussie kick

One key figure in Tennessee's defensive effort tonight vs. Montana won't record a sack or a pass breakup. He's unlikely to record a tackle or even an assist.

Still, punter Matt Darr can contribute mightily to the Vol defense just by keeping the visiting Grizzlies backed up deep in their own territory. He hopes to accomplish this using something he calls "the Aussie kick."

Not to be confused with "the rugby kick" in which the punter boots the ball while running to his right, the Aussie kick is designed for placement rather than distance.

"It's still a straight approach. I'll just be dropping it with the nose down so I'll have a slow end-over-end backspin," Darr explained recently. "That way, when it hits, it has less of a chance to roll into the end zone."

Tennessee's 2010 punter, Chad Cunningham, managed to pin the opponent inside its 20-yard line 17 times last fall but he also booted nine punts into the end zone resulting in touchbacks. Darr is hoping the Aussie kick will improve both numbers this fall.

"I flirted with it in the spring a little bit but didn't have a chance to do it in the spring game," he said. "This fall camp it's been looking good. I think it's really going to help us get our numbers up inside the 20."

Darr redshirted as a freshman last fall, then spent the offseason working with the first family of Tennessee punting - the Colquitts. Dustin was the Vol punter from 2001-2004 and younger brother Britton held the job from 2005-2008. Their father, Craig, was Tennessee's punter in 1975, '76 and '77, and their Uncle Jimmy handled the punting chores from 1981-84.

"I think I made huge jumps this summer," Darr said. "I had the opportunity to work with Dustin and Britton Colquitt. They showed me a lot of things that I've taken to heart and started putting together. My consistency has definitely gotten a lot better.

"They showed me some key technical aspects that are going to help me and the team get better field position this year, and that's all that matters. I've just got to do my job, so the team can find success through it."

Eric Russell, coordinator of Tennessee's special teams, says Darr has worked hard to get his punts off quicker and to become more dependable this fall.

"What I've seen from Matt is a conscious effort to shorten up, to quicken up and to be more consistent," the Vol aide said. "He's still a work in progress but Matt is working. He knows what he's got to do, so it's a matter of repping and repping and repping. He'll get there because he's conscientious."

Russell is pleased with Darr's progress on the Aussie kick, noting: "He's been good with that, and I think that should give us a little better chance to down some balls inside the 10."

Because he hasn't kicked in a real game since November of 2009, his senior season of high school ball in Bakersfield, Calif., Darr is understandably eager.

"I'm excited about going out and showing what I can do," he said. "I really haven't had that opportunity, so there's really nothing to go off of yet."

His initial boot tonight will be his first official punt in 21 months, and there will be roughly 100,000 rabid fans watching it. Asked if he has any idea what that experience will be like, Darr smiled.

"I kind of got a little glimpse of it in the Army All-America Bowl; I kicked in front of quite a few fans," he said. "Also, the spring game drew a pretty big crowd, and I seemed to do fine."

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