Tennessee averages 6.9 yards per punt return, another mediocre figure. Derrick Tinsley was averaging a solid 9.9 yards per runback but he's out for the year after suffering a fractured leg against Notre Dame. Jonathan Hefney showed promise in September but a muffed punt at midseason caused him to fall from grace. He's been used sporadically ever since, averaging a disappointing 5.9 yards per return.
Questioned about the return game following the loss to Notre Dame, head coach Phillip Fulmer replied: ''Our punt return has been OK at times, even though it's not what we want it to be. Our kickoff return is not very good. We'll keep looking at that. That's obviously something we're not very pleased with right now. We'll continue to look at it and see what we need to change.''
Larkins seems tentative. Instead of using his great speed to zoom upfield, then veer to daylight, he appears to hesitate -- as if he's waiting to be buried under -- which he usually is after a few half-speed steps.
Free advice: Fourth-string tailback David Yancey showed a knack for weaving his way through traffic in spring practice and on his 23-yard TD run vs. South Carolina. That's basically what a return man does ... weave his way through traffic. Why not give Yancey a shot? If he isn't the answer, there's always speedy wideouts like Bret Smith, Robert Meachem and Chris Hannon.
Bottom line: Minus its top two quarterbacks -- Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer -- Tennessee desperately needs some big plays from special teams in the weeks ahead. Given how abysmal the return game has been, almost any change at this point would be an improvement.