Who'll return kicks?

Like one of those Roman Empire movie epics, Tennessee's return game seems to feature a cast of thousands these days.

A season preview released by the Vol sports information department lists Jonathan Hefney, Robert Meachem, C.J. Fayton and Inky Johnson as the leading contenders for the punt-return job, with Gerald Riggs, Hefney, Johnson and Meachem the top candidates for kick-return duty.

Obviously, that list was incomplete because David Yancey, Jonathan Wade, Chris Hannon and three freshmen – Montario Hardesty, LaMarcus Coker and Lucas Taylor – also have gotten opportunities to return kicks and/or punts in preseason drills. Frosh defensive backs Demetrice Morley and Marsalous Johnson got a look early in preseason.

So, which guys are going to handle the kickoff and punt returns this fall?

"I don't know yet," head coach Phillip Fulmer said recently. "We just need somebody to come in there. It's amazing: If you've got a guy that's really good returning it, all of a sudden your return team looks good. If a guy just runs into the back of people, it doesn't look as good."

In addition to scrutinizing a lot of potential return men, Fulmer and his staff are checking out a lot of potential return possibilities.

"We're looking at schemes and at people," the head man said. "We're trying to stay within the 70 or 80 guys that'll be traveling to Florida and LSU."

In other words, the return men he selects will be players who also contribute at a scrimmage position. He won't carry a player on the travel roster exclusively to return kicks.

Given the obvious level of indecision, it could be that the guys who return kicks in Game 1 may not be the same guys who return kicks in Game 2 … or Game 5 … or Game 9. Fulmer concedes as much.

"We'll figure the whole thing out as we go along," he said. "It's a work in progress."

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