'Like blind dogs'

Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer minced no words Tuesday when asked about the lack of productivity on kickoff returns. Through the first two games of 2005 the Vols have returned seven kicks for a putrid 14.3-yard average. The high-water mark was a mere 18-yarder.

By comparison, Vol foes are averaging 20.8 yards per runback.

"Our kickoff return is a continued frustration for us," Fulmer said. "We're going to work on it again. The kids know that's a challenge for us."

The head coach said he has made a few personnel changes in the kick return unit, primarily involving members of the four-man "wedge" that is entrusted with protecting the return specialist from the first wave of coverage men.

"The front people actually have done pretty well," Fulmer said. "Our second-line people – the wedge people – are running out there like blind dogs. There's people running by us, and we're not seeing them. It's amazing to me."

The head coach said he has never spent more time working on returns in practice than he has this year. Obviously, that work has yet to produce any positive results.

Inky Johnson has returned four kickoffs for 60 yards, a 15.0 average. Chris Hannon has returned two for 25 yards, a 12.5 average. Robert Meachem has returned one kickoff for 15 yards. For a team supposedly blessed with a glut of playmakers, those numbers are alarmingly low.

Tennessee's punt returns haven't been anything to write home about, either. Here's a recap of Jonathan Hefney's three runbacks to date:

1. Zero yards

2. 18 yards

3. Lost two yards, lost a fumble

Although two of the three punt returns thus far resulted in no gain or lost yardage, Fulmer said he is generally pleased.

"We had to fair-catch one or two, muffed one and had an 18-yard return," he said. "So the punt return's doing pretty good, really – our blocking and everything."

Maybe. But Hefney's average of 5.3 yards per runback pales alongside the 15.1-yard norm Mark Jones achieved in 2003.


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