Lucas to the rescue

Tennessee finally may have found the answer to its return-game woes.

That solution appears to be Lucas Taylor. In Monday's win at LSU the speedy 5-10, 168-pound freshman from Carencro, La., returned three punts for 20 yards (a 6.7 average) and returned two kickoffs for 45 yards (a 22.5-yard average). Those numbers are hardly imposing but they represent quite a step up from the Vols' previous production.

Tennessee's kickoff returns were awful in Games 1 and 2. Inky Johnson averaged 14.4 yards, Chris Hannon 12.5, Robert Meachem 15.0 and Gerald Riggs 17.0. The punt returns weren't much better, as Jonathan Hefney averaged 5.3 yards and muffed a punt deep in his own territory.

Although Taylor bobbled one punt against LSU, his overall performance provides a glimmer of hope for Tennessee's struggling return game.

"It looks like he's going to be a good answer," Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "I've said from the beginning that two-thirds of our issues have been not with the scheme or practice commitment. It was just finding the person with the ability to make things happen. Lucas handled that very well to this point. I look really forward to watching his development."

Blessed with great speed and moves, Taylor is one of Tennessee's most electrifying players. As a high school quarterback he once posted 539 rushing yards and six touchdowns in a 2004 game.

Another promising freshman also may be contributing to UT's return game this Saturday against Ole Miss. That would be rookie running back Montario Hardesty, who is just returning to health after suffering a deep thigh bruise in mid-August.

"Now that Montario Hardesty's thigh bruise has healed," Fulmer said, "I think he's another guy who can give us some plays in the return game."

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