Vols lack KO punch

There are 119 schools playing Div. 1 football this fall, and 118 of them are doing a better job than Tennessee on kickoff returns. That's right ... the Volunteers rank dead last nationally in this category.

Through the first three games of 2006 Tennessee has returned eight kickoffs for just 103 yards, a 12.9-yard average. A bloop kick bounded off Lucas Taylor's shoulder pads and ricocheted out of bounds nine yards downfield in Game 2 vs. Air Force or the average would be 11.8 yards per runback.

Just for the sake of comparison, SEC East rival Kentucky also has returned eight kickoffs to date. The Wildcats have 252 return yards, however, and their 31.5-yard average ranks No. 5 nationally.

Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer is aware of his team's futility on kick returns but is not terribly concerned about it. He says the Vols' return average is misleading, citing the fact Demetrice Morley slipped and fell on the 1-yard line while fielding a kickoff against Air Force.

"We slipped down on the 1 or we'd be somewhere in the middle of the pack," Fulmer said of the Vols' No. 119 national ranking. "And we were lined up to receive an onside kick against Cal. They kicked it deep, and we ended up getting a 13-yard return or something like that.

"The statistics are a little bit skewed, although we have not done nearly as well as we would like to have. We will address that in practice tomorrow (Wednesday)."

Tennessee ranked eighth among SEC teams and 77th nationally with a 19.8-yard kickoff return average last year. In addition, punt coverage was a disaster. As a result, Fulmer totally revamped UT's approach to special teams for 2006.

So far, the results do not reflect that improvement has been made. Fulmer insists it has, however.

"We're getting closer," he said. "We're getting closer."

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