Cover charge

After allowing a 99-yard kickoff return and an 86-yard punt return last weekend versus Georgia, Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer wasn't revealing any state secrets when he noted: "We've still got work to do with our cover teams."

Fulmer did share an insight that wasn't obvious to most observers. The coverage wasn't all that was poor on Thomas Brown's 99-yard kickoff return. The placement of the kick was all wrong. James Wilhoit had been pinning Georgia's return men against the sideline but the kickoff Brown returned for the TD came down in the middle of the field.

"The kick wasn't as good as it should've been," Fulmer noted. "It wasn't where we wanted it. Our coverage favored one side too much. Then we had our safeties converge to make the tackle and they both melted."

That's a recipe for disaster right there.

Despite its woeful ineptitude on kickoff and punt coverage, the Vols are 5-1 and ranked No. 8 nationally by the Associated Press. The ranking is a nice bonus but Fulmer isn't exactly reveling in it.

"We've made a commitment as a team and as a staff that we're going to work like heck to improve every week, regardless of what people say about us or where we're ranked," he said. "I'm not concerned one bit by rankings."

What DOES concern the coach is this: Following Saturday's open date, the Vols face six SEC games over the next six weeks – Alabama (Oct. 21), at South Carolina (Oct. 28), LSU (Nov. 4), at Arkansas (Nov. 11), at Vanderbilt (Nov. 18) and Kentucky (Nov. 25).

"They're all huge and they're all hard," Fulmer said. "We've got some tough ones on the road, some tough ones at home."

Although Tennessee's passing game is clicking on all cylinders and the offense is averaging 35.2 points per game, the Vols have some weaknesses, too.

"We've got some assets," Fulmer conceded, "but we still have some significant liabilities we have to overcome as a football team."

Punt and kickoff coverage, for instance.

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