Hefney's happy

Through Tennessee's first six games of 2006, Jonathan Hefney returned three punts for 21 yards, a so-so 7.0 average. In Game 7 vs. Alabama, however, he returned six punts for 104 yards, a whopping 17.3 average.

What caused the dramatic improvement?

"Instead of me dancing, I hit the hole straight," Jonathan Hefney said. "Coach (Phillip Fulmer) was telling me to quit running around sideways and just run north and south. That's what I did."

Hefney popped a 32-yard return in the first quarter and a 40-yard runback in the third quarter. Each time he cost himself a touchdown by allowing Tide punter P.J. Fitzgerald to tackle him.

"Both times I saw the punter left and thought, ‘OK, I've got to make a move,' but my body wouldn't react to what I wanted it to do," Hefney said. "I thought I was going to run over him but he hit me in the legs."

On the 32-yard runback the Vol safety hinted that rust also kept him from scoring.

"The first return I really didn't know what to do with the ball," he recalled. "It had been a long time since I broke one."

The 40-yard return ended in particularly embarrassing fashion, since Hefney had Lucas Taylor blocking for him. Taylor whiffed on the block, however, and Hefney ran directly into Fitzgerald, basically tackling himself.

Vol teammates had to find that amusing.

"They didn't say too much because I really didn't see the punter at all," Hefney recalled. "I tried to look him off and I ended up cutting back the way he made the move on Lucas."

Asked if he chided Taylor for missing the block, Hefney shook his head.

"Nah. Not at all," he said. "I didn't want to give him a hard time. He'll be all right."

Tennessee's special-teams play was mediocre for much of the season, so the Vols stressed it during the open date week prior to the Bama game.

"We focused on special teams a lot," Hefney said. "When we came back from the week off we still worked harder on kickoff returns and things."

Tennessee tried to block Alabama's punts but still managed to set up a good blocking wall.

"We really just tried to block the punts," Hefney conceded. "If it set up a return it set up a return. We were mostly trying to block them, though."

Asked how much he enjoys getting a three-and-out on defense, then having the opportunity to return a punt, Hefney grinned and replied: "I'd rather get an interception and get off the field that way."

Although the 5-9, 185-pound junior plays virtually every snap at free safety each week, he insists he'll always have enough energy to handle return duties.

"I have fun," he said. "I like doing everything. If they'd let me play offense I'd do that, too."

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