Ravaged by returns

After surrendering a 78-yard Brandon James punt return for touchdown in last weekend's loss to Florida, the Tennessee Vols seemingly have nowhere to go but up. Maybe not, though.

The Big Orange is facing a return specialist at Auburn this Saturday who may be just as dangerous as James was last Saturday. That would be Robert Dunn, who registered a 66-yard TD return vs. Louisiana-Monroe and averages 21.4 yards per runback. Only LSU's Trindon Holliday (26.8) and the afore-mentioned James (26.2) are doing better among SEC punt return men this fall.

Although James is an exceptional return specialist, Vol head man Phillip Fulmer believes last Saturday's 78-yard return was more a discredit to Tennessee's coverage than a credit to Florida's return ace.

"We miss six tackles on a punt and have two guys knock each other off of the tackle," Fulmer grumbled. "That kind of thing – being in the proper lanes, getting off a holdup and all of those things – is where we can be better.

"Sometimes it's something as simple as to find my lane and not leave my feet too soon. That's where we've got to get better."

In addition to allowing James to return a punt 78 yards last weekend, Tennessee let him return another punt 14 yards to set up a 47-yard Florida touchdown drive AND permitted him to return the opening kickoff 52 yards to set up a 44-yard TD march.

Visibly upset by a paltry 22-yard net punting average that ranks 118th among 119 NCAA Div. 1-A teams, Fulmer suggested earlier this week that walk-on Steven Hensley might get a chance to punt vs. Auburn, instead of scholarship incumbent Chad Cunningham.

The Vol head man backed off that comment a bit as the week progressed, however, noting that a nationally televised road game against a top-15 opponent might not be the best time to give a walk-on punter his first taste of college pressure.

It's hard to argue with that.

Of course, whoever Tennessee's punter is this week would be wise to kick the ball away from Robert Dunn.

It's even harder to argue with that.


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