'Reel' threat

To prepare for his role as a return man on kickoffs, Tennessee freshman David Oku spends considerable time sitting in a chair ... in a darkened room ... with the Chicago Bears.

He watches loads of Chicago game film in order to study Devin Hester, who has returned four kickoffs, seven punts and a missed field goal for touchdowns in his first three years with the Bears.

Oku, a 5-10, 184-pounder from Midwest City, Okla., is scheduled to share kickoff return duties with junior Dennis Rogan in Saturday's opener vs. Western Kentucky. The Vol rookie credits this accomplishment to film study, which he believes is the key to being a quality return specialist.

"You've got to watch film," he said. "A lot of people think, 'Oh, a kick return is just catching the ball and running with it.' If you watch film it can really help you a lot.... I look at Hester and the things he's done on kick returns for Chicago. I was a real big Hester fan, and that makes it a lot easier."

Oku believes his work on kick returns also will help him in his role as a reserve running back for the Vols.

"Doing kick returns opens up so many things for you," he said. "If you're a good kick returner the defense worries about you on offense as soon as you get in."

Although he performed well on kickoff returns during preseason camp, Oku was surprised when he saw himself listed with the No. 1 group on the preseason depth chart.

"Oh, man, it was crazy," he said. "I like punt returns, too, but seeing somebody coming down at you full-speed on punt returns ... uh, I kinda' think twice about that."

Rated America's No. 9 tailback prospect by Scout.com last winter, Oku says running the ball in high school was a lot simpler than running the ball in college is proving to be.

"Real little-bitty things matter ... like footsteps," he said. "If you don't get the right footsteps you might miss the hole. The small things really do matter; that's what Coach Kiffin has pointed out. That's what makes it hard going from high school to college.

"You have to make that adjustment and you have to make it real fast or you won't play."

Asked if he had to concern himself with steps in high school, Oku laughed.

"I didn't have to think about steps in high school," he said. "It was just get the ball and go."

In addition to steps, Oku has had to learn pass routes and pass protections at Tennessee. Clearly, football is a much more complex game at the collegiate level.

"It really is tough," he said. "You have to feel confident in yourself. If you don't feel confident in yourself, you might as well just stop really because you won't be able to accomplish anything.... Basically, it's about confidence. If you step in there with confidence, things will go a lot smoother for you."

Especially if you've been watching film of Devin Hester.

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