2010 Tight Ends and Special Teams

Hey guys sorry it took so long to get this posted. I have been busy with work and enjoying the summer. Also for some reason I found these two positions the hardest to write a blog post about. But Wednesday’s “good” news got me excited for football again so today I am finishing up my preview of the offensive side of the ball with the Tight Ends and also taking a look at the Special Teams. Special Teams and Tight Ends are very important to Coach Derek Dooley and will be a big part of his game plans this fall. Luckily for the Vols we have Luke Stocker returning at the Tight End position and the best special teams duo in the country coming in this fall. Find out more by clicking

Tight Ends

Tight ends are a position of great value to an offense. They add an extra threat for the passing game, as well as solid blocking, as an extra linemen, for the running game or giving the quarterback more time to throw the ball. Tight ends have given defensive coordinators an extra person to worry about for decades and it is still happening today. Coach Derek Dooley has a love for multiple tight end sets that stem from his days as an assistant coach, Tight Ends and Special Teams, under defensive minded coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide.

During  a recent interview with Dave Hooker of the Knoxville News Sentinel Dooley said, “It (his interest in using tight ends) stems from sitting there for seven years in so many defensive meetings with Nick. You kind of listen to what gives defenses problems. Whenever you have an offense with two tight ends, you can do a lot of things.”

Using a second tight end would mean having to get rid of someone else and that will be the fullback the majority of the time. However Dooley does not intend to leave UT’s fullbacks high and dry because they are more valuable in certain situations, which he made clear during that same interview.

“A good second tight end is never going to be as good as a great fullback on certain plays,” Dooley said. “But you’re talking about really two or three runs (where the fullback is the better option). But what (the second tight end) brings is a whole other dimension of plays you can run that you cannot run with a fullback. When a fullback goes in a game, there are a certain number of plays that the defense knows you’re going to run.”

UT has had good tight ends in the past. Austin Denny in the sixties set season and career touchdown records. Reggie Harper in the seventies set the records in receptions and yards in a career. Chris Brown in 2007 set the record with 41 receptions in a single season, and current Dallas Cowboy starter and former Vol Jason Witten had the most yards in a single season with 493 in 2002. We also have Brad and Jeff Cottam who are both currently on NFL teams. This trend does not change with the current situation except for the fact that we have one tight end right now that is a sure NFL draft pick or all american type player.

Luke Stocker, 6’6″ 253 lbs from Berea, KY, is a redshirt senior who waited patiently behind the Cottam brothers and Chris Brown shined last season as the starting tight end. He had 29 receptions for 389 yards and 5 touchdowns and would have been a sure top 100 pick in this years NFL draft had he decide to come out early. But instead he decided to stay and support the Vols this year in hopes of boosting his draft stock.

His career here at UT has been stained with dropped passes at inopportune times but he was a sure fire threat for most of last season and I think that is what fans should remember most. On the career he has 46 receptions for 539 yards and 6 touchdowns with all of his career highs coming last season. He should be a key component and a valuable leader this fall for the Vols.

Rivals *** #7 KY, #33 TE
Scout *** #34 TE

After Stocker, our Tight End depth is unproven but has the potential to be very talented. Ben Bartholomew, 6’2″ 245 lb junior from Nashville, is probably second on the depth chart right now. He played limited roles against UAB and Mississippi State in 2008 as well as the junior varsity game vs Hargrave Military. During that 2008 season he had 14 receiving yards and 15 rushing yards as well as 2 touchdowns in the JV game. Widely unproven in Varsity game play though it will be interesting to see how he progresses after this off season.

Rivals *** #7 FB, #16 TN
Scout ***  # 8 FB

Another potential threat to be the second Tight End would be Mychal Rivera, 6’4″ 230 lb transfer from College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, CA, who originally signed with Oregon in 2008. Rivera had 32 receptions for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns last season and is a good pick up for the Vols even with his limited experience in college level games.

Rivals *** #39 TE, #94 CA
Scout *** #45 TE

The Vols also have transfer from Miami, Daniel Adderley, who is 6’6″ 220 lbs that could compete. He needs to add some weight and be ready physically but he could contend for playing time depending how Dooley’s multi-TE system works this fall. Originally from Greer, SC Adderley transferred here under Coach Kiffin.

Rivals **
Scout **

The Vols also have three walk-on tight ends in sophomore Matt Wegzyn (6’2″ 234 lb Northville, MI), senior Charles Karlosky (6’2″ 220 lb Tennessee Tech Transfer), and Junior Ben Lehning (6’3″ 230 lb Nashville, TN).

Stocker will clearly will lead this position this fall and in my opinion will further solidify himself as a day one pick in the NFL draft. It will be interesting to see if Adderley, Rivera, or Bartholomew will step up and start to perform at a high level or if one of these walk on players can sneak in and steal a spot in the rotation.

Special Teams

Special Teams is also a key part of the game. Punting, kicking, and returning can allow teams to capitalize on field position and that will effect how the subsequent drives will turn out. In Punting the Colquitt family has formed a dynasty at UT. Every game, season, and career stat except for one (the longest punt in a game) is owned by a Colquitt family member and the four of them top the charts on the best punters UT has ever had. Each of them have punted for over 8,000 yards and all average over 42 yards per punt.

In Kicking the Vols have been blessed with quality kickers also. Over the past 40 years kickers such as Alan Duncan, Fuad Reveiz, John Becksvoort, Jeff Hall, Alex Walls, and James Wilhoit have set records in scoring for the Vols. The later four have over 300 points on their careers and all five have averages of over 70%.

In Returning Bobby Majors, whose career lasted from 1969-1971, dominates the record books for punting returning in a career and a season. In Kick Returns one name stands above the rest, Willie Gault. Willie returned 78 punts for 659 yards but even more impressively 78 kick offs for 1854 yards. He owns every season and career record as well as single game returns. He is tied for most touchdowns in a game and longest return in a game. The only place his name does not appear in first is in yards in a single game which is owned by Dale Carter.

However this year we do not have a Colquitt family member punting and our field goal kicker has had lack luster sophomore and junior seasons after posting as a freshman All-American in 2007. Our return game had its best season in years last year and should only get better with the special teams focus Dooley and Eric Russell have. Hopefully they will be able to get our kicking and punting up to par too with the added talent they have to work with now. A reliable special teams will go along ways for the Vols this fall.

Chad Cunningham was last season’s starting punter. At 6’3″ and 200 lbs this Dawsonville, GA product is entering his senior season with the Vols. Last year he averaged 38.82 yards per game. We really need him to step up this season and average in the 40 to 45 yard range. He has his moments and hopefully with proper coaching he will be able to turn those moments into a really good punting season.

Rivals **#11 Kicker
Scout **

However, Cunningham will have to watch his starting spot closely since the Vols just signed Matt Darr. Darr is 6’2″ 210 lbs and is from Bakersfield, CA. He originally committed to USC but when Pete Carroll left he switched his commitment to Fresno State. Upon Kiffin’s arrival at USC he hired Fresno State special teams coach John Baxter, prompting Darr to leave Fresno. Darr considered both the Vols and LSU for his next move. After visits to both he signed with the Vols on June 30.

He has the strongest leg out of any kicker in the class of 2010 according to rivals after averaging 46 yards per punt his junior season. The hang time is very impressive on his punts and will be a great asset this fall. According to maxpreps.com last season with Frontier High School Darr was 1-2 passing for 55 yards and a TD during a fake punt pass play. As a linebacker on the defense he had a team high 79 solo tackles and 17 assists for 96 tackles, 1 interception for 22 yards, 2 fumble recoveries, and 5 sacks. On Special teams defense he blocked 2 opponents punts, and also punted 33 times with a 43 yard average including a 71 yarder. He also kicked off 60 times, with 35 going for touch backs, hit 34 PAT’s, and 11 FG’s.

Rivals *** #4 Kicker
Scout **** #1 Punter

Other Punters on the roster include 6’5″ 190 lb  freshman Sam Thomas from Memphis Ridgeway High, junior Chip Rhome,a 6’3″ 200 lb Austin Peay Transfer, junior David Harrington, a 6’3″ 175 lb Orange Coast College transfer, and Josh Davis, a 5’11” 190 lb junior from Rhea County High School in Dayton, TN.

Returning from last year Daniel Lincoln looks to hold on to his starting job. In 2007 he was a freshman All American after going 21 of 28 on FG but has since cooled off following that performance up with 10-18 and 10-16. On his career has has hit 41-62 FG (66%) and 107 PATs for 230 points. Lincoln irked a lot of fan’s last year with his horrible kicking at inopportune times including the Alabama game. He got a fresh start with a new coaching staff but I doubt the fan base will be as forgiving/forgetful.

Rivals ** # 19 Kicker
Scout *** # 6 Kicker

Lincoln will have to work extra hard this fall because UT signed Michael Palardy in February and if high school stats mean anything then he is going to be racking up the yards and points soon. At 6’2″ and 170 lbs this incoming freshman from Fort Lauderdale, FL was praised for his skills during camps last summer and fall. He was rated 3rd in Versatility (Punts and Kicking), 5th in Accuracy, and the 5th strongest leg.

His junior year he hit 76 of 78 extra points as well as 4 of 5 field goal attempts. 98% of his kick-offs were touch backs that year as well. Last season he had 38 of 43 kick offs go for touch backs and made 7 FGs. He also punted the ball 15 times for an average of 47.53 yards and a long of 56 yards. Palardy has the talent to come in and start day 1 unless Lincoln some how finds away to step up before September 4th.

Rivals *** #2 Kicker
Scout **** # 1 Kicker

Darr and Palardy should both start immediately in my opinion.

Holding for Palardy or Lincoln this year will be senior Geoff Courtney. Snapping the ball will be either Junior Nick Guess or Junior TJ Marrs. Freshman JR Carr will provide relief in case of injury.

Handling return duties for this team will be David Oku for sure. Oku averaged 26.2 yards per return last season and was close to breaking several long ones on his 33 returns for 863 yards. Who will be back there with Oku is the question? Will it be Gerald Jones or Janzen Jackson? Maybe a freshman like Ted Meline who has been praised for his speed? I am going to guess that it will be Jones back with Oku, at least to start the season, because in 2008 he averaged 38.3 yards per return on his 3 tries for 115 yards. As for Punt Returning I think Janzen Jackson will handle this role.

Coaching

Coach Derek Dooley hired Eric Russell out of Texas Tech to coach special teams and tight ends for the Vols this fall. Russell started off coaching DE’s at Idaho in 1990 before leaving for North Texas in 1993 to become the Defensive Coordinator and Special Teams coach for the next 13 years. In 2007 Dooley hired him at LA Tech to coach Tight Ends and Special Teams. Russell stayed with Dooley at LA Tech during Dooley’s first two seasons before being hired by Mike Leach. Leach conducted a nation wide search of all D1 special teams stats and decided that Russell was the best of the best.

While at LA Tech the school led the WAC in special teams consistently and before that while at North Texas Russell’s unit led the Sun Belt consistently. At Texas Tech the Red Raiders were 3rd in the country on kick off returns and kick off coverage.

When he hired Russell the first time, Dooley figured that with his knowledge of Defensive Line play and seeing how that is who Tight Ends line up against it would be a good asset to have in a Tight Ends coach. I completely agree and think that it will help our tight ends out greatly when combined with Dooley’s and Chaney’s knowledge having previously coach Tight Ends as well.

Russell replaces Coach Eddie Gran for special teams. Gran is a long time disciple of coach Tommy Tuberville and is now at Florida State. He is a renowned recruiter and the one coach that left that I wish we would have kept. His abilities to recruit South Florida prospects are amazing and a great asset for any team. Russell replaces Chaney as the Tight Ends coach after he took over for Cregg when Cregg took over the entire offensive line.

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About Steven Harris

Steven Harris is a fifth year senior at the University of Tennessee. Majoring in sports journalism, this blog provides an outlet for Harris to share his thoughts on the state of the University of Tennessee's athletic department''s Volunteer teams. View all posts by Steven Harris

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