Who will be Tennessee's field goal kicker, punter and kickoff specialist, and can they be dependable?
Michael Palardy battled injuries and inconsistency since arriving in Knoxville as one of the top high school kickers. The junior has served as placekicker, punter and kickoff specialist at times in each of the past two seasons. Coach Derek Dooley doesn't want one player handling all three roles, but Palardy has given the Volunteers the best option. He's made 14 of 21 field goals in his career, and averaged 37.3 yards per punt. This fall, Palardy insists that he is the healthiest and the most confident he's been since high school after battling lingering injuries throughout his legs, though the 32-yard field goal he missed in the Orange and White Game might beg to differ. Freshman George Bullock was brought in to challenge Palardy and junior walk-one Derrick Brodus (the one from the frat house) at placekicker and at kickoff specialist. Sophomore punter Matt Darr, another incredibly talented high school prospect who has yet to live up to his billing, has also dealt with his fair share of inconsistency issues. Last year, he punted 40 times for 38.1 yards per kick.
This year, expect Palardy to at least get the first shot at field goals while Bullock handles kickoff duties. Darr should be improved enough to handle punting on a full-time basis, but coaches could use Palardy on directional kicking like they did last year.
Who will be the kickoff and punt returners?
It's no secret Tennessee has struggled at returning in recent years. Last year freshman Devrin Young handled both kickoff and punt returns once he was healthy after breaking his collarbone in summer workouts. The 5-foot-8, 172-pound Young is an elusive returner who has also impressed coaches at running back. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson scored six touchdowns returning kicks and punts last year in junior college and has been working at returner in fall camp. Depending on how fast Patterson picks up the offense (his return abilities have been compared to a young Randy Moss), coaches could see extensive work in the return game, similar to the way they used Da'Rick Rogers in 2010.
As long as Young continues to field punts cleanly and regain some of the explosiveness he had early in the season, he'll the Vols' main punt returner this fall. Patterson will get the first look opposite Young at kick returner, and running back Marlin Lane could also get some chances.
What affects will the new kickoff rules have?
Beginning this year, kickoffs will be from the 30 to the 35-yard line in an effort to reduce injuries. In theory, this will produce more touchbacks with fewer returns. Tennessee only had six touchbacks in 48 attempts last year. Palardy handled most of the kickoffs last year, but with his past injury concerns, it would be best for the Vols if someone else, possibly Bullock, to be the full-time kickoff specialists.
The flip-side of the new rule change will also be a further reduction in the dangerousness and the effectiveness of Vols' already tepid return game. With kickoffs going deeper and deeper than ever before, the coaches might start convincing their return men to settle for taking a knee, instead of trying to bring one out.