Sep 5, 2013
KNOXVILLE - Special teams are a key element to Butch Jones' practices.
Team 117 practices every aspect of special teams on a daily basis, from surprise game-winning field goals in the middle of drills, to coverage to punt returns and on and on.
With a key factor to the Vols' special teams game on the sidelines with a broken hand, other members of the team will have to step up in Devrin Young's place.
One of those players is Jacob Carter, who went out twice to return punts on Saturday against Austin Peay, once returning to the sidelines when it looked as though the Governors were going to go for it on fourth and short, instead the quarterback sent a pooch punt. And on his first opportunity at a punt return, he ended up with a fair catch.
"He's a reliable guy," said special teams coach Mark Elder. "We know he's going to be able to field the ball. He's a great decision maker, so as far as that's concerned we know we're going to have the ball back at the end of the play and he does some nice things with the ball in his hands as well but he's a reliable guy."
There are many Vols in addition to Carter that have practiced their return game and Elder is excited for them to get an opportunity to do so Saturday.
"We've had a number of guys who have done really well with it, that we trust out there," said Elder. It was a close competition all through camp so there are a number of guys that we feel good about. I don't think it's really going to be an issue. We're excited for the next guy's opportunity."
You better believe that the first thing the returner does, whoever it might be, is secure the ball.
"In the return game, the very first criteria is that we secure the football," said Elder. "That's kickoff returns, we're fielding the football. If they're going for an onside, we're fielding the football. Whatever it is, we have got to field the football first."
"Yards after we've fielded the ball are bonus," continued Elder. "Obviously we want to increase our field position but we don't want to do it at the expense of taking a chance of not having the football, so that's our number one priority is to have the football at the end of the play."
GETTING BACK TO FULL SPEED
After tearing his ACL last season against Missouri, Curt Maggitt has returned stronger than ever this season for the Vols, and in just about eight months.
Though he didn't take part in spring football, he was out there every day taking reps alongside other injured players and making sure he knew the playbook so once he was cleared, he could get back to what he does best.
Through fall camp, Maggitt was practicing at about half speed, but has returned to normal this week in practice.
His team couldn't be any happier.
"Curt brings a different type of energy," said linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen. "He went in yesterday and got his first real contact and actually kind of surprised everybody, taking on some linemen. The kids on our team really respect Curt; they have a love and passion for each other when he is out there."
Maggitt's impact is not just in his energy. The 6'3", 239 pound linebacker is also a physical presence on the gridiron.
"He is big and strong," said Thigpen. "He has a refined look. He has that SEC body look, probably one of the best bodies I have seen. He is a great looking kid. He can run and he is strong. He is also a smart kid. The sky is the limit for Curt. It all depends on how fast he comes back from the surgery he had last season."
Thigpen and the coaching staff are in no hurry to rush Maggitt back, and are letting him return to full speed at his own pace.
For Maggitt that pace is fast.
"The more confident he can get the better he will feel about it," said Thigpen. "He is a kid that has a great attitude and everyone loves him being back out on the football field. I know he is anxious but we have to be smart in the small process and not rush him out there."
"He goes out there when he feels like he can go out there and make an impact," continued Thigpen. "I tell him, `whenever you feel like going just tap the guy out, you know exactly where you are supposed to be, go out there and get reps. When you feel like you can go then go.' He is the one that knows, he is the one that has to get his confidence in his playing."
WIDE RECEIVERS ABOUND
Leading up to last week's game against Austin Peay, everyone had one question for wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni. How many wide receivers are you going to play?
Tentative answer -- nine. Result - 11. Seven of which caught passes.
"It was nice to come out and get up early, be able to coach through the game a little bit-- kind of like practice, we were coaching through the game, and that was good," Azzanni said. "We needed that."
While Azzanni is pleased with each player's performance, he knows there is room to improvement and implement the new `63'motto--six seconds [in a play], three great efforts.
"We're not at all as physical as I would like to be," said Azzanni. "We're not there yet-- from what I'm used to, my standard, Coach Jones' standard, so we have a lot of work to do that way. That comes with young guys being confident in what they're going to. The more reps, the more games, the more experiences, the more they can just kind of let it go a little bit more."
With that, Azzanni has challenged all wide receivers to reach the standard that he expects physically.
"Violent route running, violent releases, violent on perimeter blocking, and that's going to be a staple of our blocking," said Azzanni. "Usually the way you block is probably the way you release, it's probably the way you run routes, it's probably the way you attack the ball. That's why I'm such a stickler on blocking. If you don't block, you probably don't do those other things very physical."
This week, physicality defines "Wide Receiver U."