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10 Questions for 2013 #9 - Special Teams

Finding those critical extra opportunities to steal a win...

Again:  we love this picture.
Again: we love this picture.
Kevin C. Cox

Do you know how many extra points Tennessee missed in 2012?

In a season with so much frustration, a minor annoyance like missed PATs is easy to overlook. But as was the case in so many areas, the Vols left a ton of opportunities on the field last season. And in Butch Jones' first year, with not much expected from Tennessee and so many difficult opponents on the schedule, the Vols will need every extra opportunity they can get to find wins instead of losses.

How can the Vols gain those extra opportunities in special teams?

The Ballad of Michael Palardy will sing its final verse this fall, as the former number one kicker in the nation plays his senior season in Knoxville. Palardy comes into his senior season 23 of 33 on field goals in his Tennessee career, 69.6%. He was 9 of 12 last fall, an accuracy rating good for fourth in the SEC. He didn't get as many attempts in part because the Vols were mostly about touchdowns not field goals last fall, but that's going to swing hard in the other direction this fall I'd imagine. But he also turned over seven attempts to Alcoa native Derrick Brodus (who made six of them). Palardy's minor injury woes are well documented and very frustrating; maybe injuries to past kickers just didn't get reported as well as they do these days, or maybe Palardy really is this injury prone unfortunately. Either way, the Vols will need him, or Brodus, or whoever to almost certainly kick more often, and every point will count.

As a punter Palardy's 43.08 average would've been good for sixth best in the league if he had punted enough; Matt Darr is also still around to help in that area. Again, the offense didn't punt a whole lot last fall (55 punts was third fewest in the SEC), but that too will probably change, and the Vols can win critical field position yards in this phase.

Kick and punt returns will suffer because Cordarrelle Patterson and his league-leading average have moved on to the NFL. This should put the ball back in the hands of Devrin Young, who always seems just on the verge of breaking one, and Pig Howard, who everybody seems to be excited to see with more opportunities. It's ridiculous to expect either or both to duplicate CP's numbers, but here again, the Vols need extra yards. Young and Howard (and I'll be interested to see if anyone else gets a shot here) have the explosiveness and athleticism to break some this season.

This extends to kick coverage as well. While the Vols have been decent on punt return coverage, one notable Arkansas exception aside, I'm about to say something nice about Derek Dooley: the last three years Tennessee has been really good on kick coverage. 10th nationally in 2010, 8th in 2011, cooling off to 47th in 2012. Tennessee can't afford to reverse this trend and give the opposition any additional advantage.

It's a small thing, but it can add up to a big thing. Case in point: the answer is five. The Vols missed five extra points last fall. That's unacceptable.

If the Vols are going to win close games, they'll need to make field goals. If the Vols are going to pull upsets, they'll need to win field position with good returns and good coverage. It'll be interesting to see if anything noticeably changes in this phase under Butch Jones. For the Vols to succeed in 2013, changing for the better and seizing every possible opportunity will be critical in this phase.