Michael Palardy has kicked in pressure situations, performed onside kicks and even run and thrown for first downs on trick plays at the University of Tennessee.
Still, the Volunteers' senior kicker had a first on Tuesday: he got ear-holed by Tennessee's head coach himself. That after Palardy was thrust into a pressure situation near the conclusion of the Vols' first spring scrimmage on Saturday, teammates forming a human tunnel from which Palardy had to split the uprights from approximately 50 yards out.
"They are tight, they are in there spraying water on me, coaches are throwing hats at me, Coach Jones was sticking his finger in the ear hole of my helmet," said the senior from St. Thomas Aquinas in South Florida. "He is basically trying to keep me concentrated. We were just doing field-goal period and he wants me to stay focused. He is trying to distract me."
Palardy said Jones takes testing his kicker's mental toughness and ability to concentrate to all-new levels. Jones has even resorted to name-calling. Sort of.
"He'll go and he'll slap my helmet, he'll call me different names," said Palardy, who has hit 23 of 33 career field goals and 75 of 80 extra points. "It keeps me really focused. He'll call me (Derrick) Brodus, he'll call me George (Bullock), he'll say he forgot my name.
"I've kicked the best since I've been here and I feel really confident. I guess maybe that comes with age and experience, but Coach Jones has really helped me with eliminating distractions."
Jones has delivered that message from the outset, Palardy explained.
"Just kind of maintaining a standard of excellence, and I know Coach Jones talks about that a lot," Palardy said. "But that's kind of what's hit home the most with me. He's really trying to maintain that excellence that everyone expects. And that's kind of put in perspective with me; I need to maintain that standard of excellence with myself. I think that's the difference between this coaching staff and coaching staffs in the past, that they've kind of implemented and really that's kind of helped me grow with my kicking and off the field."
That approach from his coaches, coupled with greater leg-strength and a veteran's approach, has filled Palardy with a new level of confidence. He was celebrated by his teammates after hitting the clutch kick Saturday and also took some good-natured joking from others for scoring points for the Vols' defense.
Palardy owns a career-long 52-yard field goal as well as a booming 66-yard punt on his ledger.
"I think the biggest thing with me is the simple fact that I'm come out here every day at practice, and I know that I have the ability to make every single one of my kicks. I've had game experience. I know what to expect. I know the pressure that's put on me, but it's more just being able to trust my abilities that got me to where I am now," Palardy said. "And I think that's been the biggest and most helpful in terms of my confidence level and building that within me."
Palardy has clearly been the Vols' most consistent specialist in all three phases in the opening third of spring camp, and he insisted he would be ready to fill any kicking role the team might need in the 2013 season.
"That's what, you know, I don't want to say that by the start of fall, I'm going to be doing all three. I want to come out here and do everything to the best of my ability," Palardy explained. "And I'll let the coaches and my film, that's my resume, speak for itself. And I'll do anything I can to help the team, whether it's kickoffs, field goals, punting or all three. It doesn't really matter. I'm just out here competing like everybody else is."
STILL CROWDED IN RECEIVERS RACE
As the Vols are one-third of the way through Butch Jones' first spring practice there are still a great number of questions about his first team at Tennessee, and only the question at quarterback looms larger than who the eventual signal-caller will be throwing to.
After Tuesday's practice Jones noted that no one has begun to separate himself from a young pack of players, but on a positive note they are all progressing.
"No, not yet," Jones noted when asked if anyone was leading the receivers competition. "As we know, there's no secret about it, it's a very, very young position and not very many of these individuals have played and we had some positional changes there and it's a process for the style and manor in which we want to play. But, I do see strides, I do see progress being made. Again, this is a football team to overhaul to get better. We keep talking about it and it's one day at a time."
While no one has separated himself from the rest of the group, local product Cody Blanc put together a nice scrimmage on Saturday and Jones said the former Knox Central standout has to take that momentum from the weekend practice and carry it through the rest of the week.
"Cody Blanc's an individual who continues to get better and I think the biggest thing is he brings a level of consistency each and every day," Jones said. "He's fairly new to the position and he's taken to coaching and he's doing a great job and he made some big plays for us on Saturday, but now it's carrying that over to Tuesday and then Thursday. Just that consistency in a performance you can talk about each day."
GROUND GAME STILL COMING TOGETHER
Returning a number of offensive linemen and its top two tailbacks from a season ago, the Tennessee ground game is thought to be an early strength for the Vols in spring practice. But, even with all the experience at the positions, running back Rajion Neal said the running game is still coming together because of the scheme change.
"I feel like we're still gelling well, but as far as learning the new steps, the new terminology, the blocking scheme of it, we may be just a little bit behind," Neal said. "But, at the end of the day we're running hard, we're coming in and seeing film, we're staying with the (offensive) linemen and listening to what they're telling us and they set up good periods where we come together and talk and walk through things at a very slow place so we can understand them and see where our fits are, where we're supposed to be."
For the senior tailback, because of the change in scheme there's also been a change in how he operates in the backfield.
"We're doing a lot of things in the gun where as last year it was a lot of downhill type of running with the fullback," Neal said. "This year it's kind of a lone tailback in the gun with (Justin) Worley or (Nathan) Peterman and I like it. It's different, giving a different kind of feel. I hear we're still going to do some downhill running. I'm having fun and enjoying it. It's not too bad."
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