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May 28, 2012

Breaking down the kicking game

There is little margin for error yet again for Derek Dooley's Tennessee squad, and a unit that has the potential to make huge impacts --- in either direction --- are the Volunteers' specialists.

As we conclude our team-wide, position-by-position breakdown series exiting spring camp and entering "voluntary" summer workouts, we examine punters, kickers and return men.

Breaking down the key special teams starters:
Starter: Michael Palardy, place-kicker, 5-11, 177, JR

Improved: Was heralded throughout spring for improved accuracy and consistency.

Summer target: Palardy struggled down the stretch and after being in position to shut the door on any kicking competition, the talented left-footer left cracked the door after the Orange & White Game.

Starter: Matt Darr, punter, 6-1, 214, SO

Improved: Focused intently before and throughout spring on getting his steps streamlined for his drops on punts and showed progress.

Summer target: Consistency. It's the one word that thus far is defining Darr's career. It's what he must strive for.

Starter: Devrin Young, return man, 5-8, 175

Improved: Stronger, more explosive

Summer target: Simply his durability. Young gets tired of the comments, but his own head coach called his ability to stay healthy for an entire season an important key for the Vols, both in special teams and on offense.

Backups: Derrick Brodus (K), George Bullock (K), Marlin Lane (RS)

Improved: Brodus - There throughout spring and not missing on a dorm room couch, Brodus shined in the spring game; Bullock - 2012 signee arriving on campus relatively soon. Lane --- Like on offense, Lane has generated more explosiveness on returns.

Summer target: Brodus --- Just getting his leg stronger and continuing to show consistency. Bullock --- Powerful leg and could theoretically add immediate help on kickoffs, Bullock just needs to find a niche and work on his consistency. Lane --- Hitting the holes full-speed each time and just not looking tentative. Lane has some very good skills that could help in a variety of roles.

Michael Palardy - Hard to believe that Palardy is preparing for his junior season. Dooley was adamant that Palardy had a strong spring camp, but then Palardy did not excel in the Orange and White Game. Dooley said he would keep the competition viable moving forward. Palardy repeatedly hit 50-yard field goals in spring camp and showed far greater accuracy day to day, but he must show it on the field inside Neyland Stadium and road venues everywhere. He also must continue to show improvement on kickoffs.

Matt Darr - The big, powerful sophomore punter has drawn rave reviews for his booming punts and drawn blank stares from his coaches for his inconsistent, shorter kicks that have followed. Darr has to be able to keep his steps focused and streamlined without losing focus on simply being smooth and getting his punts off in a timely manner. Darr has all the physical tools, special teams coach Charlie Coiner told VolQuest, but he has to execute more efficiently.

Devrin Young - Despite missing several games as he recovered from a broken collarbone, Young dashed into the Vols' record books for all-purpose yards by a freshman. He appeared close a couple times to breaking a return the distance, and the Vols need that sort of explosiveness this season. Young showed much improved burst in spring, and he's pound for pound as strong and tough as any player on the team.

Derrick Brodus - The former Alcoa High School soccer standout saved the Vols last season against MTSU, but he showed this spring he's no fluke. Brodus was solid all spring and could've really applied pressure on Palardy if he had nailed a late field goal attempt in the O/W spring game. Brodus seems unaffected by pressure and can be an important backup with the potential to both push Palardy and help preserve a redshirt for Bullock.

George Bullock The Knoxville West star, whose family long has held season tickets in Neyland Stadium, has a powerful leg and an equally strong work ethic. What he must do is get on campus, get accustomed to having UT's coaches working with him once practice begins and not as much time with his personal kicking coach and just gain consistency. Bullock has a very strong leg that can be showcased on field goals, kickoffs and punts. It's overused, but consistency is the absolute key.

Marlin Lane Saying he's fully healthy and that he can't even tell he has endured knee surgery, Lane showed greater explosiveness and skills across the Vols' spring. He just needs to do it down after down, according to his coaches. Or, kick after kick on special teams. Lane looks like a fantastic player. Now he just has to make his play match it time after time.

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