With a scrimmage now under his belt, Matt Darr knows where he is progressing and where he most needs to improve in a simulated game environment.
Of course, Tennessee's sophomore punter already had been simulating another facet of punting that's a primary focus of his spring camp: catching the snap and streamlining his steps.
"Repetition. We've got snapper JUGS, and it's literally I get my snapper and he's just JUGS. He's like a pitching machine for kickers," Darr said after he punted four times for a 41.5-yard average in Friday's opening scrimmage. "And it's just a lot of repetition.
"I'm doing them every day, and I'd say I probably average 25 or 30 JUGS reps a day. You've still got to have your live reps where you're actually kicking the ball, because it's just drops and stuff like that, but it definitely transfers over and I've definitely seen a difference with consistency in my steps."
Darr was encouraged by his opening outing, but he stressed the need for continued improvement as Tennessee begins the back half of its spring camp. It was a similar situation for junior kicker Michael Palardy, who liked his execution on kickoffs but joined head coach Derek Dooley in noting some personnel changes on field goals have the Vols needing to play catch up there.
First-year special teams coach Charlie Coiner said last week that he would learn much more about his specialists following the scrimmage.
"Kickoffs were a lot stronger than last year, which is, I'm feeling good about that," Palardy said. "Field goals is still kind of a timing thing. I've got a new holder. (Justin) Worley is my holder now, so it's kind of a comfortability thing with him and we've got to get the blocking scheme and everything like that. It's still got to get situated. Other than that, it's good."
Added Dooley, "We still have a long way to go on special teams. Our snapper (J.R. Carr) is hurt right now, so he is out, so that is affecting us a little on the punt game. We have new holders, we lost all our holders, so the mechanics on field goals, those kinds of things. We just need to keep polishing it up."
Dooley, however, did see improvement on kickoffs, where Tennessee managed just six touchbacks a year ago. The Vols, like all college football teams, also are adjusting to a rules change that now has kickoffs 5 yards closer at the 35-yard line. Touchbacks from kickoffs now result in an offense getting the ball at the 25; punts and other plays that result in touchbacks will remain with the ball spotted at the 20.
"(Palardy) kicked the ball off pretty well," Dooley said. "I have to look at the film, but it was popping off his leg better than I have seen. That was a good, encouraging thing. He is enjoying the moving it up; he is lobbying for the 40 now."
While Palardy liked his execution on kickoffs, he has spent the first two weeks of camp logging extra time after practice with the backup quarterback Worley, who is now the Vols' primary holder with Matt Simms gone.
"Every day after practice, we don't really get enough time during practice because he's doing his quarterback stuff, so after practice, I'll work with him 15 or 20 minutes, just repetitions," Palardy said, echoing Darr's theme for improvement this spring. "Because that's basically what it is, just repetition. Just trying to get comfortable."
Darr said he saw some positives but will have plenty to work on before the Vols wrap up their spring camp April 21 with the annual Orange & White game.
"I thought my operation time was a little better. My steps are getting shorter, but I've got to work on my drop a little bit. I was miss-hitting a couple of balls. Going into the scrimmage, I hit real well in warmups and was pretty happy with things. Just the first scrimmage, so you've got to take it for what it's worth," he said. "(The scrimmage) gives you a benchmark. It's kind of a benchmark for you, and then you've just got to go in the film room and look at what you're doing wrong and also what you're doing right and keep doing the things you're doing right.
"Probably in my steps [was most improved]. I'm getting a lot more consistent with my steps and stuff like that. That's one thing that kind of held me back last year, I felt like, and it just comes with reps."
DARR TALKS NEW NUMBER
Darr had a simple explanation when asked about his new number, 43. The reason? He was asked to change so that an incoming player could have the number 5 he wore last year. Darr has had a different jersey number in each of his three seasons in Knoxville.
"I don't know. It was just kind of something that came down from the top; they asked me if I wouldn't mind switching, so I just went with the switch. I like 43," Darr said. "Four was my number in high school, and three was my first number when I got here. So I kind of just put them together and said let's roll with it."