Position rewind/preview: Special teams
Going into the 2014 season, surviving in the kicking game seemed to be the goal. With a new snapper, holder, placekicker, punter and kickoff man, the unknowns on special teams was down right scary. But in getting to a bowl game and in beating the Hawkeyes of Iowa, the Vols didn't just survive in the kicking game, they excelled.
2014-15 REWIND/PREVIEW: RUNNING BACKS
Volquest.com pre-season question: CAN THE KICKING GAME BE A WEAPON?
The Vols answered that question with a pretty resounding yes. Tennessee returned a punt for a touchdown with Cam Sutton at Vanderbilt. Evan Berry averaged 29.5 yards a kickoff return including a 68 yard return. The Vols scored on a fake field goal as well.
Just as important as what the Vols did get in the return game was what they didn't give up in the return game. Opponents averaged just over 18 yards a kick return and Tennessee only gave up 71 yards of punt retuns in 80 punts.
Senior Matt Darr found consistency in a terrific senior season where he averaged 42.2 yards a punt. Darr had 21 punts of 50 yards or more and 30 of his punts ended up inside the 20 yard line. It was quite the finish to a inconsistent career.
Meanwhile, freshman Aaron Medley had a fabulous freshman campaign. Medley went 20 for 26 on field goals missing only once inside 40 yards and had the game winner at South Carolina. Medley also handled kickoff duties with 15 touchbacks and consistent directional kicks with hang time to the goal line.
And don't forget holder Patrick Ashford who threw a touchdown pass on the fake field goal to Alex Ellis against Missouri and had the hold of his life at South Carolina getting a high snap down on the extra point that tied the game forcing overtime.
[rl]8-9 From overtime at South Carolina through the rest of the season, Medley only missed one kick in the Vols run to a bowl game. Medley's 77% field goals made is the highest percentage of any freshman in school history.
80 That's the number of punts by Darr in 2014 setting a school record passing Craig Colquitt's 79 punts in 1975. Darr's total yards punting equates to 1.9 miles.
7.1 The average yards given up by the Vols in kickoffs and punts combined. Tennessee kicked the ball to their opponent 153 times in 2014 and gave up only 1,087 return yards.
Eye towards spring:
The obvious question is who is going to punt for this team. Give Jones credit for his first two years in Knoxville in not only improving all aspects of the kicking game with his focus on it, but also restarting the struggling careers of both Michael Palardy and Matt Darr.
The question this spring is who if anyone emerges as a punting option on the squad. Tennessee has Tommy Townsend coming in this summer as a freshman signee, but this spring the opportunties are galore for anyone who can punt the ball.
It will be very interesting to see if Jones works Medley as a punter this spring or if he leaves him to focus only on field goals and kickoffs. Obviously, two years ago Palardy handled all the kicking duties but in 2013 Jones routinely said that was not an ideal situation and that he didn't want one person to handle all kicking jobs.