KNOXVILLE — Derek Dooley couldn’t have been clearer Monday when discussing sophomore safety Janzen Jackson’s importance to the Tennessee football team.
“Janzen’s got a lot of ability,” Dooley said. “He’s almost our best at everything.”
Now Jackson will get a chance to show he’s the Volunteers’ best punt returner, too.
Jackson will return punts Saturday at Memphis, though freshman wide receiver Justin Hunter is bracketed alongside him atop the depth chart.
“We’ve tried to say, ‘How can he help us most on special teams without taxing him so bad?’ because we can’t rest him on defense,” Dooley said. “So you’re constantly saying, ‘How can we get Janzen to impact the game for us?’ We’ve been using him on kickoff and punt coverage, which is a taxing play, both of them, because it’s a full sprint. He’s helped us. We’ve contained some good returners.
“But now, we’re in a position where Eric [Gordon] has been really good but he’s muffed two punts. We need to put somebody else back there, because we’re not getting production at the position. We’ll make a change and see how Janzen does.”
Jackson’s eyes lit up when asked about the opportunity to return punts, something he’s been practically begging to do the past two years.
“I’m going to take full advantage of it,” said Jackson, who was a five-star recruit at least in some part because of his return ability. “I’ve still got to play defense 100 percent and make plays ... but punt return, it’s a privilege for me to be back there, so I’ve got to make the most of it.
“I did really well on punt return in high school. And at receiver.”
Jackson has seemed like a natural while catching punts in practice, but Dooley still has concerns.
“He’s been [practicing] there the whole time, and he looks good moving around,” Dooley said. “But it ain’t like he’s going to get punt-catcher of the year, either. I might close my eyes.”
Jackson laughed after hearing about Dooley’s comment.
“I ain’t going to be making no closed-eyes catches,” Jackson said.
Stop the stopping
UT junior tailback Tauren Poole, who was on pace to surpass 1,000 rushing yards this season until a 16-carry, 33-yard game at South Carolina, blamed himself for his poor statistics Saturday.
“It was actually on me,” Poole said. “I missed a couple of cuts that could have made big plays. I wasn’t disciplined on my eye control, and that resulted in us not having a good game in the running game.”
“I told him that my wife after the game said, ‘Why does Tauren get the ball and stop?’” Dooley said. “I told Tauren, ‘I saw you outrun the entire Alabama secondary, but then you get the ball on the outside zone and you’ve got green grass and you stop. You don’t trust your speed.’ I think that’s what it is. He doesn’t trust his abilities in some ways because he’s still sorting through it, so he gets a little jumpy out there.
“He ran a little jumpy the other night. Sometimes when you play a real good defensive line, they can make you jumpy. That had to contribute to it. Those guys are quick. They’re slanting; they’re moving; they’re on edge. You didn’t have clean reads all the time. Things would flash, and then you lose your trust a little bit. I think that’s what happened.
“I think that’s an experience issue. Tauren’s a junior, but this is his first season playing.”
This and that
Dooley said freshman defensive end Jacques Smith from Ooltewah High School, who was arrested Sunday on a simple assault charge after an incident with a fellow student regarding a female, will play at Memphis unless “some unforeseen” facts surface. Dooley said Smith apologized to his coaches and teammates without being asked.
“He did it on his own. He’s a good kid,” Dooley said.
Senior fullback Kevin Cooper of Chattanooga will return this week after missing the South Carolina game for an unspecified academic team rule violation, but freshman Channing Fugate still was listed atop Monday’s depth chart.
“That ol’ Channing played pretty good, so we’ll see how it goes,” Dooley said.
Senior Denarius Moore’s 228 receiving yards at South Carolina were the most this season for any player from an FBS program.
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com or 865-851-9739. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wesrucker or Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.