published Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Consistency got Cam Sutton UT Vols' punt-return job

UT defensive back Cameron Sutton (23) sacks Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall (14).
UT defensive back Cameron Sutton (23) sacks Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall (14).
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — There was little in the way of surprise regarding the two-deep chart the Tennessee football program released Monday afternoon, except maybe for the player who emerged from the pack at punt returner.

Cam Sutton, the Volunteers' top cornerback and an All-SEC freshman team selection in 2013, won the job to start the season and will handle those duties when Tennessee hosts Utah State on Sunday night.

He did not return any punts last season.

"It sounds like it's the word you hear over and over again, but great players have it: consistency," Vols coach Butch Jones said at his news conference Tuesday. "He's been consistent every time he's gone back. He consistently catches the football.

"I still say it: That's one of the hardest skills in all of sport, is to catch a punt of 40 yards, over a four-second hang time and nine or 10 guys running down trying to tackle you."

Sutton returned punts -- and punted, too -- at Jonesboro High School in Georgia, but tailback Devrin Young, who will share kick-return duties with freshman safety Evan Berry, and receiver Jacob Carter handled the job last season.

In a spring scrimmage in April, Sutton returned a punt more than 70 yards for a touchdown.

Helping hands

Perhaps no one is welcoming Tennessee's upgrades at receiver and tight end than starting quarterback Justin Worley, who now feels comfortable with the number of weapons around him.

"It's awesome to have several tight ends, several receivers and three or four running backs to be able to get the ball out to and get it in their hands," he said. "We've got some great playmakers that can make plays with the ball in their hands. It's going to help a lot having these guys around me."

Tennessee's offense will go as its new-look line goes this season, but the Vols were woefully short on playmakers in 2013 and now are better in that area.

"We were younger last year at the skill positions," Worley said. "Maybe not at running back [where] we had Rajion Neal, who was a senior, and Marlin, who's had some experience as well. Definitely out wide we didn't have much experience.

"We were working with a bunch of true freshmen, so having them in their second year of their development and understanding of the offense is helping a lot."

Kicking conundrum

Jones indicated he would make a decision on place-kicker during pregame warmups Sunday night. The coach said both George Bullock and Aaron Medley "have the talent," but consistency is currently what's missing.

"One day George has a great day. The next day Aaron has a great day," Jones said. "We're looking to see who can put a number of good days back to back, but they're both very, very capable of that."

Freshman firsts

Though more than 20 players from Tennessee's touted 2014 recruiting class should play against Utah State, only three newcomers -- Ethan Wolf at tight end, Jashon Robertson at right guard and Derek Barnett at defensive end -- rose to the top of the depth chart at their positions.

Wolf has been steady since spring practice, Robertson was the surprise of training camp after starting the preseason on defense and Barnett has been Tennessee's best pass-rush presence in practice.

What most pleased Jones, though, is how none of the trio hit the proverbial freshman wall in training camp.

"They've been mature beyond their years," he said. "They've handled the volume in terms of the mental part of it, from the playbook, the work capacity, our style of play and being able to finish plays. They've continually improved each and every practice. They've earned that right, and I'm excited to see what they can do on Sunday."

Wolf and Barnett are in line to be the first true freshmen to start at their respective positions in program history. Freshmen became eligible to play at the varsity level when the NCAA changed the rule in 1972.

Tennessee tidbits

Jones is expecting Sunday's game to be a sellout, and fewer than 2,000 tickets remained as of Tuesday afternoon. ... Former Tennessee freshman Daniel Gray is listed as a starter at cornerback for Utah State, which returns five starters from a defense that ranked 12th nationally in total defense in 2013. The Florida native played in eight games with one start for the Vols in 2012 and made six tackles that season. He sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. ... In the Vols' battle at corner, Jones said Emmanuel Moseley and Michael Williams will "competitively sort it out" in practice this week. ... Jones said the decision on a No. 2 quarterback would be an "in-game" choice between Nathan Peterman and Josh Dobbs.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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