KNOXVILLE -- The University of Tennessee football team hasn't scored enough points this season to leave much room for special-teams error. Coach Lane Kiffin has shuffled the coverage unit this week to put more speed on the field.
"You'll see a bunch of new people out there," Kiffin said.
Big kickoff returns hurt UT against Florida, Ohio and Auburn, and Kiffin said Georgia shouldn't join that list Saturday.
Kiffin said the team practiced "even more on special teams this week, and we already did a ton. Yesterday was almost like a live drill. There were bodies flying everywhere. I think they're getting the message.
"I'd be shocked if we don't play well on kickoff coverage this week."
Kiffin said senior left guard Vladimir Richard (Achilles' tendon, knee) and senior center Josh McNeil (knee) practiced Thursday and Richard had a decent chance of playing in a close game against Georgia.
McNeil, a three-year starter, has gradually increased his practice role since reinjuring his knee in preseason. The latest setback caused serious concerns about continuing his football career, but the senior has delayed surgery in hopes of showing coaches and trainers that he can still play.
"Josh did the most work that he has today," Kiffin said. "We've been able to get him some reps here and there as he battles back. He's still sore afterwards, the more he plays.
"Right now, he's more of an emergency role for us. That could change, especially with the bye week coming up."
Kiffin said freshman strongside linebacker Greg King was "doubtful" to play against Georgia after injuring his knee during a Tuesday weightlifting session.
Junior defensive end Chris Walker again fought through his undisclosed lower-back injury, but he won't be close to 100 percent Saturday. He has said all week that he'll play as long as he can against the Bulldogs.
"Chris is off and on in practice," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "He's trying to go. We do miss that (presence). He's a really special pass-rusher, and a really special player, but he's just banged up."
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney had his standard selection of one-line zingers Thursday, especially when asked about Georgia's pass rush and UT's third-down problems.
"No, pass-rushing is never a concern," Chaney joked. "No, seriously, it's a big-time concern. You can tell with every defensive line what their mentality is, and (the Bulldogs are) all about getting to the quarterback. That's what they start everything at. If it's first-and-10 or third-and-10, it doesn't matter, that defensive line's got their (tails) in there, and they're getting up the field.
"That's one thing they've been noted for. Even in my days when I was at Purdue, they had Richard Seymour and that other big creature (Marcus Stroud) inside. They've always been very good up front, and they continue to be that way."
Chaney also offered sage advice for UT's third-down woes. He said the Vols should stop throwing incomplete passes.
"(Texas Tech coach) Mike Leach said this one time, and it makes a lot of sense to me, that you'll never get a third down on an incompletion," Chaney said. "I thought, 'Dang, that's good.' You've got to put the ball in play, and that's what we haven't done a very good job of. Whether it's a checkdown or whatever, we've got to get the ball in play to give ourselves an opportunity at that. Ultimately, that's what we've got to do better.
"Schematically, we're close enough. We just need to throw it and catch it better."
UT's six dropped passes against Auburn didn't help that equation, Chaney added.
"It seems like we're having to put out little fires all the time," he said. "I feel like a forest fire fighter guy and not really a coach right now. Every week brings out new, little things, and (Auburn) was a different one with a few drops.
"We've got to get that cleaned up, but the guys in that room have a lot of pride about them. They've come out and worked really hard in practice on Tuesday and Wednesday. They've put in a lot of time just doing stuff on their own. Pride comes into that. They need to be accountable to the team, and they understand that."
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