KNOXVILLE - As a freshman, David Oku set a University of Tennessee single-season record for kickoff-return yards.
One season later, new Volunteers coach Derek Dooley isn't pleased with Oku's performance through three games.
"I've seen nothing from him, other than an inability to make yards," Dooley said Monday afternoon. "I don't think he's running with any conviction, and I've told him that.
"I think he runs tippy-toeing and searching."
Oku, whose average has dipped from 26.2 yards last season to 19.7 as a sophomore, "completely" agreed with his coach.
"That's why I respect [Dooley] more as a coach, but also as a father-like figure," said Oku, also UT's No. 2 tailback. "He'll just sit down and be honest with you. If he doesn't like what's going on, then he'll just tell you.
"Some coaches like to beat around the bush with things and try to make it all great when it's not."
Oku also agreed with Dooley's diagnosis of the specific problem - "a lack of trust" in the return team's ability to make big plays.
"As a returner, you have to commit," Dooley said. "You can't blink. You've got to go and press the hole and hit the crease. And if you're a little bit hesitant at all, the door shuts."
Dooley said he'd continue to look at different options in the return game, but Oku hopes to cement himself in the spot.
"It's just like Coach Dooley says - 'If you don't believe in yourself, then you're never going to get anywhere,'" Oku said. "I think that's just the case. He's right. It's just not believing in yourself, just me not believing in myself, that I can do it, because some of the struggles we've had with it. I don't blame anybody else. I take full blame for it.
"Coach Dooley said I had a good fall camp and a good first game. He just said I've got to pick it back up."
This and that
Dooley said every Vol who missed the Florida game would "probably" miss Saturday's home against UAB. He added two "banged up" starters, tailback Tauren Poole (thigh bruise) and wide receiver Denarius Moore (ankle), to the day-to-day list. Poole and Moore told teammates they expect to play Saturday.
Dooley said true freshman Zach Fulton will "play a lot" Saturday at right guard. With Fulton in the lineup, UT's offensive line will consist of three true freshmen and two sophomores.
Gerald Jones (broken hand) had his cast removed in favor of a splint, but Dooley said the starting senior wide receiver won't get a chance to play until next week. "Maybe we will have some penmanship test for him," the coach said.
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-851-9739. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/wesrucker or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.