KNOXVILLE - The adage says if a football team has two quarterbacks, it really has none.
Tennessee extended that saying to punters in last week's loss to Arkansas, when Matt Darr had one punt returned for a touchdown and Michael Palardy's two punts went 12 and 27 yards.
"The rotating deal didn't work out too good," UT special teams coordinator Eric Russell said after Wednesday morning's indoor practice. "You'd like to have one guy settle down and be your guy. Can we do that yet? I don't know. How do these guys come out of ruts? I don't know."
Darr, the redshirt freshman, is the Volunteers' hangtime punter, while Palardy, the sophomore who handles field goals, extra points and kickoffs, is a more effective directional kicker. Coach Derek Dooley has said he bases decision on his "feel" in addition to the situation.
Both have had moments good and bad this season. Darr averaged more than 40 yards per punt against Florida and Georgia, but he had a 29-yarder against Buffalo, a short one that Georgia turned into a go-ahead touchdown and the one Joe Adams returned last week. Palardy averaged 40 yards on five punts against Alabama while limiting, but he had one blocked at and another nearly returned at Florida.
"For me and Matt, it's hard to find a rhythm," Palardy said. "When we're switching in and out, punt after punt or he's does three punts and I do two punts, it's hard to find a rhythm. It's kind of hard to get the production that we need if can't get a rhythm and figure out what the wind is doing and all that kind of stuff. We just do whatever we have to do to help the team out."
Dooley said after the game that his punters have a net on the sideline with which to stay in rhythm and just need to go out and punt. Russell said the punters have the time before the rest of the team takes the field before games to work out factors such as the wind.
"[We'd] like Matt to win the job and be consistent week in and week out, not only just on his kicking, but his operation and his approach," Russell said. "[It's] just like anywhere. Let's say you're switching quarterbacks: it's hard, but it's hard to put all your eggs in one basket when you haven't seen one guy clearly say, 'Hey, it's my job.'"
UT has just 23 points in its last four Southeastern Conference games, and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney admitted he's feeling pressure, though it's more self-inflicted.
"Our pressure, particularly me, is on myself," he said. "I don't listen or read all the other stuff. I know that we haven't been performing the way that we need to. As an individual, I don't really care what the profession is, when you're failing at what you've chosen to do -- which I feel like we have a little bit [and] this is a personal thing -- you reflect on a lot of issues.
"I feel bad about that. All I know to do is to go back to work and keep working on it. Pressure? I don't feel like anyone's saying, 'Hey, if you don't score 40 points this week, I'm going to fire you or I'm going to shoot you.' I don't feel that way. My pressure's more internal to try to get a group of kids to play and perform at the higher level."
Lost in space
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said the Vols missed between 16 and 18 tackles against Arkansas. He said it's been around six or eight most of the season. The Vols have been more effective defensively when they can, as Dooley said Tuesday, "reduce space" as opposed to when they are forced to make plays in space.
"[Missed tackles] just can't happen," Wilcox said. "The more space we get in, the more that shows up. That's the way sometimes it goes. We obviously have got to continue to practice it and emphasize it."
"That's just kind of who we are right now," Dooley said. "We don't win a lot of one-on-one matchups. We play better when we can cheat and send extra guys in to stop everything."
Tailback Marlin Lane, defensive Prentiss Waggner and special-teamer Raiques Crump wore non-contact green jerseys on Wednesday...starting right guard Zach Fulton (elbow) was limited, and JerQuari Schofield worked in his place.