KNOXVILLE -- Eric Russell finally has an answer for the question he was asked seemingly every week last season and heading into this one.
Tennessee has settled on Devrin Young as its solution at punt and kickoff returner, and while the Volunteers' special-teams coordinator is glad he's got a positive spark to discuss, he's still looking for another weekly conversation.
"What I miss, though, is those conversations after a dominating special-teams performance," Russell said. "It seems we can't get through a week without something. I would have said last week was a very good game on teams, in coverage, in the return game."
In last week's loss to Georgia, Young had a 20-yard punt return and averaged 27 yards on four kickoff returns, including a 50-yarder. Kicker Michael Palardy made two field goals, including a career long of 44 yards, and narrowly missed hitting from 51. Matt Darr averaged 42 yards on four punts and got two inside the 20-yard line.
Still though, Darr had a poor punt that gave the Bulldogs great field position for a go-ahead score early in the second half, and Palardy had his extra point blocked after the Vols' lone touchdown.
"That just looks sloppy," Russell said. "Then you've got to do a better job in coming out and changing field position. Matt can't have a 30-something yard punt coming out of our end zone. They've got to do their jobs."
It's been just two games, but Young had done the job UT's coaching staff had envisioned when it signed the 5-foot-8, 165-pound speedster out of Knoxville's Bearden High School. He nearly broke a long punt return for a touchdown on his first collegiate play after missing UT's first three games with a broken collarbone.
Young's role could expand to offense as the season progresses, but for now the Vols are happy with what he's done for a return game that was awful last season.
"He hasn't gotten to do as much as we hoped, obviously," Russell said. "He's added that spark. I don't think we've seen the best of Devrin yet. The more he gets around this more involved in our scheme, he'll do some good things.
"There's some renewed energy and some hope in the return game. It's going to be challenged these next couple of weeks. [We'll] see if we can continue to find some positives to maybe create a little more life and energy on the units."
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis is returning to Knoxville for the first time since leaving UT. After playing at UT (1976-78) and a one-year stint as a graduate assistant, Chavis coached defensive line and linebackers from 1989 to '94 and was the Vols' defensive coordinator under former coach Phillip Fulmer from 1995 to 2008.
He wasn't retained when former coach Lane Kiffin replaced Fulmer in 2009 and hired his father, Monte, to run the defense.
"John's just a tremendous guy," LSU coach Les Miles said. "A player's coach. The guys, they want to hear him, they want to know what his view is. He has great technical abilities. I think he's really just what we needed. He has a great respect for his time that he spent with Tennessee."
Chavis has downplayed his return to UT this week. He said after LSU's 41-11 rout of Florida last week that the focus on Saturday should be on the field.
"It's hard for me to talk for John, but anybody that knows him knows he has such a grand heart, and he's so loyal," Miles said. "I can remember playing against his defenses, and you felt his presence across the field. You just knew he was a big part of any team that he was representing.
"He took an identity, I'm certain, when he wore those colors that he will reminisce about and feel some real strong emotion, the number of years that he was there and the successes that he had there. I think John will want [our] defense to play well."
LSU running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson was UT's receivers coach under Kiffin in 2009.
Don't get sleepy
Although LSU relies on its big, physical offensive line and powerful tailback Spencer Ware, the Vols are wary of what quarterback Jarrett Lee can do throwing the football. The Tigers will incorporate Jordan Jefferson into the game as a change-of-pace running quarterback fter the senior was suspended for a preseason off-field incident.
"They are very committed to running the ball so you've got to have guys tucked down in the box, but as soon as you get too many tucked down they, lull you to sleep and they try to go over the top," said UT defensive backs coach Terry Joseph. "For a cornerback and the free safety, you've got to have great eye discipline, and you've got to tell yourself that this play could be the play because that's what's going to happen.
"They lull you to sleep, and then bang, it's over the top. The defense is playing so well and the running game is so good that those guys are really just doing a great job of managing the game for them.
"It's almost like you're playing two different teams when those two different guys are in the game."
Starting middle linebacker Austin Johnson (precautionary) remained in a noncontact jersey during Thursday morning's indoor practice. ... Tailback Tauren Poole (hamstring strain) practiced and is expected to play Saturday.