KNOXVILLE - There's been a change in the rules.
That doesn't mean Tennessee wants to change its ways.
The NCAA tweaked its rules regarding kickoffs for next season, but Charlie Coiner, the Volunteers' special teams coordinator, said after Wednesday morning's practice he'd like to keep most of UT's schemes the same.
"My observation from the outside coming [is we] had an extremely good kickoff team here last year. Really good," he said. "That's a credit to coach [Derek] Dooley and the guys that were coaching here. We want to build on that and try and keep as many things the same so that we can carry that over.
"There's enough things broken in this profession to where you have to fix them. If that's not, we want to keep as much the same as we can. We've addressed all the rule changes and spent a lot of time on that this spring."
The NCAA's playing rules oversight panel adopted two major changes in February. Teams will now kick off at the 35-yard line instead of the 30, and following touchbacks on free kicks, offenses will start on the 25 instead of the 20. Players on the kickoff coverage team also can't line up behind the 30, which will limit how much of a running start they could get.
The changes are aimed at increasing players' safety after the NCAA found that injuries occur during kickoffs more than any other time during games.
The Vols were seventh nationally in kickoff-return yardage allowed last season, despite totaling just six touchbacks. UT was 41st national and fifth in the SEC in kickoff-return yardage.
"It affects us, but it affects everybody," Coiner said. "Coach Dooley and I have spent a lot of time on kickoffs." You start not only looking at how it affects you, but you look at how it's going to affect your opponent and how they're going to handle it.
"Maybe you've got a better chance of kicking the ball deep every time into the end zone. Maybe you don't. Maybe what you want to do is pun that thing back in the corner."
As usual, Sal Sunseri didn't mince words when asked about linebacker Jacques Smith.
"I'm challenging Jacques and asking him to do a lot of different things," UT's defensive coordinator said. "I'm excited about him."
Rushing the passer, playing in coverage and playing on and off the line are on the former Ooltewah High School star's to-do list, according to Sunseri. It's what comes with the territory for the Jack linebacker position in UT's new 3-4 defense. The 6-foot-2, 242-pound former defensive end had one tackle and two pass breakups in last week's scrimmage.
"Once you get in this system and you hear it ... when we get to fall camp, it's going to make a lot more sense to a lot of the guys," Sunseri said. "He's doing good. I'm pleased with all these kids. Their effort is outstanding, and they've just got to keep giving it."
Fumbling faux pas
Jim Chaney said he was "tickled" by tailback Rajion Neal's 15-carry, 100-yard performance in last week's scrimmage, but the sophomore's recurring fumbling issues arose again Wednesday, which didn't please his offensive coordinator.
"Today I'm mad at him," Chaney said, "because he laid the ball on the ground. I'm not tickled with him right now. He needs to continue to work on ball security, but he's trying to play more physical for us."
The Vols' receivers and defensive backs did some one-on-one drills during the open portion of Wednesday's practice. The defenders were physical at the line of scrimmage, while the quarterbacks and receivers struggled with timing. UT plans on pressing more defensively in Sunseri's defense. ... Safety Geraldo Orta was out of the red non-contact jersey on Wednesday after practicing in it on Tuesday. ... Defensive tackle Maurice Couch (concussion) participated in Wednesday's workout. ... Tailback Alden Hill didn't practice again and posted on his Facebook account that he has mononucleosis, which would likely end his spring.