Nick Pollard showed off a knack for the rugby-style punt in 2012, his first as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's punter and kicker.
Pollard averaged 41.5 yards for his 55 punts, good enough for fifth in the Southern Conference and 25th in the Football Championship Subdivision.
"Last year I was just kind of back there going, 'Catch it and kick it. Catch it and kick it,'" Pollard said. "This year I know I can slow it down a little, kind of like with the field goals. Just slow it down and hit it right, and the ball will roll and do its thing."
Pollard, a redshirt junior, was especially effective on the opponents' side of the field. He had 23 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, including five in UTC's season finale against Elon. The Mocs' net average last season was 38.2 yards, which was third in the SoCon.
"Ideally I'd love to net probably 40 or 41 this year," Pollard said.
That could be good enough to lead the SoCon. Appalachian State's 41.5 net average was the best in 2012 by more than 2 full yards. In April, ASU punter Sam Martin was drafted in the fifth round by the Detroit Lions.
Mocs coach Russ Huesman was very happy with Pollard's punting last season. A repeat performance would be OK with him.
"If we can just have the same productivity this year punt-wise as we did last year, I'm fine with that," Huesman said. "I'm not going to get greedy."
Pollard said he spent some time this summer working with the guys from ProKicker.com, including former University of Hawaii punter Alex Dunnachie, an Australian.
"I worked him on more of an Aussie-style kick so I can get that roll and really plan on getting that roll," Pollard said.
The Mocs ranked No. 8 in the SoCon in punt-return average with just 4.9 yards per return -- only Furman's 4.4 average was lower -- but Huesman's priority remains to catch the ball and maintain possession.
Huesman is eager to see more out of the kickoff-return team. The Mocs ranked No. 8 in that category as well, with a 19.4-yard average.
"I think we've got good players returning for us," the coach said. "We've just got to do a better job of blocking and making a commitment to giving [the returners] a seam. I think if we give some of these guys seams, they've got a chance to be good."
Cornerback Chaz Moore was UTC's primary returner last season. He averaged 20.2 yards on 17 returns, with a long of 48 yards.
Key getting close
Mocs All-SoCon strong safety D.J. Key has 24 career starts. It remains to be seen if No. 25 will come in next week's season opener against UT-Martin at Finley Stadium. Out for all but one practice of the preseason with a bone bruise in his left foot, Key was walking without a boot Thursday.
That's some progress, and he's done more cardiovascular work in practice the past few days, but even Key isn't sure what his status is.
"I don't really know yet," the senior said. "I'm just doing what the trainers tell me to do. I'm hoping for the best. When they say I can go, I'm going."
Both safety spots are a concern for the Mocs. Starting free safety Zach McCarter missed practice to have his right knee examined -- the same knee on which he had surgery following the 2012 season. C.J. Murrell, Cedric Nettles and Sema'je Kendall are UTC's healthy safeties right now, with a combined five starts (all Kendall's) between them.
Rain wreaked havoc on UTC's practice Thursday. Practice began at Scrappy Moore Field, was halted for about an hour during the storm and then finished at Finley Stadium
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.