KNOXVILLE -- The potential on offense and the competition on defense may have most of his attention, but Derek Dooley still has plenty of focus on the University of Tennessee's kicking game though it's just another area of concern for the Volunteers' second-year coach.
Sophomore kicker Michael Palardy missed two of three field-goal attempts in Tuesday's scrimmage. Redshirt freshman punter Matt Darr averaged 41 yards on four punts, while Palardy averaged 38 yards on three kicks.
Dooley said the Vols had separate periods for kickoffs on Tuesday, but Palardy, who handled all three kicking jobs at times last year despite a pulled groin, showed improvement with depth, hang time and placement on his kickoffs.
"They were all down there inside the [5-yard line]," Dooley said. "He's definitely made some improvements. You can tell the work is paying off. He's got to make those field goals, though."
Palardy's workload last year was too much at times, and Dooley took the blame for overworking his kicker and changed his schedule during the summer and preseason camp.
"I probably didn't do a good job," he said. "I put a lot of thought into what we needed to do for him this summer and what we needed to do for training camp. We've backed it down considerably. I think it's helping, so anytime you don't have the production and injuries, you have to look and say, 'Maybe we were doing something wrong.'"
Leg strength has never been a question for Darr, the nation's top-ranked punter coming out of high school who fought through a hamstring issue of his own during spring practice.
"He came in as a talented guy who knew nothing about the art of punting," Dooley said. "Now you can see that he's really investing trying to learn the trade and understand the trade and working the trade. He's certainly not polished up where he needs to, [but] he's on that track. He's going to go out there and boom some and he's going to go out there and not boom some."
The Neal experiment
Sophomore Rajion Neal continues to work at both tailback and receiver, though he had three carries for 21 yards and no catches in Tuesday's scrimmage.
"Rajion looked a little better [Tuesday] than he's looked," Dooley said. "We just bounce him back and forth. It's not the ideal set. You'd like to get him out there and invest all your time in one area, but it almost becomes, 'These are your plays, go get good at it."
Neal said he sees the experiment as another opportunity to use his speed and talents to make plays in space
"He's going to play wherever we need him," said quarterback Tyler Bray. "The guy runs a [4.3-second 40-yard dash], he's the fastest guy on the field. Wherever we can put him, we're going to put him and try to get him the ball. He's a running back, so lining up out there is never going to easy for him, but he's starting to come around."
This and that
Dooley said there's been "a lot of discussions" about the competition at left guard, where freshman early enrollee Marcus Jackson has gotten first-team work ahead of sophomore JerQuari Schofield. The Vols also could slide James Stone over from center and insert Alex Bullard into the lineup ... Senior linebacker Austin Johnson, who moved to the weakside spot when Herman Lathers fractured his ankle, played in the middle on Tuesday and made a team-high eight tackles.