Certainly, the Vols' Jonathan Hefney did a whole lot more dancing than running that evening. Instead of fielding punts and quickly turning upfield, he juked and he feinted, he retreated and he reversed his field.
As a result, he finished with minus-17 yards on four punt returns. One year after ranking among the NCAA's best with a 12.1-yard average in 2006, he was hearing some boos Saturday night.
Vol aide Trooper Taylor, who was a standout return specialist at Baylor University, says Hefney has no excuse for last Saturday's performance.
“Hefney understands,” Taylor said. “The big deal is you’re not going to go back there and dance around. You’ve got to stick your foot in the ground and get north and south because there’s not a lot of protection back there on a punt.”
Tennessee tried to block a couple of Arkansas State punts. Wary of a fake punt, the Vols occasionally played a variation of their base defense on fourth down. These strategies left Hefney with virtually no blocking in front of him.
“It’s hard to get people back there (to block) and rush the punter at the same time,” Taylor said. “A couple of those were punt safes where you’re trying to keep them from running fakes, so you (return man) are out there on an island.”
Even with punt blocks and punt safes in effect, though, there is no excuse for finishing with minus-17 return yards. Taylor concedes as much, noting: “I told him, ‘Get what you can get’ and I also told him that it’s not a bad thing to fair-catch the ball once in awhile.”
After posting just 21 return yards through the first six games of 2006, Hefney exploded with a six-return, 104-yard effort in Game 7 vs. Alabama. He followed up with two returns for 72 yards the next week against South Carolina, but managed just nine yards on six returns over the final five games. Clearly, he is a feast-or-famine guy, and lately he is all famine on punt returns.
“You have to get a feel for it,” Taylor said. “You get in a zone almost where it seems like everything has slowed down and the holes get bigger for you. That’s what we’re working on – getting him back in that zone where he’s focused.
“He was trying to press and do too much, rather than just do what he knows he can, which is put his foot in the ground and go north and south.”