Head coach Phillip Fulmer announced today that Dennis Rogan will replace senior Jonathan Hefney as the Vols’ No. 1 punt-return specialist this Saturday against Louisiana Lafayette. Rogan also has moved from safety to cornerback, where he will be No. 3 in the playing rotation now that Marsalous Johnson is likely out for the year with a knee injury.
Hefney ranked No. 17 nationally in punt returns last year with a 12.1-yard average but has been awful this season, averaging just 6.4 yards. He returned four punts for minus-17 yards in Game 4 against Arkansas State and has been gun-shy ever since, occasionally fair-catching balls with no one nearby and routinely allowing punts to bounce, costing the Vols dozens of yards in field position.
The last straw apparently arrived last Saturday night against South Carolina, when he muffed a punt and managed just 6 net yards on two returns. Still, Fulmer said the demotion isn’t a punishment for poor play.
“Jon’s averaging six yards a return,” the head man said. “He had the one bad game (Arkansas State) where he went backwards. Other than that, he’s been fine. But fine is not where we want to be. We want to get some dynamics going there.”
When asked how Hefney responded to news of the demotion, Fulmer replied that he had not yet told the senior safety.
Rogan, a 5-10, 182-pounder from Knoxville Fulton, has not fielded a punt this fall but he has been returning kickoffs since Game 3. He recorded a 31-yard runback vs. Florida, a 23-yarder at Mississippi State, a 25-yarder at Alabama and a 29-yarder vs. South Carolina.
Asked what attributes Rogan has exhibited that led to his promotion into the first-team punt-return job, Fulmer replied: “He’s caught the ball really well. He’s had a couple of kickoff returns where he’s run hard and tough.
“It’s not that Jon’s done anything that poorly. We’re just kind of stuck in that spot, and I wanted to shake it up … give Dennis a chance…. We’re looking for some dynamics.”