Butch Jones Suggests Rule Changes in Punt Coverage

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    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    After all was said and done, Butch Jones understood why the officials called targeting on Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin after he collided with a crouching Appalachian State punt returner on Thursday evening.

    It doesn’t mean Jones completely likes the rule, however. He’d like to see an increase in the clarity of the fair catch by the returner.

    “I think that’s one of the things I’m going to propose to the rules committee,” Jones said on Monday. “With the official that stands back behind the returner – for him to raise his hand, so they know it’s a fair catch.

    “You look at what we ask these individuals to do. They’re in protection, they have to protect, then they have to run and cover 40-45 yards and you have 6.5 seconds to force a fair catch or to run down and make a tackle. So everything is going extremely fast, and that was one of (the biggest) oddities that I’ve seen in coaching. And I saw it from the sideline how quickly the fair catch was, and Jalen said, ‘Coach, I never knew he called for a fair catch,’ so that’s one of the things.”

    Jones also noted that Reeves-Maybin, who was ejected for targeting, was in a tough position as he closed in on the ball. Not only was Reeves-Maybin unaware of the early fair catch, Appalachian State punt returner Jaylan Barbour was also in a crouched position as he fielded it, making it virtually impossible to hit him anywhere but in his head.

    “It’s really different when the individual catch the ball, and they go down in the contact phase and they lower their sights,” Jones said. “That’s been one of the things that us as coaches have asked the rules committee – tell us how to teach that. You have an individual, who when you look at their leverage, you couldn’t have done it any other way unless you dove at the ground and tried to sweep the legs.

    “I’m all for player safety, and within the rules, that’s going to be called. I can’t argue about the call. They’re following the rules and it’s reviewed – it’s nothing like that. But I think also, how can we protect the guys going down to make the play? And I guarantee you that play will be on every teach tape in the country for the next few years when it comes to targeting. So what I’ve told them is they have to try to go lower and sweep the legs. When you’re on punt, you have to try to tackle low.”

    Reeves-Maybin, who sat out over three quarters against Appalachian State, said he was unsure what he could’ve done differently in that situation, but also said the incident didn’t change his attitude towards special teams.

    “No (I’m not going to ask to come off special teams),” said the UT starting linebacker. “I think I’m one of the better special teams players we have. It’s where you can win games”