Kickoff job up for grabs?

The pulled muscle that cost Tennessee's <a target='_new' href='http://scout.theinsiders.com/a.z?s=7&p=8&c=1&nid=316392&yr=2002'>Alex Walls</a> a chance to kick in Saturday night's 26-3 win over Middle Tennessee State may have cost him the kickoff job, as well. Phillip Newman's outstanding work as a fill-in may have wrested that chore from Walls, who handled both the placement and kickoff duties in Game 1 before missing Game 2 with a pulled quadricep muscle.

After making just one of three attempts in the MTSU game, Newman is no threat to claim the field goal job. But his work on kickoffs was another matter. Three of the six resulted in touchbacks, and the other three were returned to the 10-, 11- and 15-yard lines. Asked if his dazzling performance reopened the kickoff competition, Newman shrugged.

''I don't know about reopening it,'' he said. ''I'm pretty confident I can put it in the back of the end zone every single time. Everyone's seeing that. It's probably the best thing I do.''

Some observers thought Newman won the kickoff job in preseason. But Walls, who improved his leg strength over the summer, got the nod for Game 1 with Wyoming. Newman's consolation prize was getting to launch the last three UT kickoffs in the Vols' 47-7 blitz.

Newman was all set for another uneventful evening last Saturday night, then something weird happened: Walls pulled a quadricep muscle during pregame warmups and was unable to kick. Suddenly, Newman was thrust into the starting job.

''I found out about five minutes before kickoff," he recalled.

Getting the news so late could be viewed as a positive or a negative. On the plus side, he didn't have much time to worry. On the negative side, he didn't have much time to PREPARE.

''I didn't think about it either way,'' Newman said. ''Coach always stresses that you're a turn of an ankle away from playing at any position.''

Newman was sky-high as he boomed the opening kickoff nine yards deep into the MTSU end zone. He was celebrating the feat when he noticed Tennessee had been flagged for offsides, meaning he'd have to back up five yards and kick again.

''I was thinking, 'Oh, no! How could you do that to me?' '' he recalled. ''So I figured I'd go back out and put it where it belongs ... in the back of the end zone."

Newman didn't put it in the back of the end zone but he sailed it through the left corner, resulting in another touchback -- this one official. As he trotted off the field, he got a congratulatory high-five from head coach Phillip Fulmer.

''That meant a great deal,'' Newman said. ''I was pretty fired up after that offsides penalty. I had the adrenalin flowing after that first one, and I wanted to make sure I hit it back there again.''


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