Just for kicks

The new rule moving kickoffs back to the 30-yard line will have an incredible impact on college football. Even low-key Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer conceded that, "You'll see an assault on the record book ... more scoring."

Fulmer's Vols and Jeff Tedford's California Golden Bears may be part of that assault Saturday night in Berkeley. Tennessee's best kickoff man, Britton Colquitt, probably will be limited to punting duties – if that – due to a sore quadricep muscle. If so, the kickoff chores will fall to redshirt freshman Daniel Lincoln, whose kicks lack the distance and hang time of Colquitt's.

Shorter kickoffs will mean longer returns, which will mean better starting field position and more scoring opportunities for Cal.

Exactly half (37) of UT placement specialist James Wilhoit's 74 kickoffs were not returned in 2006. The Vol coverage team won't have it so easy in 2007, however. Thanks to the new kickoff rule, the touchback will virtually disappear.

"Not too many kickers out there can kick it into the end zone from the 30-yard line," Fulmer noted. "Consequently, you've got a really outstanding athlete (return man) in space with blockers in front of him."

The Vol coach surmised that the NCAA rules committee adopted the measure "from an entertainment standpoint" to create more crowd-pleasing returns. It also will create more ulcers for special-team's coaches.

Historically, Fulmer has deferred when UT wins the coin toss, choosing to start the second half with the football. Given the potential impact of the new kickoff rule, he might be more inclined to take the ball first.

"That's certainly something you'd have to consider," he said. "You still like to have the ball at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half but we'll discuss that more as we go along."

With Colquitt nursing the injured quad, Lincoln also projects to handle Tennessee's field-goal duties. Having a redshirt freshman attempt his first college field goal in a nationally televised road game against the No. 12 team in America is less than ideal.

"Britton hasn't been in that situation (kicking), either," Fulmer noted, "so whoever kicks is going to be new."

Despite Lincoln's inexperience, Fulmer said the young kicker "has shown excellent consistency under significant duress from the head coach."

Fulmer routinely stands next to Lincoln when he is attempting field goals in practice so the kicker will feel added pressure. The coach said the redshirt freshman has come through nicely in these situations.

"Daniel's a mentally tough guy," Fulmer said. "To his credit, he's responded very well. He's talented, and now he's using that talent. The scrimmage before last he missed three (field goals) in a row, so I brought him right back out there and he hit three in a row. He has responded the way he should. He's got a real bright future."

In a worst-case scenario, Colquitt's quad also will prevent him from punting Saturday night. If so, redshirt freshman Chad Cunningham will assume that duty. This could be a serious problem, since Cal's DeSean Jackson led the NCAA in punt return average (18.2 yards) last fall and won the 2006 Randy Moss Award as the NCAA's premier return specialist.

"That guy has five touchdown returns to his credit – four last year," Fulmer said of Jackson. "He's a dynamic kick returner.... The challenge will be to make sure he doesn't have a chance to get away."

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