"Fall camp I've been really hard on him, and I think it paid off," Fulmer said. "I think his mental toughness is there and his mindset is there."
Apparently so. Lincoln is a perfect 8 for 8 on field goals and 16 for 16 on conversion kicks this season.
Basically, Fulmer's approach is to be just as demanding and just as vocal with Lincoln as he is with the Vols' position players. Lincoln, who played linebacker in high school, seems capable of handling this type of treatment.
"He's not just a kicker. He'd also been a football player," Fulmer noted. "I've been hard on most of the kickers that have come through here. It's better to be hard on ‘em during the week in practice than to get booed on Saturday or not be productive on Saturday."
The head man believes kickers and punters should not be coddled just because they play specialized positions that involve little or no contact. He learned this approach from the late George Cafego, who routinely cranked out All-America kickers and punters in the 1970s and ‘80s.
"That's the way Coach Cafego taught me to do it when I was a player and assistant coach here," Fulmer noted, "and that's the way we've gone about it."
Lincoln's perfection this fall is stunning in view of how imperfect he was in preseason. He missed a PAT and three consecutive field goals (with no rush applied) during one August scrimmage. In fact, he would be the No. 2 kicker except that Britton Colquitt pulled a quadriceps muscle that has limited him to punting duties. Although he won the placement job by default, Lincoln has kept it with deadly accuracy.
"The consistency he's shown has been very, very positive," Fulmer said. "If you knew where we started and where we are now, it is very impressive on his part."
Lincoln's kicking was so poor when he first enrolled at UT in August of 2006 that he appeared to be a wasted scholarship. Neither his distance nor his accuracy was up to major-college levels.
"I think he tried to kick way too hard and way too much when he first got here," Fulmer recalled. "He ended up injuring himself. He never was very consistent last year, then he had a decent spring and made it interesting with Britton."
John Becksvoort posted the best field-goal percentage in UT history (92.3) by making 12 of 13 attempts in 1993. No one is expecting Lincoln to beat that mark in his first year on the job, including his head coach. Kicking requires tremendous precision, focus and mental toughness, so the occasional slump is almost inevitable.
"Sometime – hopefully, not too soon – he'll have that hurdle to get back over … like everybody does," Fulmer said. "But I am really impressed and really pleased with the way he has gone about his business."