Chad's big chance

Last year, a Britton Colquitt injury brought out the best in Daniel Lincoln. This year, Tennessee is hoping a Britton Colquitt suspension brings out the best in Chad Cunningham.

Colquitt was all set to be Tennessee's No. 1 punter AND its No. 1 place-kicker last fall. When he pulled a hamstring in a preseason scrimmage last August, the Vols had no choice but to rely on freshman backup Daniel Lincoln.

Thrust into the limelight, Lincoln flourished. He broke a program record by hitting the first eight field-goal attempts of his career. He nailed a clutch 48-yarder in the final seconds of regulation to force the South Carolina game into overtime, then banged home a game-winning 27-yarder to seal it. He finished the season 21 of 29, earning first-team All-America recognition from the Football Writers Association of America.

Lincoln stepped up big-time in Colquitt's absence last season, and now the Vols are asking Chad Cunningham to do the same this season. Colquitt has been suspended for the first five games of '08 due to a recent DUI arrest, leaving Tennessee with no choice but to rely on his backup.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer summed up the situation in one concise sentence: "It's obviously a very crucial time for Chad Cunningham to establish himself as a guy we can count on in the absence of Britton Colquitt in the first five ball games."

A rising sophomore from Dawsonville, Ga., Cunningham averaged 46 yards per punt as a junior and 41 yards as a senior at Dawson County High School, setting a school record with a 71-yard boomer in the process. He also connected on 19 of 24 field goals as a high schooler.

After redshirting as a UT freshman in 2006, Cunningham handled the kickoff duties early in 2007 before losing that task. He saw his only punting action of '07 in Game 2 vs. Southern Miss. With Colquitt resting his hamstring pull, Cunningham punted three times for a 40.7-yard average. His longest kick was a 46-yarder and all three punts were fair-caught.

Basically, Cunningham is looking to establish some consistency this spring, having been wildly erratic to date. He has had scrimmages which saw him punt for a 45-yard average with good hang time; he also has had scrimmages in which he punted for a 32-yard average with poor hang time.

The uncertainty surrounding Tennessee's punting situation makes Lincoln's return as the No. 1 place-kicker an even greater luxury. He appears primed to build on his terrific freshman year.

"I love the attitude Daniel Lincoln has shown," Fulmer said. "He's coming off a fantastic year, and he's more determined than ever to be the kind of kicker that represents Tennessee well, on and off the field. He's continued to work hard and he's kicking the ball really well."

Cunningham and Lincoln will display their skills Saturday at Neyland Stadium, when the Vols hold their first full-scale scrimmage of the spring. The scrimmage is closed to the public but fans will get to see Lincoln, Cunningham and all of the other Vols showcase their skills in the Orange & White game, scheduled for a 2:30 kickoff on April 19.

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