Pressure-cooker kicker

Tennessee's punter must've felt like a skinned potato Saturday night because his surroundings definitely resembled a pressure cooker.

You'd think the task of filling in for superstar Britton Colquitt (suspended for the first five games of 2008 for a DUI arrest) would be enough pressure on Vol sophomore Chad Cunningham. But UT head coach Phillip Fulmer decided to turn up the heat a little, so he made Cunningham launch his first punts of Saturday night's scrimmage from the back of the end zone with a 10-man rush coming at him.

To his credit, Cunningham came through like a champion. His first punt was a boomer that traveled 47 yards to the 49-yard line. He second was a virtual instant replay, carrying 46 yards to the 48-yard line. His third lacked great height but got a great bounce and rolled 58 yards before coming to rest.

Cunningham's next boot was a "coffin-corner" kick from the 27-yard line. He came through again, sending the ball out of bounds at the 10-yard line.

Cunningham launched six punts on his next opportunity – the only weak one being a 15-yarder that was nearly blocked. He then closed the scrimmage with a 39-yard punt that seemed to hang in the air forever.

Cunningham finished the scrimmage with Colquitt-like numbers – nine punts for a 42.4-yard average. Moreover, his greatest punts were the ones of greatest importance – the ones from his own end line.

"I felt good out of the end zone," he said, grinning broadly. "I felt like I kicked 'em real well, had good hang time. I feel comfortable kicking out of the back of the end zone."

That was obvious. He also feels comfortable kicking to a specific side of the field, which is a must in Tennessee's coverage scheme.

"Directional kicking is a huge part because it makes you have to cover just a third of the field," he said. "That's definitely a huge thing."

Basically, Tennessee divides the field into three segments – right side, middle and left side. If the ball is snapped from the right hash, Cunningham is told to punt toward the right sideline. If the ball is snapped from the left hash, he is told to angle the ball toward the left sideline. This way the Vol coverage men don't have to protect the entire field.

Cunningham says direction punt is a matter of "just putting it on the numbers (yard markings) and having good hang time. If you're on the right hash and kicking to the left, you've got way too much field to cover, so you've got to kick it to the right."

Since Colquitt also handled Tennessee's kickoff duties in 2007, Cunningham is battling Daniel Lincoln for the right to handle that job, as well. Cunningham did a good job Saturday night, routinely kicking the ball to the 6-yard line or deeper.

All in all, Fulmer was generally happy with Cunningham's performance in the second full-scale scrimmage.

"I was pleased at times," the head man said. "A couple of times I would've liked for it to have been a little better. Chad has gained a lot of confidence. You can tell just by the way he carries himself and everything. He's getting there, and we've got another week to get there."


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