Kicking concerns

Punter Britton Colquitt and placement specialist Daniel Lincoln were supposed to give Tennessee the strongest kicking game in the SEC this fall ... and they still might.

One game into the 2008 season, however, kicking is more of a concern than a strength. Lincoln was 1 of 4 on field-goal tries in the Game 1 loss at UCLA and would've been 1 of 5 except that a delay penalty negated another misfire. Meanwhile, with Colquitt serving a five-game disciplinary suspension, backup Chad Cunningham had a punt blocked that was returned for a UCLA touchdown.

Three missed field goals and a blocked punt in the same game ... When was the last time that happened to Tennessee?

Regardless, if you add the nine points UT lost due to missed field goals and deduct the seven points UCLA gained due to the blocked punt, a 24-24 overtime tie would've been a 33-17 Vol victory.

It should be noted that Lincoln, whose career-long field goal is 48 yards, missed from 51, 55, 51 (nullified by penalty) and 34 yards vs. UCLA. Oddly enough, he routinely hit from 50-plus yards in preseason scrimmages but came up short on all three Game 1 tries from that distance. His 34-yard misfire was even more surprising, since he set a school record as a freshman last fall by nailing the first eight attempts of his career.

The fact Lincoln is coming off a rookie season which saw him earn first-team All-America honors from The Football Writers Association of America suggests he will bounce back strongly from his Game 1 lethargy. Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer is convinced Cunningham has had his last punt blocked, as well.

"We went back to work, and I feel like we corrected the punt situation," Fulmer said. "It ended up costing us points in the ballgame."

After reviewing the game film several times, the head man verified that there were a couple of major mistakes that led to the blocked punt.

"There were two major breakdowns," he said. "One of the punt guys (shield blockers) didn't quite get to where he should've gotten to, and the punter got outside of the shield. Those two together caused the block. If it had been one or the other (instead of both), it probably wouldn't have been any problem."

With the exception of Cunningham's blocked punt and Lincoln's errant kicks, Tennessee's special-teams play in Game 1 was excellent. The Vols averaged 28.4 yards on kickoff returns while holding UCLA to 15.7. The Vols averaged 16.3 yards on punt returns while limiting UCLA to 11.0 (discounting the 17-yard return of the blocked punt).

"Certainly, the kicking game overall – except for that one play – was a positive for us," Fulmer said. "Our return games were both good; our coverage games were good. We had one play that ended up being the difference in the ball game that was one of the areas we addressed early last week."

Although many coaching staffs feature a special-teams coordinator, Fulmer prefers to spread the duties among several aides. Stan Drayton manages the kickoff returns and John Chavis handles the punt returns. Steve Caldwell oversees kickoff coverage and Jason Michael is in charge of punt protection. Dan Brooks is the overseer for extra-point and field-goal blocks, while Greg Adkins has dominion over extra-point and field-goal protection.

"Obviously, I'm involved in all of those," Fulmer said. "That's the first thing I watch after practice or after a game."

Every time Tennessee has a tough day in the kicking game, fans and reporters suggest the Vols hire one guy to oversee the entire special-teams spectrum. Fulmer simply prefers having several coaches involved.

"I like the fact they can break it down and spend time on one area," he said. "We've had one coach do the whole thing. That's fine if you've got the right person and the right personality."


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