Kiffin's kudos for kickers

Fans were unhappy with Tennessee's kicking game last fall, and head coach Lane Kiffin shared their displeasure coming out of spring practice.

Chad Cunningham ranked 10th among SEC punters in 2008 with a 39.5-yard average and Daniel Lincoln ranked 10th among field-goal kickers with a 55.6-percent success rate. Neither did anything during the spring to suggest that his 2009 performance would be any better.

Fortunately for The Vol Nation, both Cunningham and Lincoln have redeemed themselves with strong preseason camps this August.

"I feel very good about where both of them are," Kiffin said following a three-hour Saturday situational scrimmage at Neyland Stadium that featured plenty of kicking. "I would not have said that after spring but I think both of them have had a great summer and a great camp."

Cunningham boomed a 55-yard punt from his own 1-yard line in the opening minutes of Saturday's workout. He drilled a kickoff five yards deep into the end zone and booted another to the 5-yard line with such great hang time and placement (near the West sidelines) that the return man was snowed under after a mere 14-yard runback. He consistently put his kickoffs inside the 10-yard line.

Lincoln had a productive day, too, nailing field goals of 47, 29 and 37 yards before missing from 46. His kickoffs were good, as well.

Asked if he could explain Lincoln's preseason rally, Kiffin shrugged.

"I don't know," the coach said. "I know Eddie Gran has done a great job with him. We do a different field goal (scheme). Whether that's helped him or not, I think he feels pretty secure about our protection. Bram Cannon, his holder, does a great job, as well."

After a taxing week of physical practices, Kiffin focused more on teaching than hitting during Saturday's workout.

"Obviously, it was not an extremely physical day," he said. "It was a very mental day ... a ton of situations. We got through every scenario that can possibly come up in a game."

Indeed. The Vols even worked on the free kick that follows a safety ... something that comes up maybe twice per decade. Cunningham promptly hammered a punt from his 20-yard line to the opposing 16-yard line - 64 yards in all - with outstanding hang time.

So, if the Vols have to make a free kick this fall, they'll be ready.


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