Difference-maker

Tennessee lacks the top-drawer talent to dominate most of the teams on its 2009 schedule, so a lot of Vol outcomes this fall could be determined by a made or missed field goal.

"I hope so," junior kicker Daniel Lincoln said, nodding his head emphatically. "I hope so. That's what I've prepared for."

That's bold talk coming from a guy who made just 55.5 percent of his field-goal tries in 2008 but Lincoln is convinced he's ready to bounce back. After a superior preseason camp, his confidence level is soaring.

"It's definitely a world of difference from last year," he said. "I was assessing the things I needed to look at going into the camp, I worked on the things I assessed, then I succeeded on the goals I set."

Lincoln's career soared as a redshirt freshman in 2007, when he nailed 21 of 29 field-goal tries en route to first-team All-America recognition from The Football Writers Association of America. He suffered through a sophomore jinx in 2008, however, making just 10 of 18 tries last season. Based on some strong scrimmage performances, it appears that 2009 will be closer to his 2007 level than his 2008 level.

"This was definitely the best camp I've had since I've been on campus," he said. "That feels really good, knowing this is my best and camp and I had an All-America year one year. Obviously, that makes you feel very confident with your snapper and holder going into the season opener."

After his superb freshman season, Lincoln expected to produce a great encore. The reason he didn't follow up, oddly enough, was that he didn't follow through.

"Last year I had some bad habits, like not finishing to the target," he recalled. "In any athletic motion if you don't finish to your target, whatever you're trying to put to that target is not going to go there.

"I had three or four things I needed to correct - dealing with alignment and follow-through - and I did. Whether it be golf or shooting or hunting, you want to align to your target and finish to it.

"If you do Steps A and C right to get to your goal, Step B will be there."

After one great season and one mediocre season, Lincoln believes he has learned a lot about kicking at the collegiate level. One lesson stands above all others, however.

"How to practice," he said. "Going through the motions in practice and just getting reps wasn't good enough. By making those reps meaningful - putting yourself in a game situation in August - you're going to be so much more comfortable by the time you get to the season opener."

Lincoln was so disappointed by his 2008 numbers that he immediately set about reinventing himself during the offseason. He believes he has succeeded.

"I don't have any regrets about how I've prepared," he said. "I've left everything out there, from January through today, and I'll continue to do that this weekend and the next and the next."

So, if a bunch of Vol games this fall come down to a clutch kick at the end ...

"I hope so," he said. "I hope so."


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