UT position previews: Specialists

Punts - kicked and returned - sore spot

There are certainly better images for a punter to see than an unblocked defender moving towards him at something close to top speed.

But for much of Chad Cunningham's five games as a starter last season, that's much of what he saw each time he kicked. By design, Tennessee's spread punt formation left at least one player unblocked, with a three-man shield a few yards in front of Cunningham for protection.

While Cunningham doesn't blame the formation for two blocked punts a year ago, he's clearly glad to see the Vols return to a more traditional tight punt formation.

"Just knowing that little shield's not 4 yards or 3 yards in front of you is definitely good for me," Cunningham said. "I've still got to get my punts off and times all that stuff, but definitely it gives me confidence and excitement to get out there and do it."

And for the Vols, perhaps, fix it.

Kicker Daniel Lincoln struggled at times last season, none tougher than a 1-for-4 performance in a season-opening loss at UCLA in which he connected from 47 yards to force overtime only to miss a 34-yarder to extend overtime.

But nowhere were the Vols burned by a few big plays than on punts.

Coach: Eddie Gran

Lettermen Lost (1): P - Britton Colquitt

Projected Starters:

P - Chad Cunningham (Jr., 6-3, 198)

PK - Daniel Lincoln (Jr., 6-0, 203)

DS - Morgan Cox (Sr., 6-2, 195)

H - Bram Cannon (Sr., 6-2, 195)

PR - Gerald Jones (Jr., 6-0, 199)

KR - Dennis Rogan (Jr., 5-10, 178)

Watch For: More consistent play on special teams, especially kick coverage. The Vols should benefit from Gran, who did great things with special teams at Auburn.

Key Stat: While UT improved in the return game, its coverage suffered, especially on punts. Georgia, UCLA and Florida all highlighted those struggles, and opponents averaged 12.6 yards per punt return in 2008.

For the second consecutive year, Florida special teams ace Brandon James returned a punt for a touchdown against the Vols. And as much as those missed field goals hurt against UCLA, a blocked punt for a touchdown gave the Bruins an early 7-0 lead. Northern Illinois partially blocked a punt, and Auburn nearly blocked another.

Part of that was a result of Cunningham taking too much time to kick the ball, something he says he's corrected this offseason.

The focus for Cunningham, who despite the blocks averaged 39.5 yards per punt in five starts last season, has been hang time this offseason.

That's a key component in helping the Vols improve from their 34.9-yard net punting average a year ago, which ranked 10th in the SEC. Another component is Eddie Gran, who in addition to coaching running backs also will serve as the Vols' special teams coordinator.

"We've got to have great hang time and great operation to let our gunners go down and cover," said Gran, who developed a reputation as a strong special teams coach while at Auburn. "You've got to have great technique. It's just like if you're an offensive lineman or on the defensive line or if you're a wide receiver. If your technique's not there, you're going to break down somewhere."

Aside from a 67-yard kick return by South Carolina's Chris Culliver, the Vols didn't suffer any major breakdowns on kickoff coverage.

UT's kickoff returns, handled mainly by cornerback Dennis Rogan, who finished with 698 kick return yards, was solid. Its punt return team finished ninth in the conference with an average of 7.6 yards per return, but receiver Gerald Jones showed a knack with a 40-yard return against Auburn.

Finding a comfort zone should be a little easier this season for Lincoln, as well.

A year after earning freshman All-America honors, Lincoln struggled with consistency. The fact that deep snapper Morgan Cox and holder Bram Cannon both return could make a difference this fall.

The biggest difference, though, could come from the punt team. The Vols could get an impact from any number of talented freshmen in the return game while Jones is healing from a wrist injury - or perhaps even All-America safety Eric Berry.

But Cunningham is tested - and improved - for a full-time run at the starting job. He's more comfortable, too.

"After each punt, I could come back and do something different after each punt and get confidence," he said of his game experience from a year ago. "And then bring that back to the practice field because that's a huge part of it, practicing the way you play."

Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.

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Comments » 43

ThaiVolFan writes:

I don't think that Coach Gran will be kicking to Brandon James this year :)

reidtownriverrat writes:

if berry has a chance at heis trophy he will need to play def. and special teams. but it is a risk returning punts. maybe he can get the woodson votes.

TommyJack writes:

Make George Cafego proud.

DC_Vol writes:

Help me out, but I think last year may have been one of the worst special teams accross the board(e.g. Punting, Field Goals, Kickoff returns)we have fielded at UT. I believe Fulmer was in charge of the special teams and usually he did a good job in years past, however last year the special teams were terrible. Other than Cunningham replacing Colquitt what else caused our special teams to play so poorly last year?

teampenny#658108 writes:

I like have a special team coach-overall play should be better. Wish we had more depth so we could really but highly skilled players on these teams. Go Vols

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Could more first downs and TOP lead to fewer punts?

Just a thought....

allvol32 writes:

TN always had a great kicking game when coach Cafego was around...special teams have seemed like an afterthought for a while on the hill and I'm not blaming the players at all for that. Great special teams play starts at the top with the right attitude which is something the new coaches appear to have by the ton.

nicksjuzunk#646117 writes:

in response to pdhuff#552644:

Could more first downs and TOP lead to fewer punts?

Just a thought....

In the words of Socrates, "I HEARD AT!!"

chargervol writes:

in response to pdhuff#552644:

Could more first downs and TOP lead to fewer punts?

Just a thought....

You would think so. I think that the offense is going to be improved. How much, well, we'll have to see. I do think we're going to see a whole lot of running and grinding the ball. Especially, against the more potent offenses. With the new clock rules, you can chew some clock up. With all this talk about Florida running the score up on Tennessee, they only scored 30pts. on Tennessee last year. That was one of their lowest outputs of the year, and we couldn't move the ball at all on offense. I just don't think we're going to see a lot of high scoring games. Lane and crew are going to lean on the defense, and do enough on offense to help keep the deense fresh. GO VOLS!!!

alavol writes:

I don't like the all black website- too depressing. What's wrong with the checkerboard orange and white? Don't worry, we'll get our quarterback!

CoverOrange writes:

"'Special Teams coordinator', what's that?" - Phil Fulmer.

Couchdummy writes:

in response to alavol:

I don't like the all black website- too depressing. What's wrong with the checkerboard orange and white? Don't worry, we'll get our quarterback!

Preparing us for the new uniforms. Would like a little orange somewhere on the uniforms though.

ThurmondEppy writes:

in response to alavol:

I don't like the all black website- too depressing. What's wrong with the checkerboard orange and white? Don't worry, we'll get our quarterback!

It's all part of this goofy, ill conceived conspiracy to somehow, some way, insert black into our school colors. All the clamor for black jerseys makes just as much sense as asking for pink jerseys. Somebody might think it's cool - but it ain't one of our school colors!! How hard is that for folks to understand??? How dense can people be??? Oh, come on Thurmond, you old fuddy duddy, it will help recruiting to change our school colors. Ok, well wait, I know, while we're at it, why don't we start using a moose as a mascot? Maybe that will improve our recruiting in Alaska!!!! Buncha ding dongs.

newtonrail writes:

I know Deep Snapper is a unique position, but I'm having a hard time believing he weighs less than 200 pounds. I' ve got him beat by 30 lbs, and he's inches taller than me. Of course mine is all fat.

dkdkdk writes:

i never understood fulmer thoery on coaches by commitee for handling special teams it never work but he kept doing it.its a 1man job this like every other position. CYA phill i hope u learn from your coaching misques no rocket scientist to figure that out huh

abnerPeabody writes:

in response to dkdkdk:

i never understood fulmer thoery on coaches by commitee for handling special teams it never work but he kept doing it.its a 1man job this like every other position. CYA phill i hope u learn from your coaching misques no rocket scientist to figure that out huh

How were your grades in English classes? Your post is very hard to read.Have you ever considered adult education?

mbradshaw1#655539 writes:

Can we get Ricky Townsend, any Colquit, Willie Gault, and Eddie Brown back. I could name a bunch more these are some of my favorites.

Go Vols!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

cloudodust writes:

Practically every series begins or ends with a bit of ST play. Tennessee must strive to win this part of the game every time out.

kevin151 writes:

Just knowing that UT will finally take special teams seriously now, is a good thing.

lildhoss76ut#638162 writes:

ST's can make or break a game quickly. How many games over the years have we been hanging with a team until all of a sudden a ST's breakdown?I'm glad to see CG takeover, hopefully we can win some ST battles this year.GO VOLS!

Bloodrunzorange writes:

Don't you miss the days of..Ingram to snap, Price to hold,Hall to attempt....It's Good! Go Vols!

merhawk writes:

in response to ThurmondEppy:

It's all part of this goofy, ill conceived conspiracy to somehow, some way, insert black into our school colors. All the clamor for black jerseys makes just as much sense as asking for pink jerseys. Somebody might think it's cool - but it ain't one of our school colors!! How hard is that for folks to understand??? How dense can people be??? Oh, come on Thurmond, you old fuddy duddy, it will help recruiting to change our school colors. Ok, well wait, I know, while we're at it, why don't we start using a moose as a mascot? Maybe that will improve our recruiting in Alaska!!!! Buncha ding dongs.

Buddy if you knew anything about Big Orange football you'd know they were known as the ORANGE & BLACK from 1890's to 1900's. So keep your ill conceived thoughts that have no other meaning than your WRONG opinions to your self. I can even remember Peyton having BLACK on his jersey, outlining the numbers on away jersies. I get tired of people knocking black and saying it doesnt belong, when if they knew their Tennessee history they would know. I see all the time where players study the history of the team but most vol fans dont know squat, just what theyve witnessed. HEY URBAN WEINER WERE COMING! GO VOLS

volatil writes:

Ok we just took the lead against Georgia with less than a minute to play, I know lets squib kick and shorten the field for them. Signed Phil sittin at home right now.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to DC_Vol:

Help me out, but I think last year may have been one of the worst special teams accross the board(e.g. Punting, Field Goals, Kickoff returns)we have fielded at UT. I believe Fulmer was in charge of the special teams and usually he did a good job in years past, however last year the special teams were terrible. Other than Cunningham replacing Colquitt what else caused our special teams to play so poorly last year?

I agree that we did not play well at all in any aspect of the kicking game last season, but my impression is that, with the exception of actually kicking the ball, we haven't been that great on special teams in many years. Some years have been better than others in covering kicks, but we have seldom had the really great, game-breaking kick returns, and it is rare when we block more than a couple of kicks a season.

To address your question, I think that weak special teams was a characteristic of the Fulmer era, ironic in that he was so fond of Neyland's game maxims and Neyland was very devoted to all aspects of the kicking game. Fulmer seemed to use the special teams merely as a way to get non-starters on the field before they cracked the starting line-up, not as a way to get an advantage over the opposition. VA Tech and other programs noted for outstanding special teams play put some of their best players on special teams with the EXPECTATION that they would make a difference in the game. Fulmer, again with the exception of actually kicking the ball, seemed content if we did not lopsidedly LOSE in the kicking game. JMHO.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to chargervol:

You would think so. I think that the offense is going to be improved. How much, well, we'll have to see. I do think we're going to see a whole lot of running and grinding the ball. Especially, against the more potent offenses. With the new clock rules, you can chew some clock up. With all this talk about Florida running the score up on Tennessee, they only scored 30pts. on Tennessee last year. That was one of their lowest outputs of the year, and we couldn't move the ball at all on offense. I just don't think we're going to see a lot of high scoring games. Lane and crew are going to lean on the defense, and do enough on offense to help keep the deense fresh. GO VOLS!!!

Good points. Such a scheme makes it even more important that we get an extra boost from special teams this year, even if we have to put starters on special teams.

BTW, I think Florida throttled it down against us in the second half last year. Once they got a lead, they were pretty sure we didn't have enough offense to get back in the game, so they rested some people and stopped throwing as much.

WytheVol writes:

I live in Hokie country and have to hear about "Beamber Ball" from all the homers here. It is good to see that UT might get some adequate special teams coaching. I would love to see us field some good special teams, so that I might have something to brag about myself this year.

DC_Vol writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I agree that we did not play well at all in any aspect of the kicking game last season, but my impression is that, with the exception of actually kicking the ball, we haven't been that great on special teams in many years. Some years have been better than others in covering kicks, but we have seldom had the really great, game-breaking kick returns, and it is rare when we block more than a couple of kicks a season.

To address your question, I think that weak special teams was a characteristic of the Fulmer era, ironic in that he was so fond of Neyland's game maxims and Neyland was very devoted to all aspects of the kicking game. Fulmer seemed to use the special teams merely as a way to get non-starters on the field before they cracked the starting line-up, not as a way to get an advantage over the opposition. VA Tech and other programs noted for outstanding special teams play put some of their best players on special teams with the EXPECTATION that they would make a difference in the game. Fulmer, again with the exception of actually kicking the ball, seemed content if we did not lopsidedly LOSE in the kicking game. JMHO.

John,

Excellent post. I agree with you regarding Fulmer not placing enough emphasis on special team and also that he didn't put the best players on special teams. I also like your point about VA Tech playing their top players and we all know they have won some games with special teams over the years.

I must say I like Kiffin's approach of one special teams coach instead of special teams by committee. I hope Gran gets the job done this year. I think we will see great improvement in all areas of our special teams.

govolsfan#214750 writes:

Agreed, black is part of our school colors. Still I would pass on the black jerseys. GA did it and there is no reason to follow their trend. I would suggest a new design that incorperates more black that the Vols can wear the month of OCT and dub it the Halloween jersey. LOL, I would support that.

CoachFulmer writes:

Do not punt it too Brandon James!

Bloodrunzorange writes:

Where is Darryl Hardy when you need him. He was a special teams BEAST! Johnny sure could coach special teams. 89 and 90 special teams were superior! Go Vols!

Volunatic writes:

in response to BadNewsCafego:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

It does take guts to be a deep snapper-- you have to concentrate on delivering the ball perfectly to the punter or kick holder, knowing full-well that you are going to be completely clobbered a split second after the ball leaves your hands by guys who are usually much bigger than you.
A reliable deep snapper is an unsung hero.

givehim6 writes:

One concern about the spacial teams is most of the listed were Jr's or Sr's. It's good to have the experance, but is there any one coming along to replace these guy's?

johnlg00 writes:

in response to BadNewsCafego:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

There ARE some bigger guys who have mastered the knack, but, you are right, most are a good deal smaller than other "linemen". IMHO, snapping and holding have always been executed well at UT; I have rarely seen an errant snap or botched hold, even if other aspects of the kicking game were not up to snuff. Our problems have mostly been in covering kicks and returning kicks.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to givehim6:

One concern about the spacial teams is most of the listed were Jr's or Sr's. It's good to have the experance, but is there any one coming along to replace these guy's?

I'm not sure what the staff's plans are, but Teague and Richardson would seem like good prospects as return men. I could be wrong, but I think I heard that Oku did some returning in HS, also.

Bloodrunzorange writes:

in response to johnlg00:

There ARE some bigger guys who have mastered the knack, but, you are right, most are a good deal smaller than other "linemen". IMHO, snapping and holding have always been executed well at UT; I have rarely seen an errant snap or botched hold, even if other aspects of the kicking game were not up to snuff. Our problems have mostly been in covering kicks and returning kicks.

A la Mark Ingram. He was a very good Snapper at UT. To make it as a walk on is tough. You have to be able to run 16 -110 yard sprints in under 35 seconds with very little time to breathe at the end. I agree, the snapping has not been the problem. Scheme, blocking and coverage are the issues. Can you beleive Eric Parker is the best recent return man we have had? Gone are the days of Darryl Hardy, JJ McKleskey, Dale Carter and Carl Pickens. CLK lead us to Victory! Go Vols!

jdcvols#230433 writes:

in response to Bloodrunzorange:

Where is Darryl Hardy when you need him. He was a special teams BEAST! Johnny sure could coach special teams. 89 and 90 special teams were superior! Go Vols!

Remember Houston Thomas on kick off teams. He made every tackle.

bigaldaddy writes:

in response to merhawk:

Buddy if you knew anything about Big Orange football you'd know they were known as the ORANGE & BLACK from 1890's to 1900's. So keep your ill conceived thoughts that have no other meaning than your WRONG opinions to your self. I can even remember Peyton having BLACK on his jersey, outlining the numbers on away jersies. I get tired of people knocking black and saying it doesnt belong, when if they knew their Tennessee history they would know. I see all the time where players study the history of the team but most vol fans dont know squat, just what theyve witnessed. HEY URBAN WEINER WERE COMING! GO VOLS

NO BLACK! EVER!

Volunatic writes:

in response to merhawk:

Buddy if you knew anything about Big Orange football you'd know they were known as the ORANGE & BLACK from 1890's to 1900's. So keep your ill conceived thoughts that have no other meaning than your WRONG opinions to your self. I can even remember Peyton having BLACK on his jersey, outlining the numbers on away jersies. I get tired of people knocking black and saying it doesnt belong, when if they knew their Tennessee history they would know. I see all the time where players study the history of the team but most vol fans dont know squat, just what theyve witnessed. HEY URBAN WEINER WERE COMING! GO VOLS

Nope. The Vols were always Orange and White.

"The colors Orange and White were selected by Charles Moore, a member of the first football team in 1891, and were later approved by a vote of the student body."

http://www.utsports.com/fans/traditio...

ThurmondEppy writes:

in response to merhawk:

Buddy if you knew anything about Big Orange football you'd know they were known as the ORANGE & BLACK from 1890's to 1900's. So keep your ill conceived thoughts that have no other meaning than your WRONG opinions to your self. I can even remember Peyton having BLACK on his jersey, outlining the numbers on away jersies. I get tired of people knocking black and saying it doesnt belong, when if they knew their Tennessee history they would know. I see all the time where players study the history of the team but most vol fans dont know squat, just what theyve witnessed. HEY URBAN WEINER WERE COMING! GO VOLS

I'm not your buddy, and you are right about one thing, it is the "Big Orange" and not the "Big Black."

The colors orange and white were chosen in 1922 due to the orange and white flowers on the hill at the time...see http://www.utsports.com/fans/traditio... and below.

Clearly, there were no black flowers on the hill.

Regardless of what the team wore before that time, orange and white have been our school colors since 1922.

You could make a similar argument that it's ok for me to wear a Union Jack on my Army uniform, because we used to be a British colony before our independence. The fact is that orange and white are our school colors, and any attempt to put black, fuschia, pink, taupe or polka dots on the uniform is just plain wrong.

"The colors Orange and White were selected by Charles Moore, a member of the first football team in 1891, and were later approved by a vote of the student body.

The colors were those of the common American daisy which grew in profusion on The Hill. Tennessee football players did not appear in the now-famous Orange jerseys until the season-opening game in 1922. Coach M.B. Banks' Vols won that game over Emory and Henry by a score of 50-0."

pdhuff#552644 writes:

in response to ThurmondEppy:

I'm not your buddy, and you are right about one thing, it is the "Big Orange" and not the "Big Black."

The colors orange and white were chosen in 1922 due to the orange and white flowers on the hill at the time...see http://www.utsports.com/fans/traditio... and below.

Clearly, there were no black flowers on the hill.

Regardless of what the team wore before that time, orange and white have been our school colors since 1922.

You could make a similar argument that it's ok for me to wear a Union Jack on my Army uniform, because we used to be a British colony before our independence. The fact is that orange and white are our school colors, and any attempt to put black, fuschia, pink, taupe or polka dots on the uniform is just plain wrong.

"The colors Orange and White were selected by Charles Moore, a member of the first football team in 1891, and were later approved by a vote of the student body.

The colors were those of the common American daisy which grew in profusion on The Hill. Tennessee football players did not appear in the now-famous Orange jerseys until the season-opening game in 1922. Coach M.B. Banks' Vols won that game over Emory and Henry by a score of 50-0."

TP, Could you be a little clearer on how you really feel about black uni's?

I agree, orange and white.

BigAl writes:

in response to ThurmondEppy:

I'm not your buddy, and you are right about one thing, it is the "Big Orange" and not the "Big Black."

The colors orange and white were chosen in 1922 due to the orange and white flowers on the hill at the time...see http://www.utsports.com/fans/traditio... and below.

Clearly, there were no black flowers on the hill.

Regardless of what the team wore before that time, orange and white have been our school colors since 1922.

You could make a similar argument that it's ok for me to wear a Union Jack on my Army uniform, because we used to be a British colony before our independence. The fact is that orange and white are our school colors, and any attempt to put black, fuschia, pink, taupe or polka dots on the uniform is just plain wrong.

"The colors Orange and White were selected by Charles Moore, a member of the first football team in 1891, and were later approved by a vote of the student body.

The colors were those of the common American daisy which grew in profusion on The Hill. Tennessee football players did not appear in the now-famous Orange jerseys until the season-opening game in 1922. Coach M.B. Banks' Vols won that game over Emory and Henry by a score of 50-0."

I agree, Thurmond - I don't like the way they've gradually snuck more and more black in. I feel the same way about the Lady Vols putting that crappy-looking turquoise into their uniforms. I'd like to see us return to Orange and White exclusively, but unfortunately that doesn't seem likely.

LiveFaith writes:

Black uniforms never? I don't see how people keep missing that it's on out jerseys already? Weird.

http://tinyurl.com/lhkc69

Looks 1,000 X better than the ones in the 80s and early nineties without it. UT's daisy orange does not have enough contrast with white road unis to discern #s and names, especially on TV.

Using black as a separator for contrast makes the unis much more visually appealing. They've worn black shoes for most of the century and I haven't heard anyone moaning about that breaking our glorious traditions.

All black unis. That's a different story, but the photoshopped ones with EB looked killer with the orange and white highlights. Black helmet would be necessary to go with tho.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to LiveFaith:

Black uniforms never? I don't see how people keep missing that it's on out jerseys already? Weird.

http://tinyurl.com/lhkc69

Looks 1,000 X better than the ones in the 80s and early nineties without it. UT's daisy orange does not have enough contrast with white road unis to discern #s and names, especially on TV.

Using black as a separator for contrast makes the unis much more visually appealing. They've worn black shoes for most of the century and I haven't heard anyone moaning about that breaking our glorious traditions.

All black unis. That's a different story, but the photoshopped ones with EB looked killer with the orange and white highlights. Black helmet would be necessary to go with tho.

I welcomed the black outlines on the numbers on the white jerseys and black names on the back. I agree that the black unis shown in those photo-shopped pictures look, well, striking, but for this old fogey, I prefer to stop with black-outlined numbers and names.

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