SPECIAL TEAMS MELTDOWN!!!!!!!!!!!!
Seniority will apparently rule the day for the Vols this fall, as Daniel Lincoln and Chad Cunningham, both the incumbent seniors at kicker and punter, will retain their starting jobs for the Vols this fall. (H/T: Austin Ward). Both men held off freshman Michael Palardy, who arrived on campus with a significant deal of hype as the number one kicker in the Class of 2010. Matt Darr was later signed as a transfer from Fresno State, the number one punter in the 2010 class.
For a program that's seen plenty of special teams mishaps and also seen plenty of transition, I think most of us assumed that things would get better in the third phase under Derek Dooley, and the main reason they got better would be Palardy - when you're the number one kicker in the country, the common belief is that you're good enough to win the job right away. Is there some sort of maturation process that kickers have to go through from high school to college, beyond an extra five yards on kicks?
I both hope and think that Dooley based this decision simply on whoever kicked better in fall camp; he praised Palardy as well today and said he's still in the hunt on kickoffs ($). This feels like a Phillip Fulmer move - reward the seniors, let the young guys have their day later.
Lincoln has been on the wrong end of some of the Vols' most painful moments in the last three years - missing two kicks in the 2007 SEC Championship Game, missing in overtime at UCLA, and his 1-for-4 performance at #1 Alabama last year, including Cody's famous block on the potential game winner. You can blame his quad injury if you like, but Lane Kiffin benched him and really stopped even entertaining the idea of field goals at the end of the year.
On the other hand, Lincoln has said he's headed for life as a Navy SEAL after football, so there's at least the promise of mental toughness. And Lincoln has made some big kicks for this university as well, and was a Freshman All-American in 2007.
We covered special teams in depth in our 10 Questions for 2010 series. A couple of the high points from that:
- Lincoln's career kicking percentage - 41 of 63, 65% - is better than only the current kickers at Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the SEC.
- Cunningham quietly had a solid year in 2009, 39th in the nation with 42.05 yards per punt
Fans love highly touted freshmen, even when they're kickers, and so the first time Lincoln misses I'm sure we'll be screaming for Palardy. So the only way Lincoln can silence the critics is also the only way he can keep his job: split the uprights.