August 21, 2008

Lincoln not thinking; just kicking

The last thing Daniel Lincoln wanted to do was overthink his role, which seemed a bit of a contradictory statement for the University of Tennessee sophomore placekicker who closed out summer school by taking final exams in his football uniform.

"At this point in kicking, the errors get magnified so much. It's not so much form or technique; it's timing and rhythm," said Lincoln, who shared that he had taken finals while outfitted for practice the last week of summer classes. "Once you get into a groove, it's like golf, once you get in a groove and start hitting the ball really well, it's something that kind of takes care of itself. Sometimes you don't need to think and don't need to change things. Sometimes you just need to push through. Just kick. Just play.

"I've always said I have the simplest job on the football field, and I don't need to make it any more complex than it is. Just go kick the ball."

After an inconsistent opening scrimmage in which Lincoln rallied to finish 9-for-13 on triples, Tennessee's second-year kicker from Ocala, Fla., bounced back in a big way last Saturday when he drilled 8 of 9 field goal attempts. Lincoln actually missed his initial chance and then closed out the exhibition with ideal consistency.

"I never want to miss, but that's something we corrected pretty quickly, and I feel pretty comfortable with where we're at now going into UCLA," he said.

UT head coach Phillip Fulmer knows that Lincoln -- a Freshman All-America pick for his 21-for-29, 115-point debut campaign last season -- can be a viable weapon for his offense, but Fulmer expects elevated consistency from the player who drilled the first eight attempts of his collegiate career.

"That's very reminiscent of last year.," Fulmer said of Lincoln's adjustment and productivity last week. "Hopefully he'll take those strides and have the kind of year that he had last year during most of the season."

Last season, Lincoln was groomed for the pressures of kicking in the SEC by holder and resident player-coach Casey Woods, who's now a Vols graduate assistant. Now Lincoln, in turn, is helping Bram Cannon make the transition.

"The best thing about this is that I kind of came in and Casey had held and played for so long, it was his world and I was just passing through it," Lincoln said. "Morgan (Cox) and I kind of established what we did last year, and then Bram comes in and he's real eager to learn.

"He hasn't been in a game situation or a big-time pressure situation in three years. He's loving the fact that he gets to get out there and play, and he's definitely working his butt off. It shows."

With one of Tennessee's single-best seasons for a kicker behind him, Lincoln remains eager to show he's boosted the range for which Tennessee can expect to score points.

"Just get the ball across midfield, and we'll have fun with it," he said. "Wherever Fulmer puts me out on the field, we're going to make it. He ain't going to put me out there anywhere where I'm not going to have a chance to make it. But just get the ball across midfield and we'll score some points this year."

Punter Chad Cunningham, who's shown consistent improvement throughout fall camp, displayed his directional kicking ability during last Saturday's scrimmage -- a skill Cunningham has worked hard to execute.

"Directional is a huge part because it makes us have to cover just a third of the field," said Cunningham, also handling the Vols' kickoff duties. "That's definitely a huge thing.

"It's really just putting it on the numbers and having good hang time. If you're on the right hash and you're kicking it to the left, I mean, you've got way too much field to cover. So you've just got to kick it to the right."

Cunningham indicated that effectively angling the ball toward a particular sideline involves simply a subtle but key alteration.

"Instead of just going straight, you change your feet up a little bit and kick it to that direction," Cunningham said.

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