Vols' seniors hold onto kicking jobs

One of the priorities for Tennessee during this most recent recruiting period was to beef up its kicking game.

The Vols brought in highly rated kickers Michael Palardy and Matt Darr, and conventional wisdom was that they were going to get every chance to win the starting jobs. But seniors Daniel Lincoln and Chad Cunningham had other ideas.

Neither Lincoln nor Cunningham had great seasons a year ago, but they did enough this preseason to keep their jobs. Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said Tuesday that Lincoln would handle the Vols' place-kicking and that Cunningham would do the punting. Cunningham is also the leader as the Vols' kickoff man right now, and Palardy is the backup at all three positions.

Dooley said he had "no reservations" about using the left-footed Palardy in any of the roles.

The Vols struggled in the kicking game all the way around last season. Lincoln was plagued by injuries and finished 10-of-16 on field goals. He had two field goal attempts blocked against Alabama, including the potential game-winner, and another one blocked against Ole Miss. He was replaced by walk-on Devin Mathis for the final three games of the season.

Cunningham was fifth among SEC punters last season with an average of 42.1 yards, but the Vols were ninth in net punting (34.4 yards).

Kickoff coverage also was a recurring problem. Tennessee finished 11th in the SEC, and a big part of the problem was short kickoffs. The Vols had just four touchbacks in 72 kickoffs. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Ole Miss all had 10 or more touchbacks.

Dooley said Cunningham has kicked the ball deeper this preseason on kickoffs, but that Palardy has been better with his placement.