As we said from the outset, the kicking game is a crucial part of Tennessee football’s tradition. Gen. Robert Neyland’s sixth game maxim makes it pretty clear: “Press the kicking game for here’s where the breaks are made.”
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The Vols have lived up to that billing in recent years even if they’ve failed everywhere else. They are currently Punter U in the NFL, and they also had a historically great kickoff returner in Evan Berry from 2014 to 2017.
Heading into this year, they have another guy with a ton of potential in Marquez Callaway as a senior punt returner. That’s the one part of special teams where they can have a major advantage over opponents.
Elsewhere, though, they just have proven reliability. Brent Cimaglia has proven himself at place-kicker, Joe Doyle has proven himself at punter, Riley Lovingood has even proven himself at long-snapper, Paxton Brooks has proved himself on kickoffs, and Ty Chandler has proven himself as a kickoff returner.
All of those guys mean special teams won’t be any concern for Jeremy Pruitt this year. He just has to be clear on who his kickoff returner is and if he’ll use somebody other than Lovingood on field goal long snaps.
Anyway, Pruitt has also shown he is willing to be aggressive and try onside kicks. He used lots of them last year, but the hands team failed to recover any of them. He needs to have worked a lot with that unit this offseason to make sure they execute those better. The coverage team did have a punt blocked for a touchdown last year, to be fair. But executing those onside kicks is huge.
No matter what, Tennessee football will be fine on special teams. They have the bodies and no real concerns. But given the way they are set up on offense and defense this year, they need to make it an advantage. That is a possibility, and the starters have shown the potential. If they are more consistent this year, then it could be an extremely strong unit.