Now, there’s no doubt who runs the Volunteers’ special teams.
Eddie Gran might be coaching the UT running backs, but he’s also the full-fledged special teams coordinator. Even though linebackers coach Lance Thompson watches film with the specialists from time to time, the kicking game is Gran’s domain.
“Obviously it’s a lot more organized. You’ve got one person taking care of all of it,” returning placekicker Daniel Lincoln said. “Everybody’s really on the same page. It’s a huge priority, a big emphasis is placed on all the phases of special teams now.”
To the casual observer, Gran arrived in Knoxville with more of a reputation as a running backs coach. Former pupils in the offensive backfields at Auburn and Ole Miss included the likes of Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, Rudi Johnson and Deuce McAllister.
During Gran’s tenure at Auburn, however, he shepherded the special teams for the Tigers in 2006. That year, Auburn led the Southeastern Conference in kickoff coverage, field goal percentage, PAT percentage and punting.
Gran’s intense and energetic methodology also has been a change for the Vols’ kickers.
“How he starts meetings, he’s really loud, really in your face,” said Lincoln, who noted he usually begins meetings with a highlight — or lowlight — from the previous day’s practice. “When you get polarizing views like that, everyone gets excited.
“His coaching style is so different from anything we’ve gotten used to because he’s a special teams guy,” Lincoln added. “There’s no alsos, ands or buts. Coach Gran is special teams coordinator. He’s on top of things.”
Gran already has made some changes, most notably bringing the Vols’ punt protection team out of the spread into a more traditional formation.
Punter Chad Cunningham likes the decision.
“Just knowing that the shield’s not four yards in front of you ... it’s definitely good for me,” said Cunningham, who punted for the Vols’ first four games in 2008 while Britton Colquitt served a suspension.
“I’ve still got to get my times down, that kind of stuff, but it definitely gives me confidence.”
Cunningham had one infamous experience with the spread punt formation in the 2008 season opener against UCLA. The Bruins got to Cunningham, blocked the punt and returned it for a touchdown in a game that they eventually won in overtime.
One problem with the spread formation is that, even when it works, one rusher is left free.
“You try not to think about it just because your guys are going to make the block,” Cunningham said. “You kind of just block that out. After the punt you might think, ‘Man, that guy almost got that.’”
According to Lincoln, Gran has that — and everything else related to the kicking game — planned out to the smallest detail.
“It’s definitely great to have a guy who’s that organized and brings that confidence to everybody,” Lincoln said. “It filters down through everybody in the unit.”