2020 Preseason Position Preview: Specialists

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    Right now, it’s uncertain whether or not the 2020 football season will be played as planned. But we’re moving ahead and providing our position preview series ahead of the start of Tennessee’s fall camp as if things will proceed as normal. Our first piece took a look at UT’s secondary. Next up is a look at the Vols’ specialists. 

    Kicker: Brent Cimaglia, Sr.

    Tennessee’s specials team in 2020 will be the best bunch Jeremy Pruitt has had during his short tenure in Knoxville. It all begins with Cimaglia, or as the Tennessee Twitter account recently called him, “Automaglia.”

    Cimaglia put together one of the greatest seasons ever by a Tennessee kicker last year. He made 23-of-27 field goals, and his 85.2 percentage ranked second in the SEC and was the best among kickers who attempted more than 20 field goals. Cimaglia’s longest field goals on the year were from 51 yards and 53 yards, respectively. He was 9-of-11 on field goal attempts from at least 40 yards. His performance earned him second-team All-SEC honors, and he was named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award. Cimaglia finished second in the SEC with 23 field goals made and tied for seventh in the nation. His 23 made fields goals ranked third in program history and were the most since Carlos Reveiz made 24 in 1985.

    As a result of his performance last season, Cimaglia enters the 2020 season as a Preseason All-SEC First Team member by Athlon Sports and College Football News. The Tennessee native was recently named to the Lou Groza Award watch list, which is given to the best placekicker in the country.

    Tennessee’s other placekicking options consist of walk-ons Luke Lynn, Toby Wilson, and Marshall Ware.

    Punter: Paxton Brooks, R-So. — OR — Brett Graham, R-Sr.

    Brooks split punting duties with Joe Doyle last season while also handling kickoff duties. Brooks took over as the starting punter midway through the season and punted 30 times for an average of 42.0 yards to go along with 11 punts downed inside the 20. Six of his punts went over 50 yards. On kickoffs, Brooks finished 13th in the country in touchback percentage (71.9), with 46 of his 64 kickoffs resulting in touchbacks. He ranked 16th in the nation in kickoff average (63.6).

    After Doyle decided to transfer following the season, Tennessee landed Connecticut graduate transfer Brett Graham, who will compete with Brooks for the punting job. While at UConn, Graham started 12 games in 2017 after redshirting in 2016. During his redshirt freshman campaign, Graham punted the ball 63 times for an average of 38.8 yards per punt. His longest punt traveled 61 yards, and 20 of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line.

    Graham did not record any punts during the 2018 or 2019 seasons. The State College, Pennsylvania native served as the primary holder on field goal and extra point attempts during the last two seasons. He played in 11 games in 2018.

    Kick returner: Velus Jones Jr., R-Sr. — AND — Ty Chandler, Sr.

    Good luck finding a better duo of kick returners in college football. Chandler has started the last three seasons at kick returner for the Vols, but Tennessee went out and added Jones, a graduate transfer wide receiver and kick returner from USC.

    At USC, Jones returned a program record 81 kicks for 1,947 yards, which is the second-most of any returning kick returner in college football from the Power Five. He averaged 24.28 yards per kick return last season, ranking third in the Pac-12 and 32nd nationally. Jones returned one kick for a touchdown on his way to earning All-Pac 12 honors for the third year in a row as a return specialist.

    Jones was named to the Paul Hornung Award watch list this preseason. The award is given annually to the most versatile player in college football.

    Chandler also has quite the resume as a kick returner. The Tennessee native’s 724 career kickoff return yardage ranks No. 14 in school history. He has one kickoff return for a touchdown in his career.

    Punt returner: To Be Determined

    Not only will Tennessee have to replace the production lost from Marquez Callaway at the wide receiver position, but they’ll also have to replace his production as a punt returner. Callaway’s career 13.6 punt return average ranks fourth in school history, and his three punt return touchdowns are second all-time.

    Bryce Thompson and Eric Gray will likely get the first looks during fall camp. Other names who could get a chance to prove their worth as a punt returner are Velus Jones Jr., Ty Chandler, Jalin Hyatt, Ramel Keyton, and Warren Burrell.

    Long-snapper: Will Albright, Fr. — OR — Matthew Salansky, So.

    Tennessee will have a new long-snapper in 2020 as Riley Lovingood has graduated after serving as the primary long-snapper in all 13 games last season. With Lovingood graduating, Pruitt went out and signed the No. 1 ranked long-snapper in the country in Will Albright. The job won’t be given to Albright, however, as he will have to fight off walk-on sophomore Matthew Salansky.

    Ben McKee
    Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He grew up an Army brat and lived in Alabama for a bit, but he bleeds orange. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also a co-host on the RTI Live Show and RTI Podcast. You can also hear Ben on the morning sports radio show "The Swain Event." He's the producer and co-host along with former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain.