Ainge Takes Aim at QB Job

When Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders visits Vol signee Eric Ainge on Tuesday it won't be a social call, neither will it be brief.

Two days after Tennessee's spring practice came to a close with the annual Orange and White Game you might not expect Sanders to be headed on a 7,000-mile roundtrip unless it was for a well-deserved vacation. Instead Sanders will leave the hills of Tennessee for Hillsboro, Ore., where he'll deliver a primer of the Vols multiple offense that is in search of a trigger man.

That's the background on this teacher-pupil juxtaposition which — when you consider the small margin of error afforded a team of UT's caliber — might ultimately play a primary role in the success of a football season that is only 104 days away.

What makes the situation so unique is that Tennessee had a sixth-year senior and a fourth-year junior battle to a dead heat at the end of spring practice. On the surface that doesn't seem too bad, until you realize them C.J. Leak and Rick Clausen have two starts between them over the last three years.

Since neither Leak or Clausen have much game experience to draw from the Vols might be better entrusting the job to a true freshman who figures to more quickly turn the playing time into on-the-field production.

Although it's far from a given that a true freshman will settle into the starting signal caller's spot, it's at least as likely as 1994 and 2000 when Peyton Manning and Casey Clausen claimed the job by midseason and directed Tennessee to a combined 13-2 record. That's what has prompted Sanders to accelerate the learning process with a QB crash course 101.

"He's going to come up on Tuesday," said Ainge. "And knowing him and me we'll probably be here from 2:30 in the afternoon to 8:30 at night talking football. "Then my mom will cook us dinner and we'll probably go after it again. I've got to learn as much as I can."

Ainge is aware the Tennessee job is up for grabs and that Sanders isn't traveling to Oregon for a social call, but he doesn't get daily updates on the quarterback race nor does he want them.

"I don't think about it a whole lot," he said. "I don't get caught up into thinking what my competition is doing over there, what Rick and C.J. are doing, I like to concentrate on what I can do — lifting weights, throwing the ball, studying the book. I think I do a real good job of doing what I need to do to get better."

Ainge has a full training and conditioning schedule designed to help him be physically prepared for the challenges ahead.

"I have a personal trainer in downtown Portland named Colin Hoover and he does a real good job," Ainge explained. "He's a McDonald's affiliate and he has his own physical therapy business and he knows his stuff. So I work out with him about three days a week and I'm working out at my school three other days during the week with my strength training class."

The physical demands of the next level particularly in the SEC have Ainge concentrating on adding strength and size to his 6-foot-6 frame.

"I'd like to go down there about 200 to 205 pounds," he said. "I'm about 197, 198 right now so I'd like to gain four or five more pounds in the next few months and come down there fit and ready to work out more because once I get down there they will beef me up even more."

While he's known for having a gun, Ainge has returned to the pitcher's mound for the first time in two years in an effort to gain arm strength.

"I'm playing baseball," he confirmed. "I pitch and play whatever needs to be played. I try not to over pitch but just to keep my arm in shape. A couple of days a week I will go out and throw the football and I'll be throwing it more when baseball is over."

Ainge has consistently clocked at 90 mph on radar guns and has attracted the attention of Major League Baseball scouts when he takes the hill.

"The last game I pitched there were about four or five scouts watching," he said. "Obviously I'm a football player and I'm going to play football but it's kind of fun to have the gun in the stands and the scouts there."

On Tuesday Ainge will begin advanced preparations to take another Hill this fall.

"I'll watch film on Tuesday," he said. "I've got all the stuff down on paper but it's different watching it on film and, obviously, it's different when you're out there doing it. It's much easier to learn when you're out there playing hands on."

It's also more risky but at this point Tennessee may be willing to take that gamble.

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