Thursday Practice Report

KNOXVILLE - The Tennessee football team tightened some screws at practice on Thursday afternoon. Head Coach Phillip Fulmer also announced a key change in the starting line-up for Saturday night's game against Auburn.

"We're going to start Erik Ainge (at quarterback)," Fulmer said. "He played well and deserves a chance to start. I talked to them both individually and collectively and that's the right thing to do for Erik. Both of them will play. They're still co-starters. It's a chance for Brent (Schaeffer) to see what Erik has seen from the sidelines."

Although Fulmer said that Schaeffer will play, he did not comment on when he thought he might enter the game for the first time. Schaeffer ordinarily played the first two series of the game before giving way to Ainge. Other than the quarterback saga, which has been one of the most intriguing situations of the season, Fulmer mentioned that the entire team has been a joy to coach in 2004.

"The identity of this football team is exciting," Fulmer said. "I think they've got everyone in this state excited about how hard they play and some of the big plays that have happened in the ballgames."

"We've worked really hard as a staff and as a team to compete in games like this," Fulmer said.

Defensively, Fulmer carries a quiet confidence about the progress of his defensive tackles. The team has been without three key contributors from last year's squad. However, even in the absence of Greg Jones, J.T. Mapu, and Matt McGlothlin, this group has exceeded expectations.

"I think we're ahead of where we were last year at this time," Fulmer said. "From a quality standpoint, Justin Harrell and Jesse Mahelona have done very well. Tony McDaniel's done pretty well. We just don't have any depth."

The secondary is also short on depth and continues to be somewhat of a trouble spot. Yet, Fulmer thinks that the unit starting on Saturday is as good as it gets.

"It's the best tackling group and the best coverage group," Fulmer said. "They're making a lot of progress everyday."

On the injury front, Fulmer said Kevin Burnett will be fine for the game. He announced that offensive tackle Albert Toeaina will see action in his second consecutive game, too.

"Albert's still progressing," said Fulmer. "I don't know how many snaps he'l get, but he'll play some."

The Vols have a walk-through scheduled for tomorrow afternoon in Neyland Stadium.

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