The case for Ainge

You can make a pretty strong case that Erik Ainge should start at quarterback in Tennessee's Sept. 3 football opener. For instance:

1. He has a big-time arm capable of making all the throws. As a result, opposing defenses who crowd the line of scrimmage to stop the run risk getting beat deep.

2. He is no Tee Martin but he's more nimble than Rick Clausen, his chief challenger for the No. 1 job.

3. He has scarcely begun to tap into his potential. Thus, his upside is much better than Clausen's.

4. He beat out Clausen as a freshman last fall, showing maturity beyond his years in engineering a come-from-behind defeat of Florida and a huge road win at third-ranked Georgia.

5. He has had a solid preseason, although his scrimmage numbers fall short of Clausen's. Ainge completed 11 of 17 passes for 129 yards in scrimmage No. 1, 10 of 20 for 91 yards in scrimmage No. 2 and 9 of 19 for 132 yards in scrimmage No. 3. Ainge's cumulative stats for the three scrimmages show 30 completions in 56 attempts (53.6 percent) for 352 yards.

Ainge has some negatives, however. For example:

1. He has spent just one year in Tennessee's offensive system, so he is still learning.

2. He sometimes takes unnecessary risks, trying to force throws into tight spaces rather than dumping the ball off to a back or throwing it away.

3. He does not seem to inspire quite as much confidence among his teammates as Clausen does.

Despite his lack of experience, Ainge shows many of the attributes Peyton Manning exhibited at a similar stage of his development … plus a stronger arm. Clearly, Ainge's mind-boggling potential warrants serious consideration for UT's starting quarterback job.

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