Ainge 'excited'

Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge couldn't wait to talk with new offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, so he talked with Cutcliffe protégés Peyton and Eli Manning ABOUT Cutcliffe.

"I don't know a lot about how he operates but I do know he knows what he's doing," Ainge said Monday evening, moments after Cutcliffe was introduced to the media. "I've talked to Peyton and Eli both about him, and they had nothing but good things to say – about how much he knows about the game, how he knows how to get people to play hard for him and how he knows how to win.

"They said he'll get the best out of everybody."

Ainge finally got to meet briefly with Cutcliffe on Monday and came away impressed.

"He talked about how intense he's going to make it for us, how the game is going to feel easier than practice," Ainge said. "That sounds great to me. He said Peyton ate it up, so I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to eat it up, too.

"Hopefully, it almost gets annoying how much I'm in his office, trying to pick his brain, trying to get on his good side, so we can be on the same page come next fall."

Being a quarterback, Ainge is naturally excited about working with a guy who fine-tuned the Mannings into No. 1 NFL draft picks.

As Ainge put it: "When you look at it from a quarterback standpoint, you think: Can the man develop quarterbacks? I don't think there's any question in anyone's mind that the man can develop quarterbacks."

As a sophomore Ainge completed just 45 percent of his passes in 2005 and finished with more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (5). Obviously, getting him on track will be Cutcliffe's first order of business. So, what can the new coordinator do to elevate Ainge's performance level?

"Quarterbacks are like any other position," he replied. "If you're not sound fundamentally, a lot of things have the potential to go wrong. We're going to start from scratch. We're going to work with a lot of intensity.

"You build quarterbacks from the neck up and from the neck down. We'll be first working on the neck up, getting the thinking and decision-making straight with all of the quarterbacks. I'm really looking forward to being on the practice field with these guys and starting work on the fundamentals."

Asked if he most needs help from the neck up or the neck down, Ainge replied: "Immediately, he'll be able to help me from the neck up. That's the first thing you've got to do is get on the same wavelength.

"The OC (offensive coordinator) and quarterback have got to be thinking the exact same thing. The faster we can do that, the better. The faster he can relay it to me and I can relay it to the guys, the better we're going to be."

Asked if UT could've made a better choice than Cutcliffe, Ainge answered without hesitation.

"I think from the beginning it was his job to take or leave," he said. "Obviously, he's earned that. Where we are as a football team, he's the right guy for the position, the right guy for me individually, the right guy for us as an offense and for us as a team."

Although he grew up in Oregon and didn't follow Tennessee football during Cutcliffe's previous stint with the Vols, Ainge said he's quite familiar with the new aide's reputation.

"All of us know what he's done and what he's capable of doing," he said. "With as many talented guys as we have coming back, we're real excited."

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