Ainge Looks Comfortable During Scrimmage

With knowledge comes comfort, and Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge looked more comfortable during Saturday's scrimmage than at any time last season.

So, you can assume, Ainge is more comfortable with the offense that coordinator David Cutcliffe has installed.

No.     Name    Comp.-Att.-Yds.-TD-Int.
10      Erik Ainge      14-23-178-1-0
8       Jonathan Crompton       10-16-106-3-0
14      Bo Hardegree    13-19-87-1-0
``I felt real comfortable,'' said Ainge, who completed 14 of 23 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. ``We still have a ways to go. It's a process. This is Day Six. I think if you compared Day One to Day Six, I think we're making (offensive) improvements.''

Ainge said his comfort level can be attributed to familiarity with the system and the uptempo style.

``We're attacking (the defense) and playing football again,'' Ainge said. ``Coach Cutcliffe is telling us to go play football. Don't look over your shoulder, go play. As an offense, I think that's helping us right now.''

Ainge, a part-time starter for two years, said much of what Cutcliffe is running is the same stuff used by former offensive coordinator Randy Sanders.

``It just helps getting all the reps with the ones,'' Ainge said. ``It's the first time since I've been at this University I've gotten all the reps with the ones. So, I think that's helping.''

Cutcliffe liked what he saw from the 6-foot-6 junior-to-be. Cutcliffe has been working with Ainge's throwing motion and footwork in an attempt to make him a more accurate passer.

``He's been real receptive,'' Cutcliffe said. ``We've really made progress with his feet. He's much more comfortable and confident throwing the football. He's made a lot of progress in six days.

``Still, there's a lot left to be made because what's going to happen, I'm going to see on tape he's going to revert back some and you've got to make this an all-the-time thing. Hopefully, we'll get to that point.''

Ainge wasn't the only quarterback that caught Cutcliffe's eye. Redshirt freshman Jonathan Crompton was impressive, exceeding Cutcliffe's expectations. Crompton, coming off shoulder surgery and somewhat limited thus far, hit 10 of 16 passes for 106 yards.

Cutcliffe said the quarterbacks' feet were in the right place most of the time and they were accurate for the most part. Cutcliffe was upset about a few throws that should have been intercepted but were dropped by defensive backs.

``That's discouraging because I thought we'd made progress in that regard,'' said Cutcliffe. ``But our discipline and poise was better.

``We still had four, five wasted plays, which, in our league, we've got to get it to zero. We won't be satisfied until it's zero. We've got to make every play count. That doesn't mean they will all be successful. But don't waste one or give yourself no chance to be successful.''

Tennessee's quarterback play this fall will determine if the Vols can recover from a 5-6 season. At this point, Ainge has the upper hand, and he did beat Florida and Georgia as a freshman, helping the Vols win the East Division and play in the SEC Championship game.

If Ainge can find a comfort level and play with confidence, the Vols have a chance to win nine or 10 games. If not, that mission will fall on Crompton's shoulders.

Regarding the rest of the two-hour scrimmage, Cutcliffe said he ran a ``hodge podge'' of offense, looking at plays and personnel. That hurt continuity. That didn't bother Cutcliffe. What bothered him were lulls.

``We quit competing as hard as we needed to compete to make first downs and finish drives,'' Cutcliffe said.

Tennessee ran a plethora of plays in the Orange Zone, looking for execution and trying to instill some confidence in a unit that averaged a woeful 18.6 points last season.

``I thought our guys executed better,'' Cutcliffe said. ``We're trying to find out who our play makers are going to be. That's still not answered, but I think we've got a better idea today. Progress has been made. We're going to keep finding those guys and putting them in position to make plays.''

Entering the scrimmage, Cutcliffe liked what he'd seen from Josh Briscoe, Austin Rogers, Slick Shelley and Jayson Swain, although an injury kept Swain out of the scrimmage. During the scrimmage, Cutcliffe liked what he saw from Robert Meachem, who stepped it up a gear, and Lucas Taylor, a definite play maker.

UT has just two practices next week before spring break.

``We've got to leave for spring break better than we are right now,'' Cutcliffe said. ``Those are two huge days. We'll get some live work both days. That should be good for us.''

Fish Out of Water

While junior college defensive end Walter Fisher made some plays, Coach Phillip Fulmer wasn't too excited about the newcomer's performance.

``He was going against guys that didn't know what they were doing,'' Fulmer said. ``He's a fish out of water right now. He's still going at a junior college tempo.''

Fulmer said Fisher's junior college coach sent UT two of Fisher's All-America trophies.

``I'm not sure we're going to give him those, yet,'' Fulmer said. ``He's trying but he's not where he needs to be yet.''

Yancey Turns in Terrific Run

Fulmer was impressed with walk-on running back David Yancey, who was put on scholarship in 2004 but had it taken away when the Vols signed several running backs.

Yancey had a terrific 55-yard run in which he juked safety Jonathan Hefney.

``Yancey's run was a big-time run, a great play,'' Fulmer said. ``He's tough. Honest to goodness, he's why you coach. He loves football. He's an engineering student. He's `yes sir, no sir.' He came in to see me the other day, I just knew he was coming to see me about a scholarship. Never mentioned it. He just said, `Coach, what can I do to help?' As soon as I get one (scholarship), I'm going to give it to him.''

NOTES: Two of UT's offensive linemen are still way overweight: Ramon Foster and Chris Scott. While Scott has lost some 50 pounds since last season, Foster has gained some weight and didn't move well Saturday. … Linebackers Adam Myers-White, a converted safety, and Marvin Mitchell had two of the hardest licks during the scrimmage. … Offensive tackle Arron Sears (knee) didn't play as a precaution.


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