QBs having fun

New offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe is throwing a lot at Tennessee's quarterbacks this spring, and the quarterbacks are throwing a lot at the receivers. So far, though, everybody seems to be catching on pretty well.

Erik Ainge (14 of 23, 178 yards, 1 TD), Jonathan Crompton (10 of 16, 106 yards, 3 TDs) and Bo Hardegree (13 of 19, 87 yards, 1 TD) combined to complete 37 of 58 passes for 371 yards and five touchdowns in Saturday's scrimmage. Two more TD passes were dropped. Those are excellent numbers, especially considering the old cliché that "Defense is ahead of offense this time of year."

Given how much new information Cutcliffe has imparted to the quarterbacks this spring, it's surprising that they've been able to process so much so quickly. None seemed confused or hesitant in Saturday's scrimmage.

"When you're in the play, you're going as hard as you can," Ainge said recently. "If you're not, you're getting a mouthful from Coach Cutcliffe. Guys are figuring it out. We're not going to come out here a few days into practice and be practicing like we would be a year or two into it, but I think we're making good progress."

Tennessee's quarterbacks took a lot of criticism for their poor play last season. As a result, getting them to relax and enjoy themselves is a priority.

"One of the biggest things right now is our offense is having fun again," Ainge said recently. "We're not out there stressing about how we're doing."

Still, Ainge said Cutcliffe has brought "a sense of urgency and a new tempo about practice and the way we do things" that is in stark contrast to 2004 and 2005.

"It's a lot different," Ainge said. "He coaches things a lot different. There's similar plays and similar strategies but the way he goes about things is different. Whether it's better or worse, we'll find out, but it's different."

One of the first things Cutcliffe did was go back to basics. He wants his QBs to be fundamentally sound above all else.

"He's got to break us down before he can build us up, myself included," Ainge said. "It's a process."

Fixing an offense that was woefully inept in 2005 could be a gradual process. Last fall's attack featured too many poor decisions by quarterbacks, too many untimely fumbles by running backs, too many costly drops by receivers and too many drive-killing penalties by blockers. Discipline was lacking, but Ainge believes those days ended when Cutcliffe took the reins.

"I don't see us having a substitution problem," Ainge said. "I don't see us dropping the football or making a careless play at quarterback or running back. He's going to demand so much more than that."

Cutcliffe isn't just involved with the players on the field, either. He's keeping tabs on their academics and social lives, as well.

"You can already tell just from little things he's done to help me in school and in my social life that he's a coach more than just two hours a day in practice," Ainge said. "I think attitude and demeanor will be his two biggest contributions to this offense."

Can the new coordinator right the ship? Ainge thinks so. As he put it: "There's a lot of little things that if anyone can help change, David Cutcliffe is the one to do it."

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