"I could run the meeting," he said recently. "I could give the protection speech now. I could give the route speech. I could do that now and there's no possible way I could've done that last year. It's all the difference in the world."
Whereas senior Rick Clausen was able to grasp the offensive wrinkles added last preseason, sophomore Ainge was not. So, while Ainge was physically superior, Clausen was miles ahead mentally last fall. Now Ainge believes he's much more capable of running the attack, mentally as well as physically.
"From the neck up was what made Rick (Clausen) a good quarterback," Ainge said. "With the physical tools I bring to the sport, if I can become a coach on the field – which is what I'm trying to do – then I think the sky's the limit for our football team."
Many quarterbacks say they prepare the same whether they are No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 on the depth chart. Not Ainge. He admits that being the first-team QB has been a huge advantage.
"Just getting reps with the Ones," he said when asked the biggest difference between the Erik Ainge of 2005 and the Erik Ainge of 2006. "Being THE starting quarterback in the spring, being THE starting quarterback through the summer, being THE starting quarterback into the fall.
"Obviously, that has helped me a lot from a confidence standpoint. But any time you're getting a considerable amount of reps with the same guys, day in and day out, you're going to get better. You have no choice but to get better."
Coming off a poor season in 2005, Ainge is eager to redeem himself in the 2006 opener vs. California.
"I can't wait," he said. "We've got a top-10 team coming here to Tennessee at 5 o'clock in the South. We've got everything in front of us. We have everything to gain, nothing to lose. I'm just ready to go play."