Offense sputters in scrimmage

On the first play of Tennessee's scrimmage Saturday, the offense called timeout. That seemed to set the tone for an offense that rarely found its stride against a fired up defense that didn't look like it had lost six starters from the front seven.

Quarterbacks threw three interceptions, fumbled the center exchange four times and too often didn't make good decisions.

It wasn't what offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe was anticipating.

``I think it's pretty obvious we've got a lot of work to do,'' Cutcliffe said.

No kidding. This offense looked an awful lot like the awful offense of 2005. Besides mediocre quarterback play, receivers dropped a handful of passes – tight end Brad Cottam dropped two – Arian Foster and David Yancey fumbled on consecutive plays, and the offensive line did not protect well.

But the greatest concern coming out of the first major August scrimmage was the mundane play of a veteran like Ainge. If Ainge plays this season like he scrimmaged Saturday, the Vols are in for a long season.

Ainge threw one pass out of his end zone when pressured that should have been intercepted by Jonathan Wade. Wade did pick off another pass.

``I don't like seeing that,'' Cutcliffe said. ``I was surprised and I don't want to be surprised. That's something they've all been told and they know. I expect them to do what they're coached do to.''

Ainge certainly did several things he wasn't coached to do, appearing to panic in the pocket when the pressure came.

``To get right to it, that's all what we've seen in the past and it's not acceptable,'' Cutcliffe said. ``It can't happen. We didn't see that as much in the spring.

``In playing quarterback, there's as much in knowing when not to as when to do it. Obviously, I haven't gotten that point across well enough, but we've got a few days left to get that done.''

Based on his comments, Ainge felt he played better than Cutcliffe did. Ainge said he forced two throws and he wasn't nearly as hard on himself as his quarterbacks coach.

``I felt like I did pretty good,'' said Ainge, who was 13 of 26 for 120 yards and two interceptions. He did throw a few strikes. He hit Robert Meachem for gains of 9, 12 and 15 yards on nice throws. And he found Jayson Swain on a 12-yard deep out. But those came too infrequent.

``There were times I thought I did very well,'' said Ainge, who completed only 45.5 percent of his passes last season. ``There were times I thought I didn't do very well. I still feel a lot more comfortable than I was last year as this time.''

But he didn't always show it. He did nothing Saturday to separate himself from the other quarterbacks. And that brings to mind two of the ugliest words in football: Quarterback controversy.

``If I were you guys,'' Cutcliffe said, ``I'd raise the issue, too. ... He's got to play better than he played from a mistake standpoint. I'm sure he's disappointed. But he's doing many, many things well. We're not shaking up or changing anything based on one scrimmage at this stage.''

Cutcliffe said Ainge threw the ball where he was supposed to and saw downfield better than he has been. But those major mistakes ….

``It's not what you want to see,'' Cutcliffe said. ``I'm sure he realizes that. We're going to take care of the football.''

Meanwhile, Cutcliffe said the wide receivers are making strides.

``We've got to continue to show some discipline there – be where we're supposed to be when we're supposed to be there,'' Cutcliffe said. ``I think we've got some guys that have made a ton of strides. We're more physical. We're playing faster. We are faster. Our route running is more crisp, but you have to be more disciplined. That doesn't happen over night. We started from scratch with that, to be honest.''

Cutcliffe does like the way the receivers are getting off the line against bump-and-run coverage, a problem in previous seasons.

``It's better, yes,'' Cutcliffe said. ``You can ask our DBs that. You see it every day in practice. I think we're getting to the point where they like press coverage. That's the goal.''

The goal is also to be a much-improved running team. Cutcliffe thinks UT can achieve that.

``I think we've got a chance to be physical up front,'' Cutcliffe said. ``We have physical tight ends, when they're healthy. A physical fullback. We've got physical receivers. So why shouldn't we run the football well? We're not going to accept not running it.''

Nor will he accept the lack of ball security his quarterbacks displayed Saturday.

The Cal game is less than three weeks away and the clock is ticking.

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