Is Cut's magic intact?

Under David Cutcliffe's guidance, Andy Kelly became the most productive passer in Tennessee football history. Then Heath Shuler came along and outperformed Kelly. Then Peyton Manning came along and rewrote the Vol record book. Then Tee Martin came along and guided the Vols to a national title.

Next Cutcliffe turned Ole Miss' Eli Manning into a No. 1 NFL Draft pick. Given these glowing credentials, Vol fans are wondering: Can Cutcliffe work his magic with Tennessee's 2006 quarterbacks?

Junior Erik Ainge, who starred as a freshman in 2004 but stumbled as a sophomore in 2005, says Cutcliffe has helped him tremendously since he rejoined the Vol staff last December.

So what's been the biggest thing "Coach Cut" has done?

"Making me commit to doing what I need to do – and what WE need to do – to go out and win every game we play," Ainge said. "The only way to do that is to do what he said: ‘Make a commitment to excellence. Winning in all areas of your life is an all-the-time thing.'

"He says that four or five times every day. You can't go play football hard, then fall asleep in class, then stay out and wake up the next day and expect to play football good again. You've got to keep a strict schedule and be committed to one thing. And right now that's football."

Redshirt freshman Jonathan Crompton, who missed the 2005 season due to shoulder surgery, had a good spring and a very good preseason camp. He believes all of Tennessee's quarterbacks are benefiting from Cutcliffe's teachings.

"He's getting every one of us better at understanding defenses, understanding the offense," Crompton said. "I'd say we're all getting better in every aspect."

From all accounts, Cutcliffe has instilled a stronger work ethic and more discipline than was in place last fall. This reportedly is showing up at several positions, most notably among the wide receivers.

"If they drop a pass – even if it's a bad pass – they get mad at themselves," Crompton said. "And we (quarterbacks) put it on ourselves to make it perfect for them because we know they'll catch it for us."

So, can Cutcliffe work the same magic with Ainge and Crompton he did with Kelly, Shuler, the Mannings and Martin?

Part 1 of the answer arrives Saturday at 5:30.


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