Ainge is latest limping Vol

If Tennessee's football season were a soap opera, the title would be "As The Ankle Turns." Though ranked 8th nationally by the Associated Press, the coaches and the Harris Poll, the 7-1 Vols are literally limping into November.

Star quarterback Erik Ainge is the latest in a long line of UT players to suffer a sprained ankle, sustaining his in the fourth quarter of Saturday night's 31-24 defeat of South Carolina. An x-ray and an MRI revealed no serious damage but his value to the team makes the injury a concern nonetheless.

Ainge, who completed 21 of 29 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns Saturday night, continues to lead the Southeastern Conference in passing offense and total offense. He ranks second to LSU's JaMarcus Russell in passing efficiency. They're scheduled to collide Saturday at 3:30 on Shields-Watkins Field, with the Vol-Tiger loser dropping out of the SEC title picture.

"Erik should be ready to go," head coach Phillip Fulmer said on his Sunday teleconference.

Yeah, but will he be 100 percent?

Ainge sat out UT's final series of the Carolina game while backup Jonathan Crompton filled in. When Crompton tried to audible to another play, Tennessee's coaches called timeout and briefly removed him from the game. It seems they did not want him changing a play with the Vols in clock-killing mode.

"Jon did what he was coached to do," Fulmer said. "The mistake was not his. It was ours."

Although Ainge left Williams-Brice Stadium wearing a protective boot Saturday night, Fulmer said that was no big deal.

"Our (trainers) put those boots on everybody," the head coach noted. "Ten or 12 guys left the stadium with boots on. It's a precautionary thing."

Speaking of "precautionary things," UT's staff will give Crompton some extra snaps in practice this week.

"We'll get Jon ready – just in case – but we expect Erik to be ready," Fulmer said.

Asked how limited Ainge will be in practice this week, the head coach replied: "We'll have to see as the week goes along."

A virtual Who's Who of Vol players has suffered ankle injuries this season. The notables include preseason All-America offensive tackle Arron Sears, All-SEC defensive tackle Justin Harrell, All-SEC tailback Arian Foster, defensive tackle Turk McBride and senior receiver Jayson Swain.

"This seems to be our year for ankles," Fulmer noted dryly. "But the kids have showed toughness and played through it. Justin Harrell, Turk McBride, Arron Sears have played through a lot this year. That's a good trademark of this football team – understanding the difference between pain and injury. I'm not sure any of those guys has been 100 percent this year."

Sears has played most of the season on a bad ankle. Foster, who got just two carries in Games 3, 4 and 5 combined due to a sprained ankle, reinjured it against South Carolina. Swain did not practice last week and was expected to miss Saturday's game. Instead, he wound up catching three passes for 45 yards against the Gamecocks.

"I didn't think Jayson would play in the game," Fulmer noted. "It turned out he was able to play, which was a real plus for us. He's a senior that has played a lot of football, and he showed up big for us."


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