Ainge likely to start

With a mid-level bowl game and a lot of pride at stake, junior Erik Ainge is due to get the call as the University of Tennessee's starting quarterback in Saturday afternoon's showdown at Vanderbilt.

After spraining his right ankle on the Vols' next-to-last possession in Game 8 at South Carolina, Ainge missed the final series of that game, played just the first quarter against LSU in Game 9, then sat out all of last Saturday night's 31-14 Game 10 loss at Arkansas.

Ainge had a very productive practice on Monday, however, indicating he has made progress. So, unless he re-injures himself later this week, he will be behind center when the Vols trot out for their first drive at Dudley Field.

"I think that's where we're headed right now," offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said. "He had a good day yesterday (Monday). I'm anxious to see, after that much work, how he responds today."

Although pleased with the play of redshirt freshman Jonathan Crompton in the loss to Arkansas, UT head coach Phillip Fulmer believes Ainge's return could help considerably against a Commodore defense that does a lot scheming to try and confuse opposing quarterbacks.

"From a scheme standpoint, it allows us to have a more veteran player that has seen things in games (and who) can react to on the snap or make an adjustment in the play call," Fulmer said. "He should help us, whether it be a protection or a blocking scheme."

Although Ainge's ankle is still a little sore, it is significantly better than it was last Saturday.

"He's better," Fulmer said. "He's not 100 percent."

The key to how much Ainge plays vs. Vanderbilt, the coach added, is simple:

"Can he protect himself? Can he get away from the rush? Can he move in the pocket? Yesterday (Monday) was a good indication that he's making progress toward that."

Interestingly enough, Ainge has never faced Vanderbilt. He missed the 2004 game due to a dislocated shoulder and did not see action as Rick Clausen's backup in the 2005 game.

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