Summer is key to passing game

If spring practice revealed anything about the University of Tennessee football program, it is that the Volunteers' passing attack has a long, long way to go before the Big Orange is ready to face California Sept. 1 in Berkeley.

Part of the problem can be traced to the knee surgery that caused senior quarterback Erik Ainge to miss most of spring drills. This robbed him of an opportunity to develop timing with young wideouts such as Lucas Taylor, Josh Briscoe, Austin Rogers and Quintin Hancock.

Ainge's knee should be completely healed in the next few weeks. When it is, the veteran Vol plans to make up for lost time. He will spend countless hours this summer throwing to Tennessee's holdover receivers. He also plans to get as much work as possible with junior college transfer Kenny O'Neal and the incoming freshmen who show up for summer school.

Developing cohesion between the quarterback and his wideouts is a critical issue this summer. That's why this offseason will have a major impact on how efficient Tennessee's passing attack will be in the fall.

"It's very important," Ainge said. "We've got to get those guys in in June and get to work. We'll have to teach them the offense, with the numbering system and the no-huddle. That will be a big task."

Although Ainge vows to spend plenty of time with the new receivers, he says they must do considerable work on their own. The newcomers will be responsible for a significant part of their learning process.

"A lot of that is on those guys to watch extra film and look at extra plays," Ainge said. "Myself, the other quarterbacks, Coach Cutcliffe and his staff ... we're all going to have to pull together and get everybody ready."

Knowledge is power, and that's especially true for Tennessee's incoming receivers. The more knowledge they pick up this summer, the more prepared they'll be when preseason camp begins in August. And the more prepared they are in August, the more likely they are to see meaningful action in September, October and November.

"That way, when we hit the field come two-a-days, no one is not getting a chance to play because of not knowing the offense or not knowing how to do something," Ainge said. "We want the best players to be on the field."

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