Teacher and student

When senior quarterback Erik Ainge underwent surgery to correct a minor knee problem with three weeks remaining in spring practice, Tennessee's football program temporarily lost a player but temporarily gained a student assistant.

Erik Ainge's injury may have stopped him from participating in drills, running plays and throwing passes but it didn't stop him from contributing in other ways.

"He was kind of a coach on the field, more than anything," head coach Phillip Fulmer said recently. "I'd see him all the time back there (behind the huddle) with a guy that wasn't going."

When he wasn't teaching, Ainge was learning. In addition to the time he spent tutoring rising sophomore Jonathan Crompton and redshirt freshman Nick Stephens, Ainge spent considerable time getting tutoring from offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. This was especially important, considering that Tennessee was installing a no-huddle system during spring practice.

"Erik stayed into it (mentally) and was in there studying with Coach Cutcliffe quite a bit," Fulmer said. "That was good."

Naturally, having Ainge available for all 14 spring workouts and the Orange & White game would've been beneficial in Tennessee's quest to develop a cohesive and productive offensive unit. Instead, Ainge had to settle for a few practices and one scrimmage in which he went 9 of 26 for 90 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Regardless, Fulmer believes Tennessee's senior quarterback will be on top of his game when preseason drills begin in August. And he believes Crompton and Stephens will be further along than they would've been had Ainge been healthy and active all spring.

"If he hadn't had a real exceptional spring up to the point that he had to sit out I'd be concerned," the head man said. "But I'm not one bit concerned. Actually, it probably turned out to be a real good thing for us … for Nick and for Jonathan."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories