Ainge ready to drive the train

For Tennessee's inexperienced wideouts to get on track this fall, senior quarterback Erik Ainge must play the role of conductor. That's the word from Vol receivers coach Trooper Taylor.

"He's very important," Tayor said of Ainge. "Even with experience (at receiver) your quarterback is the key to it because he's driving the train. We're just taking the tickets."

Taylor, who joined the program as an assistant the same year (2004) Ainge joined the program as a freshman, believes the 6-6, 220-pound Oregonian is exerting tremendous leadership this preseason.

"The big deal for Erik is that he's matured a bunch," Taylor said. "I like the way he's carrying himself. I like the leadership role he's taking."

Phillip Fulmer also likes what he has seen from Ainge this preseason.

"Erik is doing exceptional," Tennessee's head man said. "He's making good decisions, throwing the ball accurately, running the team, managing the clock – doing the things a senior quarterback ought to do. That's a real plus, especially when you start going into hostile environments at Cal and Florida in the early season.

Ainge has spent a good portion of preseason watching his rookie receivers line up incorrectly, run inaccurate routes and drop well-thrown passes. Instead of chastising them, however, he has been trying to encourage them.

"When he's talking to those guys he sounds like a coach, and that's good," Taylor said. "There's no doubt in his mind. He's very assertive, and that helps out. It sends confidence to the whole group."

The Vol aide clearly respects Ainge, and he wants his troops to do the same.

"I make ‘em understand that he's always right," Taylor said. "If he wants you high and wide that's where you'd better be. That's why you don't play a bunch of guys (receivers). You try to get four or five that he can get on the page with, stay on the same page with and make plays."

To their credit, Tennessee's first-year receivers are spending a lot of time with Ainge, eagerly trying to pick his brain and win his confidence.

"They're smart enough to eat lunch with him and walk around with him," Taylor said, smugly adding: "I'd be washing his car if I was them."


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