Ball security big for UT

Tennessee threw three interceptions in preseason scrimmage No. 1. The Vols dropped eight passes in scrimmage No. 2. They fumbled the ball three times in scrimmage No. 3.

As a result, ball security is a key priority as the Vols prepare for Saturday night's opener at California.

"We need to hold onto the ball better," head coach Phillip Fulmer said recently. "We were really good at that during the spring with the running backs but sometimes young players don't secure it quite as well as you'd like. We'll continue to work on that and get that squared away."

Senior quarterback Erik Ainge also was concerned by the number of interceptions, fumbles and drops the Vols had in their preseason scrimmages.

"That's definitely a concern," he said, "but It's definitely fixable. The guys that are going to be out there to start need to not be dropping and fumbling the football. And the one that's throwing it can't be throwing a bunch of interceptions or fumbling snaps and so forth."

It should be noted that most of the drops and fumbles were committed by second- third-teamers who will not be starting Saturday night in Berkeley. Most of the Vols' key performers were relatively mistake-free during the preseason.

"Nobody's perfect," Ainge noted, "but I think we've made a lot of progress with the guys we're going to get game-ready to play."

Although Tennessee's ball security improved markedly from spring practice through preseason camp, there is still considerable room for progress.

"It's never over," Ainge said. "Every time we come out here we have to work on ball security. Every offense in the country has to worry about dropped balls, fumbles and interceptions because those are the bad things that happen on offense."

Reflecting on preseason camp, the senior quarterback believes the Vols made tremendous strides in several key areas.

"I think getting guys game-ready, getting back in the swing of things," he said. "Playing the game, third downs, down and distance, protections, the offensive line making their calls."

Ainge saw a lot of improvement in the team from scrimmage No. 1 to scrimmage No. 3. Naturally, that was encouraging.

"Every time you come out here and scrimmage it gets more real and you get more game-like experience," he said. "We've got a lot of guys that have played a lot of football. Anytime you can get those (game-type) reps it helps us out."

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