Pinky's progress

The broken pinky that ruined Erik Ainge's spiral may wind up improving his mechanics.

Despite a broken little finger on his throwing hand, Tennessee's senior quarterback completed a career-high 32 of 47 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday night's 45-31 loss at Cal. Meeting the media earlier today, he said the damaged digit affected his spiral but rarely affected his accuracy … EXCEPT when his mechanics were faulty.

"There were four or five balls where my mechanics were poor with my lower body," he said, "and it made it that much harder for me to throw the ball … ended up affecting the pass."

That was especially true when Ainge tried to apply some extra zip.

"If I had my feet set and my fundamentals were good, when I threw a ball hard it looked like it always does," Ainge said. "But if my feet were a little out of whack or maybe I was a little off my back foot and tried to throw it real hard, that's when it (negatively) affected me."

Ainge said he changed his hand position on snaps a bit to protect the pinky. He described the pain as being "about what I expected," adding: "I was able to be effective with it, and that's all that matters."

Although he fell on his right hand after being tackled in the fourth quarter, Ainge said x-rays were negative.

"There was no further damage," he said. "It didn't get any worse, and that's what we were hoping for … good news."

Asked if the pinky feels any better now than it did before the opening game, he replied: "It doesn't feel any worse."

The senior quarterback sat out two days of practice after suffering the injury last week. How much work he'll miss this week, if any, remains to be seen.

"It'll be what's best for me and what's best for the team," he said.

Asked if anything is being applied to the finger to numb it, Ainge replied, "No comment."

Although he had one 43-yard completion, the vast majority of his throws Saturday night were of the short and intermediate variety. He said that was due more to Cal's defense than to any limitations caused by his injured finger.

"It made it a little tougher to throw on the run," he said, "but I still threw the ball on the run fine…. There's nothing he (offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe) can't call because of my finger."

The injured pinky hurt throughout the game, yet Ainge said he was "overly conscious of it" on only a couple of occasions. Each time he said he "threw off-balance to avoid possibly hitting it on somebody."

Naturally, an injury to the No. 1 quarterback sent the Vol Nation into widespread panic last week. Ainge seems mildly amused by the furor caused by his pinky.

"Fingers heal," he said. "It's not like I'm going to have to play 13 or 14 games with serious pain in my hand. It's a three- to four-week healing process, so the next couple of weeks I'll have to suck it up. After that, hopefully it'll keep getting better. I'll have to keep it taped, but I'm already used to throwing with it taped."

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