The finger's fine

Except for the middle finger Johnny Cash raised in a 1970 concert at San Quentin, the right pinky of Tennessee's No. 1 quarterback might be the most talked-about digit of the past 40 years.

Ever since Erik Ainge broke it in preseason, he has been deluged with questions about the fractured finger. His coaches have been deluged with questions about it. His teammates have been deluged with questions about it.

Well, it's OK ... OK?

That said, here's the latest on what some have termed Pinkygate:

Ainge practiced Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning during Tennessee's open-date week. Then, along with the remainder of the team, he rested Friday, Saturday and Sunday before returning to practice on Monday.

"That was enough rest," offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said. "I wanted to kind of keep an edge and push him. He responded well to that."

Even playing through pain, Ainge completed 66.3 percent of his passes for 1,130 and 10 touchdowns in Tennessee's first four games. By all accounts, he is throwing even better in practice now that the finger is practically healed.

"He's got much better control of the ball right now than he did, and that's a plus," Cutcliffe said. "And, as you saw in the last (Arkansas State) game, he's handing off with his right hand again."

Reportedly, Ainge's velocity – as well as his accuracy – has improved as his injured pinky has improved.

"He has a lot of velocity on his passes," junior receiver Josh Briscoe said. "Hopefully, he'll go forward from there. It definitely helped him, having last week off."

Although his passes were not always pretty, Ainge won some respect from his teammates by playing productively through pain.

"He did, not only from his teammates but from the coaching staff, the media and everybody that's been looking at the situation," Briscoe said. "Being a quarterback, you need to use your hands, and he's handled the situation great. He's completing over 65 percent of his passes, and that just says a lot about him."

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