Posted: Thursday August 17, 2006 1:14PM; Updated: Friday August 25, 2006 8:45PM
Ainge. Yeah, I know, he's the starting quarterback, but Fulmer reiterated Wednesday that Ainge is the starter. That means unlike last year, there's no experience behind him, and he's the one guy who can make or break the season. The big question is whether he's going to be the guy who threw 17 touchdowns as a freshman or the one who had more sacks (nine) than he did TD passes (seven) last year.
"I just thought he never really had a plan [last year]," Cutcliffe said. "He was getting back in the pocket, and you could tell by the time he got into his drop the timing of the play should have been happening. His head was spinning. He wasn't comfortable. And when you're not comfortable, your footwork is going to suffer. He created himself a lot of bad habits."
Cutcliffe said he had to "start from scratch" and has reworked Ainge's mechanics, footwork, tempo and field vision, but he also says, "We're a work in progress."
Ainge's most impressive throw Wednesday came during a 7-on-7 drill when he found Swain deep down field and dropped a rainbow into his target's outstretched hands in double coverage. Swain couldn't hold onto the ball, but it's a throw that the erratic Ainge of a year ago probably wouldn't have delivered with such accuracy.
Despite the pressure of being the only experienced QB on the roster, Ainge says it's been a blessing as far as his approach to his junior season.
"Knowing you're the starting quarterback going all the way through spring ball, through summer and into fall camp, getting all the reps with the [first-string offense], being able to get the timing down with the receivers, not just going out and trying to guess where they're going to be, makes all the difference in the world," Ainge said.
Keep an eye on . . .
Junior defensive end Xavier Mitchell. He's no secret, having played in 20 games in two years, but he'll start for the first time this season, and he looked downright ferocious during lineman drills. On one run, the lean 6-foot-2, 252-pound Mitchell jumped off the line just a split second before his competition, but it was more than enough. He spun around and left the offensive lineman dumbfounded and grasping for air.
Mitchell, senior Turk McBride and junior J.T. Mapu will be looked upon to step in for a defense that lost six of its front seven from a year ago, returning only senior tackle Justin Harrell.
"They're going to be big," Harrell said. "The road is going to be a little tougher this year, losing Jason Hall, Parys Haralson, guys like that. But they're going about their business in the right way."
Interesting tidbit that probably only interests me
While on campus, I drove on, or past, Phillip Fulmer Way, Chamique Holdsclaw Drive, Pat Head Summitt Street and Todd Helton Drive, but the most fitting of all UT's honorary street names has got to be Peyton Manning Pass.
Tight end Chris Brown was miffed over reporters' requests for player interviews, walking past the gathered media saying, "No one wants to talk to the tight ends, but we're going to make a statement this year." One scribe responded, "Yeah, then they won't want to talk to us anymore." ... Neil Kearney, a captain in the Army and a former walk-on fullback, addressed the team before practice in his full camouflage regale.... Former quarterback RickClausen, who was part of a quarterback carousel with Ainge last season, is now a graduate assistant, helping out Cutcliffe with the offense.