Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ainge Making a Turnaround; Tennessee QB Playing Much Better, Thanks to Coordinator's Return

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ainge Making a Turnaround; Tennessee QB Playing Much Better, Thanks to Coordinator's Return

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL DIROCCO

GAINESVILLE - Erik Ainge was a mess in 2005.

His mechanics were sloppy. His leadership stunk. He made too many mistakes, and his work ethic was almost nonexistent.

Tennessee's junior quarterback will tell you all that, without hesitation. Ainge isn't embarrassed because what he was last season is a big part of who he is this season: the nation's top-rated passer, a leader and a player the Volunteers can build an offense around instead of trying to overcome.

"He's still a work in progress in a lot of ways, but he's playing very well," coach Phillip Fulmer said as 13th-ranked Tennessee (2-0) continued preparations for Saturday night's Southeastern Conference opener against No. 7 Florida (2-0) in Knoxville, Tenn.

This season, Ainge has completed 74.5 percent of his passes for 624 yards and seven touchdowns. His passer-efficiency rating is 226.63 - more than 2 1/2 times better than it was last season - and he set career highs in passing yards during the Vols' wins over California and Air Force.

Against the Falcons last Saturday, Ainge completed 15 consecutive passes. That's a world of difference from the player who completed just 45.5 percent of his passes for 737 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2005.

Thank you, David Cutcliffe.

Cutcliffe's return as Tennessee's offensive coordinator - a post he held before leaving in 1999 to become Ole Miss' head coach - is seen as the key to Ainge's turnaround.

"Whatever coach says goes," Ainge said. "He's been around. He's done it before. He's done it a long time. He coached some great quarterbacks. He took them from being good quarterbacks to being the very best.

"Obviously I worked my rear off [in the offseason]. I worked out just like everybody else does. I watched a lot of film. I took steps personally, and the reason that was happening is that coach Cutcliffe was demanding it. …

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