This time last year, Erik Ainge's football persona was intrinsically linked with pressure and his subsequent reaction. To wit, the sophomore's most recognizable public state:
Decision-making under pressure wasn't exactly Ainge's strongest suit. He was a jittery, interception-prone wreck, in fact, who threw more interceptions than touchdowns and was benched during the school's worst season in a couple decades. What the young quarterback needed then was stability, a system that relied on timing, gave him a specific task, took as many decisions out of his hands as possible and made his job more automatic. Enter guru David Cutcliffe to ostensibly ensure Ainge was merely competent enough to manage UT's run-oriented offense efficiently, without the clownish mistakes that defined a very forgettable 2005.
Subsequently, Ainge throws for just shy of 3,000 yards as a junior, better than 2-to-1 TD/INT, goes 9-2 in full appearances, etc. Aside from an ill-timed ankle injury in early November, he was the steady young man we always knew he could be. So now "Spring," one anum on, and the senior-to-be's redemptive maturation is made more or less complete when he's handed the keys to the quarterbacking equivalent of a new Ferrari:
Just imagine the smile.
Tennessee's football team opened spring practice Thursday, and Erik Ainge was wearing a pretty big smile. That's because offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe plans to give him the keys to a no-huddle attack next fall, and they're using the spring as a test run.
"I love it," Ainge said. "It's going to make me learn and take my game to the next level. From the neck up, it's going to make me know that much more about the game..."
It's all good, secondary-eviscerating fun when you know how to operate it, but the no-huddle can also be a dangerous machine. Granted young Ainge has put his relative mental blocks behind him under Cutcliffe's Yoda-like guidance, Tennessee also has to incorporate a completely new set of receivers into the plan, most of whom won't be arriving from their respective junior colleges or high schools until this summer.
It is possible, of course, that some of the newcomers will be used to operating without a huddle, by one circumstance or another. Take for example the ominously-named Trooper Taylor, a transfer from Conference USA already in Knoxville and quite excited, as it were, to find some degree of familiarity:
Trooper Taylor, metaphorically. Insert Fulmer joke below.
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