The Reanimation of Erik Ainge

It’s The Question.

It was the question two years ago after former Tennessee Volunteer quarterback Casey Clausen had exhausted his eligibility. Who would replace Clausen? Sixth-year senior C.J. Leak? Or one of the dazzling freshman, Erik Ainge or Brent Schaeffer? And what exactly was Rick Clausen thinking? Did he really expect to play?

We know how that turned out. Sort of. Ainge and Schaeffer were named “co-starters,” with Schaeffer actually taking the first snap, and the two of them handling the rotation fairly well. Leak switched positions and then barely played. Then Schaeffer was injured against South Carolina, and Ainge was injured against Notre Dame. Behold, Rick Clausen, who saved the season.

It was also the question last year. All of last year. Who would lead the team, Clausen or Ainge?

We know how that turned out as well. Let’s call it . . . um . . . “not good.”

It’s still the question two full years later. Who’s our quarterback? Is there Life after Death Valley for Erik Ainge? Will the promising young Jonathan Crompton overtake Ainge? Will Ahead-to-the-Past offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe work his Manning/Shuler/Martin mojo on either of them?

The Question. Who’s our quarterback?

And while we don’t have The Answer, there are some little “a” answers.

Ainge’s mistakes last year were on display for the Big Orange Nation, but his biggest mistake did not come to light until this past week.

We didn’t learn until after the last snap that Ainge had turf toe much of last season. And while it was apparent that he did not have a solid grasp of what was happening last year, he admitted neither his toe injury nor his confusion to the coaches.

The coaching staff tried to hand the entire playbook to Ainge and let him run with it, but Ainge simply did not understand it all. Said Ainge, “I could tell watching myself that I was confused. I was dropping back and I was confused. Not confused on what route guys were running, but trying to be too precise and too perfect.”

His biggest mistake? Not telling the coaches. So why did he keep it all to himself?

There was a quarterback contest going on. “I felt I had to try and keep pace,” Ainge said. “It would be one thing if I was the guy or the starter and I said this was too much and we need to make it more simple. That would be one thing. But when the whole offense is doing something and there is a quarterback who can handle it, for me to say we need to tone the whole offense down and back down a notch, that is tough. Looking back should I have said some, yeah, but you never know if that would have meant that I would have never played at all. I think it kind of depends on the position of the quarterback. If you are “the” guy then you can say, hey I don’t like that or I want to do more of that. You are kind of like a coach in that setting.”

Well, now that they know, what are they doing about it?

They’re keeping it simple. They’re working on fundamentals. Cutcliffe is breaking Ainge down and re-coaching his mechanics. He’s teaching him to listen. He is explaining why defenses are doing what they are doing rather than just teaching recognition of alignments. Players will not have options. For example, if wide receivers are to run a route, they are to run that route with precision regardless of the circumstances. Said Ainge, “I am going to get him running this route so good that you know he is going to be there.”

As coach Cutcliffe is re-coaching the fundamentals, he is rebuilding Ainge’s confidence. “The way you gain confidence is absolutely knowing you what to do with the ball every time the ball is snapped.”

So who’s the quarterback? Is there Life after Death Valley for Erik Ainge?

It’s too soon to tell, but Coach Cutcliffe’s Reanimation of Erik Ainge project is well underway. And there’s a live one on the shelf just in case.

5 Responses to “The Reanimation of Erik Ainge”

  1. Vol Abroad says:

    Great post. And while I don’t suppose we need to know The Answer now, hopefully the coaching staff will see the effect of not having the players clear about it.

  2. View from Rocky Top » Blog Archive » Blogpoll Roundtable: Spring Practice Edition says:

    [...] Offense. It’s the Reanimation of Erik Ainge Project. Is there life after Death Valley? Nobody knows. Plus, our top three tailbacks — Arian Foster, Montario Hardesty, and LaMarcus Coker — are all hurt and will miss most of spring practice. Most of our o-line is gone. And the receivers, ugh. I watched part of the LSU game again the other day and literally cringed every time Bob Davie responded to one of our receivers dropping an easy catch by saying that this group of receivers is one of the most talented in the nation. What he meant was that they were tall, muscular, and fast. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get open or catch a football, which you would think would be an essential function of the job. [...]

  3. View from Rocky Top » Blog Archive » Two-Minute Drill: Orson has way, Erik Ainge on Heisman watch list says:

    [...] College Football News completed its series on the Top 100 Heisman contenders.  Not only is UT tailback Arian Foster on the list, so is Reanimation Project Erik Ainge (at No. 36), who in the words of Inside Tennessee’s Randy Moore “had the mother of all sophomore jinxes in 2005.”  Uh, yeah.  Like he said. [...]

  4. View from Rocky Top » Blog Archive » Case Study: Two Quarterback Systems and the 2005 Tennessee Volunteers says:

    [...] It looks like the only thing we need to fear is utilization of the Epinephrine Exception. If Ainge struggles early, we ought to stay with him and let him grow. If, however, he follows up Three Mile Island with Chernobyl and the coaches absolutely must take him out, he’ll be done. Perhaps once he’s got some confidence back, we can get Crompton some reps, but job one is the Reanimation of Erik Ainge, and we’ll need to stick with him even through some mistakes. [...]

  5. View from Rocky Top » Blog Archive » Tennessee Volunteer 2006 unit preview: Quarterbacks says:

    [...] Enter Ahead-to-the-Past offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, sensei to the likes of No. 1 NFL draft picks Peyton Manning and Eli Manning, No. 3 NFL draft pick Heath Shuler, and National Championship QB Tee Martin. Job One for Cut is the Reanimation of Erik Ainge Project. [...]