WHILE DAVIDCUTCLIFFE was sitting out the 2005 season recovering from a triple bypass, hetraveled several times to the RCA Dome in Indianapolis on fact-findingmissions. Watching the Colts play, Cutcliffe studied a quarterback he hadcoached, in his first go-round as Tennessee's offensive coordinator, masterlyrun a no-huddle offense. Peyton Manning's ability to make play calls at theline of scrimmage inspired Cutcliffe, who after speaking with Manning severaltimes began designing a no-huddle attack that would flourish in the collegegame. This fall Cutcliffe, who returned to the Vols in November¬†'05, willfinally unveil his new strategy because he believes 6' 6'', 220-pound seniorErik Ainge can make it hum.
"Erik haseverything you look for in a top-level quarterback," says Cutcliffe."He can make special throws, he's got touch, he's a leader, he's smart, andhe's well on his way to being a great one. He should do very, very well in ourno-huddle."
Cutcliffe won'treveal how often Tennessee will run the no-huddle--"It's too early totell," he says, "but it will be something our opponents had better beprepared for"--though he acknowledges that the success of that look and theVols' season will depend largely on Ainge. The two have formed a strong bond:In '06, his first season under Cutcliffe's tutelage, Ainge's completion raterose from 45.5% to 67.0%, his touchdown passes increased from five to 19, andhis QB rating swelled from 89.94 to 151.95. "Coach Cutcliffe made me give a100 percent effort in everything I did, from film study to practice habits, andI didn't always do that before," says Ainge. "He's meant everything tome."
Another personwho's helped shape Ainge is Manning, whose brain Ainge frequently picks on theno-huddle. "The thing that Peyton tells me is that all I have to do is putpeople in the right position and not always worry about running the perfectplay," says Ainge. "Sometimes, based on what the defense is doing, asimple running play will work out just as good as a long pass play."
To learn the newoffense this summer, Ainge and his wide receivers spent up to eight hours aweek studying film from spring practice. Ainge doesn't know who his main targetis going to be this season--the Volunteers must replace last year's startingwideouts, Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain, who combined to catch 120 passes for1,986 yards--but expect talented senior tight end Brad Cottam, who last seasonhad 14 receptions, to have significantly more balls thrown his way.
"I just lovetraining a quarterback to make decisions at the line of scrimmage and to putthe game in his hands," says Cutcliffe. "This offense could be thestart of something big for us."
COACH: Phillip Fulmer
2006 RECORD: 9-4 (5-3¬†in¬†SEC)
FINAL AP RANK: 25
RETURNING STARTERS: Offense 7, Defense 5
RB Arian Foster (Jr.)
Expected to rebound from subpar sophomore year
DE Xavier Mitchell (Sr.)
Four sacks and a team-high 13 QB hurries in '06
CB Jonathan Hefney (Sr.)
Nine career INTs and also a standout punt returner
Sept. 1 at California
8 SOUTHERN MISS.
15 at Florida
22 ARKANSAS STATE
Oct. 6 GEORGIA
13 at Mississippi State
20 at Alabama
27 SOUTH CAROLINA
Nov. 3 LA.-LAFAYETTE
24 at Kentucky
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"[Ainge] has everything you look for in atop-level quarterback," says Cutcliffe.
¬†COPYCAT¬†Can Ainge make like Peyton in the no-huddle?
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMI (MASCOT)