Tape It Up: Tennessee: Ainge Talks

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Tennessee: Ainge Talks

It was common knowledge late in the summer that Tennessee quarterback Eric Ainge suffered a broken finger on his throwing hand just days before his team's season opener. What was not so commonly known was that the senior quarterback also played half the season with an injured throwing shoulder. Why didn't you hear about it? Because Ainge and the Tennessee coaching staff didn't want you to know.

"It's not something we tried to advertise," Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said. "We weren't able to throw the ball down the field very effectively early, but we weren't going to tell our opponents that."

Throughout the preseason, head coach Phil Fulmer touted Ainge as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the country, but Ainge did not produce the way many expected him to. He finished the season completing 63 percent of his passes for 3,157 yards with 29 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but it was the two picks in the SEC Championship game that will haunt his career as a Vol.

Luckily, as Ainge prepares for his final collegiate game in the Outback Bowl against Wisconsin on New Year's Day, he seems to be the healthiest he's been all season.

"He has, for the last three weeks, thrown the ball better down the field than he has all year long," Cutcliffe said. "Much better."

Ainge initially suffered the shoulder injury in the season opener against Cal. He had an MRI taken but it came back negative, as no muscle was torn, so he was allowed to continue to play without missing a start.

"Broke my finger and dinged my shoulder within about two days of each other and played through it all early in the season," Ainge said. "I kind of got back healthy from it. At the same time, when you're playing every week and throwing every week and throwing as much as we do in practice every single day, it took me longer to let it heal."

One of the reasons why the Vols did not throw deep this season, which was a big point of criticism from media outlets all season, is because Ainge was never fully healthy to do so, but with his shoulder and finger both healed up, look for a few more long balls in Tuesday's game.

Ainge passed Peyton Manning's school record for completions in a single season with 300 this year, and with Wisconsin missing two of its top cornerbacks due to knee injuries, Ainge has the opportunity to play up to his potential on a national stage, just in time for the NFL scouts to take him back into consideration.

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