Friday, August 31, 2007

Contra Costa Times: Ainge's pinkie causes no changes

QB's status doesn't figure in preparations for Tennessee's offense

By Jonathan Okanes

BERKELEY — Cal coach Jeff Tedford said the uncertainty surrounding Tennessee's quarterback situation won't alter how the Bears prepare for Saturday's season-opener at Memorial Stadium.   Tennessee starting quarterback Erik Ainge broke the pinkie on his throwing hand earlier in the week, but coach Phillip Fulmer said Ainge will still start against the Bears. But backup Jonathan Crompton has been getting more reps with the first team this week in case Ainge can't go or is ineffective.  "We have to prepare for the team," Tedford said. "I'm sure they'll run the same offense. (Crompton) has some experience. I would assume they are going to do the same things they do."  Ainge torched Cal for 291 yards and four touchdowns during Tennessee's 35-18 victory last season. Crompton, who was a top recruit coming out of high school, got into seven games last year, including one start.  Although Ainge has been limited in practice this week, he has said he'll be ready to go Saturday. Tedford, a former Canadian Football League quarterback, said the injury shouldn't hinder Ainge too much.  "The pinkie doesn't do that much when you're throwing the ball," he said.

DRAWING THE LINE: One of the challenges of a season opener is that players don't have any previous games against the speed and strength of a real opponent. Considering Tennessee is one of the fastest and strongest teams Cal will face all season, it makes for tough decisions for Tedford.  How often in practice this week does he play the first team offense against the first team defense, and tell them to let it loose like a real game? Certainly, it helps with preparation, but it also makes for an increased risk of injury.

"Right out of the gate you're playing a team that is so fast and so physical," Tedford said. "It takes you a little while to get used to that. You're going right into pretty much a bowl game the first time out. We simulate as much as we can, but you're always at risk of injury, if you're going live in practice.  The Bears went with what Tedford calls "high tempo" Monday and Tuesday, but did not the rest of the week.  "But we practiced physical through camp," he said. "We got after each other pretty good. But it's just not the same."

HURTS SO BAD: Before spring practice started, Tedford showed the players a 10-minute clip of everything that went wrong last year against Tennessee. That's about as much of the game that wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins can stomach to watch.  "I can watch about one quarter, and that's it," Hawkins said. "It hurt me so bad that we played so bad. It was so embarrassing. The whole world was watching. There was all this hoopla, and we played as bad as we played. I can't watch it."  Hawkins also said the Bears let the rest of the conference down, because the loss added ammunition to the debate between the Pac-10 and the SEC.  "You hear a lot about the SEC being really physical and fast," Hawkins said. "They say Pac-10 guys are soft and all that other stuff. ... Man, I can't say what I want to say."

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