March 12, 2008

Crompton, Stephens ready for QB derby

Jonathan Crompton figures he's being discounted, and Nick Stephens doesn't know if he's known at all.

But the two Tennessee quarterbacks, who join redshirt freshman B.J. Coleman in the Vols' quarterback derby this spring, don't seem to mind.

"Oh yeah, I love it when people say the main question is quarterback," Crompton said. "That's fine, and they can think that and I'll be ready to go. That's all that counts."

Added Stephens: "You definitely think about it, because you think, 'What have I done or not done to make people think that?' Maybe it's because I'm from Texas and I'm not as well-known around here. It could be several things, but it definitely is a motivating factor."

The drive to become the successor to Erik Ainge, who started games during each of his four seasons in Knoxville, began with Tuesday's opening practice. It was the first of 15 days to implement the system of first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, whose attack previously had a 4,000-yard passer at Villanova and 2,000-yard rusher at Richmond.

Crompton, with one career start, garnered the first snap in the opening drill. Beyond that, coaches have emphasized nothing is guaranteed. Included in spring camp will be limited full-contact work for the signal-callers.

"All three of them have yet to completely prove themselves in this league," UT coach Phillip Fulmer said. "So we will definitely take the opportunity to have them play some live."

Stephens targeted this camp as his opportunity when he first signed with the Vols in 2006.

"I knew committing here that this was the spring that I was going to make my name and try to get out there on the map," the Flower Mound, Texas, native said. "Competition is going to be tough; all three of us have been working hard and studying hard. It will be fun. It will be a battle, we will all be pushing each other.

"I knew (now is) when I would have my best chance. Erik would be gone, and I've learned as much stuff from him as I can. It's time for somebody to step up. Jonathan's got a little bit of experience, but we'll see what happens."

After starting in a loss at Arkansas two years ago and playing significantly that season against LSU, Crompton tossed just 12 passes last year, completing seven of them for 87 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Fulmer expects those situations to buoy Crompton.

"His experience will pay great dividends for him," Fulmer said. "He's played in big ballgames at crucial times."

With minimal game tape of himself, Crompton has turned to old practice film and Clawson's Richmond games in preparation for spring workouts.

"I've been watching Richmond film real hard and watching practice film of myself," Crompton said. "Just kind of going about learning the offense, the protection, the routes, the concepts and things like that. And then just getting out there and critiquing myself. I stepped wrong here. I stepped wrong there, things like that.

"The only thing different is that we have different coaches. The attitude hasn't changed. The expectations haven't changed. That's pretty much it."

The biggest part of the coaching changes that ushered in Clawson, Stan Drayton, Jason Michael and Latrell Scott has been the implementation of the new offense. Clawson likened that process to reading a chemistry book, noting chapter two has little benefit without the comprehension of chapter one.

For that approach, Stephens is grateful.

"He (Clawson) is putting it in slow, a little bit at a time so we're not having any trouble getting it down, I don't think," said the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder. "It seemed like, I didn't know what it was like when coach Cut (David Cutcliffe) got here, but I heard he put in a lot quick. And I kind of like what we're doing now. It lets us get good at certain things before we put too much in and start doing other stuff. I think what we're doing is good."

The pace, Stephens said, helps build belief in the system.

"It has to be with confidence too. You've got to be confident with what you're doing as an offense, knowing that when you go the line, you're going to be successful," he said. "If we put in a bunch of stuff at one time, I don't think it's possible to be confident in yourself with all that stuff put in."

Crompton likewise is confident he can make the most of his opportunity.

"It's been a long time coming, and I wouldn't trade my time here for anything because of the experiences I've had with the team; 5-6 in 2005, bouncing back and then all the adversity we faced last year," the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Waynesville, N.C., native said. "It helps a lot because when you get game experience, it helps you realize nothing is perfect. When you're on the practice field and bullets are flying around, players just go by their instincts and I think that helps."

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