April 10, 2009

Coaches praise QBs, pass on protection

Head coach Lane Kiffin and quarterbacks coach David Reaves had visited very little with another when Friday's scrimmage concluded inside Neyland Stadium.

Yet both coaches came away from the Volunteers' drill-work encouraged with the progress of senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who took virtually all of the reps with the No. 1 offense.

"I thought Jonathan did really well, moved around well and made some plays," Kiffin said. "I think he's got a shot to be pretty good."

Added Reaves, "He's very comfortable right now. He's controlling the huddle well, calling out the plays and being a leader in the huddle. So he seems comfortable with our offense. The ball's coming off of his hand nicely, he's seeing the coverages and making good decisions. Jonathan's going to be all right, Jonathan's going to do some good things for us."

For his part, Crompton indicated an eagerness to do much more with the Volunteers' offense. The Waynesville, N.C., native completed 8 of 11 tosses during UT's 12th spring session but did not match the touchdown production of sophomore B.J. Coleman or junior Nick Stephens, who still appeared very limited from a broken bone in his throwing hand. Coleman had the best stats while Stephens threw just four passes, completing two and notching one touchdown toss.

"You can always do better. No one is perfect. You can always go back and say next time I need to remember to do this when that happens," Crompton said. "You always try and go back and not really second guess yourself, but remember it so that when it happens again you do get it perfect."

After being challenged in recent days by the coaching staff to elevate his game, the Chattanooga native Coleman responded in guiding the Vols' second-string offense against the team's second defensive unit. Coleman connected on 11 of 16 tosses for 152 yards and a pair of scoring strikes.

"I really feel like coach challenged me a couple of weeks ago, probably two weeks ago. I really enjoy the opportunities when I'm in there to make plays," Coleman said. "I think that's the biggest thing, anytime you can move a unit down the field and get progressions and continue to move the chains, that's the biggest key to an offense. Being a big-time leader and being somebody who the guys can lean on in a pressure situation is the most important thing, and I feel like I've established that these last two weeks."

Still, Coleman was presented with few situations against Tennessee's first-team defense, which Kiffin deemed played at a championship level on Friday.

And the Vols' sieve-like pass protection, which yielded far too many sacks on Friday, similarly was of no comfort to Kiffin.

"We've got a long ways to go. We've got to get better. Our pass protection right now, we couldn't play in a real game right now. So we've got a long ways to go," Kiffin said. " … (The defense's high level of play) is part of it, they're really good. But we play in a pretty good league so those other (teams) have guys like that, too. We're going to have to play against the best so it's great we get to practice against them."

After indicating he couldn't pinpoint the reason for the Vols' struggles just one day after UT quarterbacks tossed a combined four quarterbacks, Crompton said his Easter weekend would be spent delving into the UT playbook.

"I know I am getting more comfortable with the offense. I know that I am getting more comfortable with everything inside and out with it," Crompton said. "I am trying to soak it up and learn as much as I can. That is what I have striving for. I am going to go home this weekend and I have a paper to write and then I will be studying my playbook. I am just trying to learn it all and get better in the system."

Both Kiffin and Reaves praised the Vols' QBs for eliminating the interceptions that marred Thursday's drills on Haslam Field.

"Our focus going in was no turnovers, and we had one right there on the fumble but did not throw any interceptions so I was very pleased with that," said Reaves, a former quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator at South Carolina. "We got some better protection, the O-line did some great things and gave us some time back there. We got the running game going and when you get the running game going, you know it's going to open up the passing game.

"Our guys hung in there, made the right reads and made some good checks on protection, which we started doing that this week. I was pleased with them seeing the defenses and making the right decisions."

Despite the breakdowns in pass protection, Kiffin finds himself more at ease with all of his quarterbacks since his first spring camp in Knoxville opened last month.

"I think I'm a lot more comfortable with the quarterbacks," Kiffin said. "The other guys we've been able to work with in the off season training, but the quarterbacks it's kind of hard until you have a ball. I'm starting to understanding their personalities. I'm starting to understand how they are in the huddle. It's really good for me to have a chance to be out here all the time with them in the huddle and get a good handle on them. Because obviously during gameday I won't be able to be out there with them. I'm feeling a lot more comfortable with them."

And Reaves knows the Vols' trio of coaches up front -- offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, tight ends/tackles coach James Cregg and graduate assistant Mitch Browning -- will bring the team's offensive line up to speed.

"Right now, I know those guys coaching up front are good coaches and they'll do a good job. They'll get those guys coached up," Reaves said. "I just worry about our guys looking in the right area, making the right decisions and putting the ball where it needs to be. So if something happens with a protection breakdown, my main focus is making sure the quarterbacks have got us in the right protection and then making the right decision with the ball. …

"They've just got to keep competing. We put some new things on them this week and they've got to keep competing, focus on not turning the ball over and get better. Spring game is coming up and it's going to be a big one for them."

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