Vol QB competition could spill into game
Posted: Wednesday, October 1, 2008 4:17 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee’s Nick Stephens likely will see playing time at quarterback against Northern Illinois this week even if he doesn’t beat out Jonathan Crompton for the starting job, offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said Tuesday.
“It’s not like we’re in a rhythm now so it’s not like you’re disrupting something that’s going really well,” Clawson said. “We need a little disruption right now, and then we need a spark and we need to get things going.”
Crompton and Stephens are competing for the starting job after Crompton’s 8-of-23 showing for 67 yards in Tennessee’s 14-12 loss to Auburn.
Coaches say Crompton, a redshirt junior, performs well in practice, but that hasn’t carried over to the playing field for the Vols (1-3).
“That’s probably been one of the most frustrating aspects of it,” Clawson said. “He’s really taking care of the ball well (in practice). The ball is going where it should, when it should. For the most part, it’s been on time.
“We obviously haven’t translated that to Saturdays, and that’s been disappointing. We need to fix that.”
Crompton and Stephens began taking an equal number of snaps with the first-team offense Tuesday during practice.
The coaching staff plans to chart both players’ progress in a number of areas but are especially looking for improvement in passing and on the mental side of playing quarterback.
Clawson said if Stephens proves he can run the offense well, he will definitely see playing time against Northern Illinois (2-2) Saturday to give coaches a chance to evaluate whether he does a better job transferring practice performance to a game.
“I think at some point we’ve got to get him going and play him,” he said. “Exactly how we’re going to do it, it’s too early to say that.”
Stephens, a redshirt sophomore, has attempted two passes this season, both late in Tennessee’s 35-3 win against UAB. One fell incomplete. The other was a 42-yard pass to Brandon Warren when the Vols were backed up to their 3-yard line.
That pass is Tennessee’s second longest of the year.
“It always feels good to go out there and have your first completion, your first snap,” Stephens said. “Being backed up and just going out and moving the team, it always helps your confidence.”
Clawson said Crompton and Stephens have similar styles of play: They’re both pro-style quarterbacks with strong arms. Both are 6-foot-4, and Crompton weighs only five pounds more than Stephens.
Stephens has as much of a grasp on the Vols’ playbook as Crompton has, Clawson said.
That means he shouldn’t have to make many playcalling adjustments should Stephens win the job.
And Stephens’ improvement in understanding the offense and perfecting his technique played a role in the coaches’ decision to open up the starting quarterback position to competition, Clawson said.
But just because there’s a competition doesn’t mean Stephens is automatically in charge.
“It’s so easy to say, ’Geez, it’s the quarterback, make a change.’ But if you make change just for the sake of making a change, we’re going to be down this road with another guy in three weeks,” Clawson said. “There are very few stories of a back-and-forth quarterback situation that ended up in a successful season.
“On the same token, that position’s got to be earned.”