All eyes on QBs

After three seasons in Tennessee's offensive system – one under coordinator Randy Sanders and two under David Cutcliffe – a junior quarterback would seem to have a big advantage in spring practice.

That may not be the case for Jonathan Crompton, however. Much of the information he assimilated, processed and stored under Sanders and Cutcliffe became moot when Dave Clawson was brought in to succeed Cutcliffe earlier this year.

With a new coordinator in place, Crompton is having to learn new terminology and an assortment of new wrinkles. That would seem to neutralize the advantage in experience he holds over sophomore Nick Stephens and redshirt freshman B. J. Coleman – neither of whom has played a down in college competition. Phillip Fulmer insists that isn't the case, however.

"Football is football," the Vols' head man said. "His experience will pay dividends for him because he's played in big ball games and at crucial times."

That's true but the "big ball games" Crompton played in were in 2006, when he played the last three quarters vs. LSU and all four against Arkansas while Erik Ainge was recovering from a severe ankle sprain. Crompton scarcely played enough to break a sweat in '07.

Perhaps that's why UT coaches bracketed Crompton with Stephens and Coleman for spring practice, which resumes today after a seven-day spring break. The spring is all about identifying each player's strengths, weaknesses and potential for growth. That's especially critical at quarterback.

As Fulmer noted: "Finding the things our quarterbacks are capable of doing – and not getting outside that realm – will be really important as we go along."

Crompton has a pretty large realm. The 6-4, 230-pounder can throw the deep ball. He can feather the touch throws. He can avoid the rush. He can even scramble for positive yards if the need arises. He can take a hit and, as he proved in '06 against LSU, he can deliver one.

"Jon's a big strong guy that can run," Fulmer said. "All three of them are, actually. They have the big arms. Certainly, part of the package will be some ability to run the quarterback – using those talents, whether it be an on-the-run throw or different packages for them to be able to run the ball."

A big key for any quarterback is how much poise he exhibits in the pocket. As a result, Fulmer plans to hold at least one "live" scrimmage this spring in which the quarterbacks are not protected by green (no-contact) jerseys. If one of the QB candidates is gun-shy about being hit, it soon will be evident.

"We will have at least one scrimmage that they will play live," Fulmer said. "All three of them have yet to prove themselves in this league, so we will take the opportunity to have them play some live."

Although he is serving under his third offensive coordinator in three years at UT, Crompton appears to have a leg up in the QB competition. In addition to maturity and experience, he has exhibited the dedication necessary to direct an offense at the SEC level.

"I couldn't be more pleased with Jonathan and what he's done," Fulmer said. "I sat in on one of the quarterback meetings. Coach (Clawson) had challenged all of them to learn as much as they can. He (Crompton) was in the meeting just spouting things off one after another.

"He's worked at getting himself ready. I think all three of them have."

Fulmer and the other coaches will get an inkling of just how "ready" Crompton, Stephens and Coleman are this Saturday, when the Vols hold their first full-scale scrimmage of the spring in conjunction with the annual Coaches Clinic.

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