And then there were two.
The recent departure of rising sophomore B. J. Coleman, coupled with the failure to sign a QB prospect last February, leaves the Vols perilously thin at their most vital position. There's rising senior Jonathan Crompton and rising junior Nick Stephens. Each started six games in 2008 but neither played effectively. Crompton completed just 51.5 percent of his passes and went 3-3 as a starter. Stephens completed 48.5 percent and went 2-4 in his six starts.
Coleman saw relief action in Game 11 vs. Vanderbilt, completing 4 of 8 passes for 21 yards with an interception. Given how poorly Crompton and Stephens had played in '08, however, Coleman entered spring practice expecting to win the first-team job. When he didn't, he left, firing a parting shot at the coaching staff as he walked out the door.
“I couldn’t have had a better spring or made it more obvious to them that I was their guy,” Coleman told his hometown newspaper, The Chattanooga Times Free Press. “I proved it on the field and off. The scrimmages, to me, are how you grade if a kid can handle the atmosphere and the pressure. I’ve given them every reason to play me.”
If scrimmage numbers were the No. 1 criteria, Coleman probably would be the Vols' No. 1 quarterback. Even working against second-team defenders, his numbers were most impressive in Tennessee's April 4 and April 10 scrimmages, plus the April 18 Orange & White Game. He completed 41 of 60 pass attempts (68.3 percent) for 423 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions. He was sacked once.
Crompton, working against the No. 1 defense, was 31 of 54 passing (57.4 percent) for 324 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was sacked seven times.
Stephens, who missed the first scrimmage and attempted just four passes in the second due to a wrist injury, competed mostly against third-team defenders in the three major scrimmages. He finished 13 of 25 passing (52.0 percent) for 159 yards with two touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He was sacked once.
Naturally, Coleman's departure raises all sorts of questions about Tennessee's quarterback situation. Foremost among them, of course is this one:
Can the Vols make do with two?
Here's a scrimmage-by-scrimmage recap:
Crompton 9-16-1, 90 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 sacks
Coleman 17-22-0, 112 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 sacks
Stephens did not participate
Crompton 8-11-0, 91 yards, 0 touchdowns, 7 sacks
Coleman 11-16-0, 151 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 sack
Stephens 2-4-0, 28 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 sacks
ORANGE & WHITE GAME
Crompton 14-27-1 143 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 sack
Coleman 13-22-0 160 yards, 2 touchdowns 0 sacks
Stephens 11-21-0 131 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 sack