published Thursday, August 13th, 2009

After a rough morning, Stephens bounces back at night


by Wes Rucker

KNOXVILLE -- Nick Stephens said moments after walking off Haslam Field on Wednesday morning that he would "never" again have such an abysmal practice.

Through one practice, he sure didn't.

Stephens, a junior seemingly trailing senior Jonathan Crompton in Tennessee's starting quarterback derby, responded with a much-improved nightcap in the Neyland Thompson Sports Center.

"Nick was really down, especially because he had a really bad decision in the four-minute offense (Wednesday morning), which was the last thing we did," UT coach Lane Kiffin said. "Everybody kind of saw it, and he was pretty down because it was a poor decision. So to come back and rally, that's football. That's going to have to happen at halftime, when you have a bad first half, so that was good to see."

Stephens, a harsh self-critic, was visibly disgusted with himself Wednesday morning.

"Personally, I'm not afraid that I was not very good," he said. "The offense finished strong, but I didn't, and that's on me.

"But I can guarantee that we'll come back stronger tonight."

And thanks to several big plays -- many of them to senior wide receiver Quintin Hancock -- that's exactly what the Vols did.

"I thought the guys practiced extremely well," Kiffin said. "I thought the quarterbacks were really good. They threw a number of touchdowns in the red zone, and guys made some plays. We'll go back and look at the film, but I think there was a good feeling about the offense that they had a very good day."

"The quarterbacks continue to play well. They have their ups and downs, like we all would, but it's not as many downs as it was in the spring or the first five (preseason camp) practices. They're both playing really well, and I would think their completion percentage has been pretty high."

GORDON BACK

Freshman cornerback Eric Gordon returned for both Wednesday practices after being pulled off the field by the NCAA Clearinghouse on Tuesday. And he returned in style, with two interceptions.

Kiffin said Gordon's interception of a slant route in the nightcap was "really special.

"He had some fresh legs from his Clearinghouse break," Kiffin quipped. "That helped him, I guess."

Gordon, a Nashville native and the younger brother of former Mississippi State basketball guard Jamont Gordon, was the first commitment Kiffin collected as UT's head coach. Most considered him an Alabama lean until the Vols swooped in late.

MIAs

Several Vols sat out one or both of Wednesday's practices, including junior wide receiver Gerald Jones; senior linebacker Rico McCoy; senior defensive tackle Dan Williams; junior cornerback Brent Vinson; junior defensive end Chris Walker; senior defensive lineman Wes Brown; junior linebacker LaMarcus Thompson; redshirt freshman linebacker Herman Lathers; senior defensive tackle Andre Mathis; and sophomore safety Stephaun Raines from Dalton, Ga.

"Unfortunately we've had five or six concussions and some other injuries," Kiffin said. "But when you're establishing a personality of a team in the first year, I think that's part of it, unfortunately. We've got to continue to push our guys, because if we slow ourselves up to the guys that are injured, then we're not maximizing our potential for the guys that are healthy.

"We're going to have to continue to push our guys, continue to install and continue to practice at a high level."

WAITING ON WALLS

Kiffin said UT has filed a waiver to get freshman defensive tackle Marlon Walls NCAA eligible, but he hasn't heard a response.

Walls, a Memphis native who transferred just across the border to finish high school in Mississippi, signed with the Vols in February 2008 and has since tried unsuccessfully to get through the NCAA Clearinghouse.

"Hopefully they'll figure it out as soon as possible, and he'll get here," Kiffin said.

Wide receiver James Green from Tallahassee, Fla., is UT's only other freshman academic concern. He isn't expected on campus this year.

SIGNAL-STARTING TIME

Kiffin said he's relatively pleased with the amount of offense installed in camp, but he needs to spend less time in the huddle and more time preparing his players for their sideline signals. He also stayed in the offensive huddle for spring's Orange and White game.

"Without getting into too much detail about our plan of what we signal and what we don't, we do have to start transitioning to some of that, and how we do that," Kiffin said. "I'll have to get out of the huddle eventually. It's kind of like having a baby, and you've got to wean him off the bottle eventually.

"It's fun, because we're so competitive and want to be in there making sure they're doing things right and helping them out, but by Saturday, I'll probably have to stop doing that."

about Wes Rucker...

Twitter - @wesrucker Facebook - /tfpvolsbeat

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