KNOXVILLE — And then there were two, for now.
Lane Kiffin’s first spring practice as the University of Tennessee football coach was supposed to reopen a three-man race for the starting quarterback position, but rising junior Nick Stephens will miss at least a few weeks while a cast covers his throwing wrist.
Stephens, who started six games with mixed results for the Volunteers last season, will watch from the sideline today as rising senior Jonathan Crompton and sophomore-to-be B.J. Coleman from Chattanooga take the starters’ snaps.
Those repetitions are crucial, too, considering Kiffin’s pro-spread-based system is the players’ third offense in three seasons, following David Cutcliffe’s and Dave Clawson’s.
The Vols clearly struggled to grasp Clawson’s system.
Kiffin doesn’t seem bothered by that.
“That has nothing to do with it,” he said. “Whether you’ve been in five systems in a row or the same system forever, this is a new system, period. How many systems they’ve been in before doesn’t have anything to do with it.
“It’s a brand-new system coming in, and we’ve got a lot of work to do, just like we do on defense. It’s no different.”
Kiffin’s breakdown of last season’s video didn’t focus on statistics. He was more concerned with learning who could compete in the Southeastern Conference.
“I’m not a big numbers guy, unless you’re talking about the number of wins and losses,” he said. “And just because somebody was considered an important player or a player who hadn’t done anything, that doesn’t matter now.
“Everybody gets a clean slate, and we’ll go from there.”
Several Vols will make their first impressions at new positions, but the only quarterbacks are returners. UT didn’t sign any prospects at that position in February, so Coleman, Crompton and Stephens will decide their fates on the field.
Kiffin hasn’t disclosed a timetable for naming his starter, simply saying he’ll do it “as soon as possible.”
Stephens won’t get a head start. Multiple sources close to the program said his wrist is fractured and he could miss as many as four weeks, but UT coaches and officials wouldn’t confirm that news by Monday night.
Kiffin and players will address the media before this afternoon’s practice.
UT will have no-contact work today and Thursday before donning full pads for a Friday night practice that will be open to the public.
“We’ve conditioned them and all of that good stuff, but now we get to see them on the field, and that’s what it’s all about,” defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. “I think this spring is all about the players, and seeing what they can do and how much they can learn.
“We’re excited to finally get out there and see what we’ve got.”