Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell UT's quarterback, Nick Stephens, waits to catch the ball in the fourth quarter against Northern Illinois.
KNOXVILLE — University of Tennessee quarterback Nick Stephens switched sports for a minute Tuesday night, using a time-tested method to avoid further injuring his throwing hand.
“Yeah, let’s go with the left,” the righty said when one reporter reach out to shake his hand.
Stephens practiced Tuesday afternoon for the first time this spring without a cast on his recently broken wrist, but the junior-to-be hasn’t been declared ready for contact. As he predicted two weeks ago, though, he returned without the cast immediately following spring break. Some initially considered that a premature evaluation.
“My grip’s a little weak right now, and my wrist is a little weak,” the big-armed Texan said. “Hopefully things come back pretty quick. I’ll be (100 percent) for next Tuesday, for sure.”
Stephens threw to UT’s running backs and wide receivers in the no-contact portion of practice before giving way to senior-to-be Jonathan Crompton and sophomore-to-be B.J. Coleman of Chattanooga.
“I’m going to do as much as I can,” Stephens said. “Obviously, I don’t want to land on it and rebreak it or mess it up even more. I’m just going to try to stay off the ground and just do whatever I have to do to be full-speed before next Tuesday.
“Obviously, it’s going to be frustrating for anybody in my situation. The competitor in you is going to want to play, but you have to put that aside and just try to get better as best you can, even though you can’t play.”
Junior-to-be wide receiver Gerald Jones backed up Stephens’ claims of “staying on top of everything mentally.”
“It was a great thing to have Nick back out there, because he has a chance to earn the starting spot,” Jones said. “He’s going to push Crompton and he’s going to push B.J. to get better. That’s the best thing about that. I feel like he’ll make them work harder and work better.”
Offensive ‘pretty bad’
First-year Volunteers coach Lane Kiffin said he wasn’t impressed with the offense’s execution Tuesday, and he said last week’s spring break wasn’t an excuse.
“If you were to expect anything — which I wouldn’t — it would be that they would come back and not be very good,” Kiffin said. “But one side was great. One side brought it. That coaching staff and those players outplayed and outcoached the other side of the ball.
“The timing just wasn’t very good. We had a lot of new routes in the red zone thrown at them, but we want them to come out and execute no matter how many plays we put in. We’ll go back and look at the tape, and hopefully, as they said, it’s never as bad as it seems or as good as it seems ... but I thought it was pretty bad.”
Jones said he and fellow receiver Denarius Moore dropped passes early in practice that became “contagious,” but he wasn’t overly displeased with the offense’s day until hearing Kiffin’s assessment.
“I thought for the most part ... we did pretty good,” Jones said. “But when the head man said he was not pleased with it, then you’ve got to back that up.”
Junior-to-be tight end Brandon Warren was even more diplomatic, trying not to smile while saying Kiffin was “100 percent right.
“That’s what Coach Kiffin said, and I can’t go against that,” Warren added. “We’ve still got some work to do as an offense, and we’re going to keep working hard to come out here every day and give the defense our best go.”
All-Southeastern Conference linebacker said the defense deserved and didn’t mind the compliments.
“What else can I say? I’m impressed,” McCoy said with a wide grin.
No Gators logo
Kiffin didn’t seem bothered by Florida coach Urban Meyer’s decision to post several of Kiffin’s recent comments in the Gators’ locker room. Kiffin has apologized for joking that Meyer “cheated” but still didn’t land Sunshine State speedster Nu’Keese Richardson, who signed with the Vols.
UT’s coach also joked at his initial press conference that the Vols would enjoy “singing Rocky Top all night long” after winning in Gainesville this September.
“Somebody showed me a couple of pictures of (Florida’s locker room), and some recruits told me they’d seen it,” Kiffin said Tuesday night. “The fact that our logo is in their locker room and recruits are seeing it, that’s a pretty powerful thing. Their logo won’t be in our locker room.”
Kiffin said the Vols were “not thinking about ... or worried about” the Gators yet.
“We’re trying to have good practices, and today only one side of the ball did,” he said. “We’ve got to get our guys better. That game’s a long ways down the road, and I believe we play two teams before that.”