Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton, second from left, throws during the first day of spring practice as B.J. Coleman (18), Nick Stephens (17) and Bram Cannon (9) look on Tuesday, March 10, 2009 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
KNOXVILLE — Six practices weren’t supposed to settle most of this Tennessee football team’s intriguing situations, and they haven’t.
Nearing the halfway mark of coach Lane Kiffin’s first spring session with the Volunteers, unsettled spots litter Haslam Field.
One of those is quarterback. If Nick Stephens’ wrist is cleared for full contact by this afternoon, he’ll jump back in the race with Jonathan Crompton and Chattanooga’s B.J. Coleman for the top spot.
“We just haven’t seen enough of those guys, and Nick hasn’t been able to do everything,” Kiffin said last week. “We’ve got a long way to go.”
Crompton certainly hasn’t hurt his cause to this point. The much-maligned senior-to-be has drawn more compliments than Coleman for their team-period performances.
“Everybody’s doing a good job studying their playbook, getting in the film room extra, getting in meetings early and coming out here early so we can go through it as a team,” Crompton said after Saturday’s practice. “I think everybody’s kind of adjusting to it well.
“We’re kind of throwing everything from the past out. We’re willing to learn, and we’re loving every bit of it.”
Crompton said he’s more comfortable with UT’s new offense. He’s clearly more comfortable with the media. Whether either will translate to Southeastern Conference success remains to be seen.
“This system lets our keys make our decisions for us, and we just throw the ball,” he said. “We hand it off and we throw it like we’re supposed to, and that’s all we’ve got to do.
“It’s a little more complex than it sounds, but it’s a good time. It’s a good offense, and we’re loving it.”
Coleman, meanwhile, has drawn mixed reviews for his performance, but the new staff seems to admire his attitude and leadership as much as their predecessors did.
“I want to be the guy that they look to for the No. 1 spot at the end of the spring, but whatever happens happens,” Coleman said. “The most important thing is for our team to never have another year like last year.”
Kiffin said Saturday that Coleman must improve his “decision-making” within the offense, and the former McCallie School star didn’t disagree. But, like always, he was smilingly optimistic.
“This was the first scrimmage, the first time being live and everything,” Coleman said then. “We put in a good number of plays this week, and I think the main thing is for us to learn those plays in full and know coverages.
“The defense is doing a great job right now. They’ve got a lot of coverages they’re throwing at us, and they’re doing good things. But at the same time, it’s our job to make sure we get the ball in the hands of our playmakers. I think next scrimmage, it will be a different story.”
It will be different in one way at least. Stephens will get a shot.
“I think we’re all hoping to get Nick out here Tuesday,” quarterbacks coach David Reaves said. “It’s important for these guys to be out here competing and pushing each other, because that’s just going to make them all better.”
Reaves listed several factors that could potentially settle UT’s quarterback derby, but he quickly added that a final decision would come from his brother-in-law, the head coach.
“Whenever Coach Kiffin makes his decision, I’m going to go with it,” Reaves said.