SEC: Nick Stephens

Ex-Vol QB Stephens going to Division II

April, 26, 2010
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Former Tennessee quarteback Nick Stephens plans to transfer to Division II Tarleton State in Texas.

Stephens, who's from Flower Mound, Texas, told ESPN's Joe Schad that he will have two years of eligibility remaining at Tarleton State. Stephens left Tennessee's team this spring after falling behind junior college newcomer Matt Simms and freshman Tyler Bray on the depth chart.

Vols' Simms ready to prove that he's the guy

April, 13, 2010
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Matt Simms might have come to Tennessee four months ago as somewhat of an insurance policy, but he exits the spring as the front-runner to be Tennessee’s starting quarterback next season.

It’s all been one giant whirlwind since Simms signed in December.

First, there was the departure of Lane Kiffin and most of his staff in January to Southern California. Less than a week later, Derek Dooley was the Vols’ new coach.

Dooley
AP Photo/Lisa Norman-HudsonFirst-year Tennessee coach Derek Dooley may ask quarterback Matt Simms to lead the Vols his fall.
And most recently, senior quarterback Nick Stephens decided to leave the program after being told that his reps during spring practice would decrease.

Just like that, it was Simms’ job to lose.

“It’s definitely gone by fast, trying to learn everything all at once and put it all together at once,” Simms said. “But the leaning curve is good right now, and I feel good about the direction we’re headed.”

Simms is the younger brother of NFL quarterback Chris Simms, who just recently signed with the Tennessee Titans. It was almost a decade ago that the elder Simms committed to Tennessee publicly, only to change his mind and sign with Texas instead.

Matt Simms jokes that at least one member of the family “got it right.”

He’s also pumped about having his older brother so close by this next season.

He’s even more pumped about proving to everybody that he and the rest of his offensive mates can get it done in the SEC despite their inexperience.

“We have to understand there is going to be bumps in the road, but the thing that has to happen is that we need to become a good unit and learn to work together,” said Simms, who played last season at El Camino College in Torrance, Calif. “Even though we’re all young and don’t have a lot of experience, the guys on this team have a lot of heart. That’s one thing every team needs.”

With the Vols closing spring practice this Saturday with their annual Orange and White Game, Simms’ goal is to have his most consistent week yet, and for he and the entire offense to go into the offseason with some momentum.

In the scrimmage last weekend, he was just 8-of-25 for 110 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He admits he was overly anxious, especially in light of Stephens’ decision to leave the team a few days earlier.

“My decision-making has been pretty good these past few weeks,” Simms said. “Now, it’s putting it all together and proving to everyone that I can be the guy. In the scrimmage, I made some good decisions, but wasn’t on top of everything the way I should be. That’s what I’m looking forward to this week, cleaning that up.”

Simms still has to beat out true freshman Tyler Bray, and first-year Tennessee coach Derek Dooley isn’t ready to say which way he’s leaning.

The emphasis this spring has been identifying their strengths and weaknesses so that the staff can structure preseason camp to fit what they do best.

“We have every play in football,” Dooley said. “We’ve got some great coaches with great ideas, but taking that system and fitting it to our players and putting them in a position where they can play fast and perform as best they can and grow into the job … that’s going to be the real challenge for us as coaches.”

Dooley said it’s too early to tell if both Simms and Bray will play next season.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I think both of them have very good ability for us to go out there and win football games, so I feel good about their talent level. I feel good about their knowledge of football. I feel good about their command, their willingness to be the guy. But only time will tell who’s going to end our season as quarterback.”

Lunchtime links: Tide opening up offense

April, 9, 2010
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Some SEC links to munch on:

Vols' Stephens saw the writing on the wall

April, 9, 2010
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Nick Stephens saw the writing on the wall, and he wasn’t interested in waiting around to see how it all played out.

So just like that, with Stephens’ decision to quit the team following his recent demotion, Tennessee is now assured of playing next season with a quarterback who’s never taken an SEC snap.

Couple that with the least-experienced offensive line in the league, and it’s obvious how trying next season could get for the Vols.

Stephens, a senior, is the third high-profile player to leave the team under first-year coach Derek Dooley, who wasn’t looking to run off Stephens. Running back Bryce Brown and offensive tackle Aaron Douglas have also bolted this spring.

In Dooley’s words, he was simply being honest and didn’t want to string Stephens along when it looked like junior college transfer Matt Simms and true freshman Tyler Bray might be better options at quarterback.

Whether you think Dooley’s off to a good start or not, you have to be impressed with his steadfastness to do things his way and set the kind of tone for this program that he believes will ultimately lead the Vols back to championship contention.

Remember, they played for the SEC championship in 2007, but that seems like an eternity ago right now.

Anybody taking bets on when Tennessee might get back there?

Three years? Five years? Even longer?

The Vols went to the SEC championship game five times between 1998 and 2007, which was more than any other team in the league during that span.

But a second losing season in four years -- and a 10-year drought of not winning an SEC title -- led to Phillip Fulmer’s ouster following the 2008 season.

This is a program that’s at a place it hasn’t been since John Majors’ first few seasons in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The talent level is down. The Vols are going to be forced to play freshmen in key spots. There’s no depth in the lines of scrimmage, and the attrition with all of the coaching turnover the past couple of years is starting to take its toll.

“The last three years, there has been an inordinate amount of attrition, and to say it hasn’t hurt the program is not being forthright,” Dooley said.

From the way spring practice had gone thus far, it sounds like Stephens wasn’t going to be the Vols’ starter anyway. But when you’re as inexperienced as the Vols are at that position, it’s always nice to have somebody who’s at least played.

They’re now one injury away from disaster.

And in truth, maybe they already were before Stephens quit the team.

As for Dooley and the rest of the Vols’ staff, it’s probably better that they find out now that Stephens wasn’t interested in fighting and battling for his job than finding that out in September with a game on the line in the fourth quarter.

That’s not a knock on Stephens, either. He did what he felt like he needed to do. But as Dooley himself would say, that’s just being honest.

Vols' Simms moves to the forefront

April, 7, 2010
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When Tennessee signed Matt Simms out of junior college back in December, there was some thought that he might be an insurance policy.

But as the Vols point toward their spring game on April 17, it's becoming more and more likely that Simms may well be their starting quarterback.

Simms has outplayed senior Nick Stephens for much of this spring, and Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said on Tuesday that Simms would start getting more work with the first unit and that Stephens' work with the first team would decrease.

In addition, Dooley said true freshman Tyler Bray would starting getting more snaps with the second unit and would also get some first-team work.

The translation: Unless Stephens makes a big comeback the rest of this spring and over the summer, the Vols' offensive staff has serious doubts about his ability to be the starter.

Stephens played some two years ago when the Vols were struggling so much at quarterback during Phillip Fulmer's final season. But last season, when Jonathan Crompton had that brutal stretch in September, the Vols never turned to Stephens.

Jim Chaney was the offensive coordinator then, and he's the offensive coordinator now. He also evaluated Stephens out of high school when he was coaching at Purdue.

Again, unless something changes, Chaney simply isn't sold on Stephens being his quarterback, and Dooley made it clear that this decision is not a result of just one scrimmage. Stephens finished 3-of-9 for 6 yards in last Thursday's scrimmage.

"You have kind of a general plan of not overreacting to every practice, and we haven't," Dooley said. "But when you go halfway through the spring, that's a great time to do an early evaluation of where we are. That's what we did and we'll probably re-evaluate it again at the end."

Simms is the son of former NFL star Phil Simms and the younger brother of current NFL quarterback Chris Simms and started his career at Louisville before transferring to El Camino College in Torrance, Calif. Ironically enough, Chris Simms once committed to Tennessee before changing his mind and going to Texas.

That's been more than a decade ago, but now it appears that a Simms will get a chance to lead the Vols at quarterback after all.

Tough day for the Vols' quarterbacks

April, 2, 2010
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Tennessee’s quarterbacks suffered through a rough day Thursday in the Vols’ first scrimmage of the spring.

Neither one of the top two combatants competing for the job completed 50 percent of his passes, and the veteran of the group, senior Nick Stephens, was just 3-of-9 for 6 yards. Junior college newcomer Matt Simms was 6-of-20 for 80 yards. True freshman Tyler Bray finished 8-of-13 for 69 yards.

Simms and Bray both threw interceptions, but they also tossed touchdown passes.

Throwing the ball on time, something that’s plagued Stephens in the past, has hampered him this spring.

And to be fair, the Vols have taken their lumps in the offensive line this spring. They’re going with five first-time starters and have struggled mightily in pass protection. True freshman Ja'Wuan James at tackle and redshirt freshman JerQuari Schofield at guard are starting.

“You always hope they will play better than they do,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said of his quarterbacks. “Some of them have a little more anxiety because it’s the first scrimmage, and they want to do well. It’s important to learn to just relax, play and let the game come to you.”

The offensive highlight of the scrimmage was running back Tauren Poole ripping off a 67-yard touchdown run. Simms threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Zach Rogers on the next drive.

The defense had a big day rushing the passer, but giving up the big play has been a concern this spring.

“I think what is evident out there is we have a lot of new faces,” Dooley said. “Developing that chemistry with both units is going to take a lot of time. We saw a little bit more (chemistry) on the defensive side because there are more familiar faces. They’ve been out there together and encouraged each other.

“On offense … a lot of new faces. That’s going to be a work in progress.”

What to watch in the SEC East this spring

February, 22, 2010
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Here’s a breakdown of some of the issues facing each SEC East team heading into the spring:

FLORIDA

Spring practice starts: March 17

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:
  • Meyer’s involvement – Florida coach Urban Meyer says he will be refreshed enough to be back in time for the start of spring practice. That means his leave of absence will have lasted all of a month. It will be interesting to see how involved he is, because Meyer has always been such a hands-on coach in the past. In particular, does he back away from his role as special teams coordinator? Since Meyer arrived at Florida in 2005, the Gators have had some of the best special teams in the country. And with so many new faces on offense next season, special teams and/or field position will be more important than ever. The Gators will lose something if Meyer’s not running the show in the kicking game.
  • Brantley takes the reins – The Tim Tebow era is over, and now it’s John Brantley’s turn to put his stamp on Florida’s offense. This will be the second spring that he’s gotten a lot of the work with the first-team offense. He was extremely impressive last spring when Tebow was taking it easy with his shoulder. Obviously, Brantley is a different kind of quarterback than Tebow. He’s a pure passer who’s going to beat teams with his arm and not his legs. That’s not to say he’s a statue in the pocket, but he’s also not going to be bulling over safeties on third-and-2. As much as anything, Brantley needs to establish himself as one of the leaders this spring. With Maurkice Pouncey, Riley Cooper and Tebow all gone, new leaders have to emerge on offense.
  • Finding more playmakers – An even more important story this spring than Brantley taking over is who’s going to have his back on offense. In other words, who can he count on to make plays? Redshirt freshman Andre Debose is certainly a guy the Gators are counting on at receiver after undergoing hamstring surgery last year. Running back Emmanuel Moody will get a chance to be the workhorse on the ground, and Chris Rainey is moving to the slot position, meaning he’ll line up some at running back and some at receiver. Replacing Aaron Hernandez at tight end isn’t going to be easy. Freshman Gerald Christian enrolled early, and he will push redshirt freshmen Jordan Reed and Desmond Parks.
GEORGIA

Spring practice starts: March 4

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:
  • Quarterback competition – With 10 starters coming back on offense, the quarterback race will be where all the drama is this spring at Georgia. Nobody has any meaningful experience to speak of. Junior Logan Gray played in spots last season. He’s a terrific athlete and may be better suited to play another position at some point, but he’s not giving up on quarterback. The two redshirt freshmen, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger, both have their strengths. Murray is the more versatile of the two, while Mettenberger is a bigger pocket passer who can really throw it. We’ll see if anybody separates himself this spring or if the competition goes into preseason practice. Because of his versatility, Murray is probably the favorite. Mettenberger might still be a year away.
  • Implementation of the 3-4 – New defensive coordinator Todd Grantham takes over a Georgia defense that gave up big plays and points in bunches the last two seasons. The Bulldogs will shift from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 this spring, meaning some defensive ends will be moving to outside linebacker. The Bulldogs lost three senior defensive tackles, so somebody needs to step forward at nose tackle. DeAngelo Tyson may be the guy there. Justin Houston, who had 7.5 sacks last season, looks like a good fit at outside linebacker after playing end a year ago. Cornelius Washington is another guy who could blossom in the 3-4 as a pass-rusher. He has great speed and was always a bit thin at defensive end.
  • Replenishing the secondary – The Bulldogs lost three starters in the secondary, including both safeties. The decision by Reshad Jones to turn pro early really hurt their depth. This is a big spring for sophomore cornerback Branden Smith, who made more of an impact last season on offense. The top candidates at safety are Baccari Rambo and Jakar Hamilton, a junior college transfer who enrolled early and will go through spring practice. Down the road, top 2010 signee Alec Ogletree will be a factor somewhere, either at safety or linebacker. After finishing 10th in the SEC in pass defense last season and allowing a league-high 25 touchdown passes, the Bulldogs have to improve across the board when it comes to defending the pass.
KENTUCKY

Spring practice starts: March 31

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Settling on a quarterback – All eyes will be on the quarterbacks this spring. Morgan Newton finished last season as the starter and struggled through the normal growing pains any true freshman goes through in the SEC. Newton wasn’t very consistent throwing the ball, but the Wildcats were also careful in what they asked him to do. Senior Mike Hartline opened last season as the starter, but went down with a knee injury. He clearly has the most experience. We’ll see how his knee holds up. The third guy in the Wildcats’ quarterback derby is redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski. He tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder toward the end of his senior season in high school and wasn’t healthy enough to compete for the starting job last fall. He is now, though, and might be further along mentally at this stage of his career than any quarterback the Wildcats have had, according to first-year coach Joker Phillips.
  • Big shoes to fill on defense – Freshman linebacker Qua Huzzie will make his debut after injuring his shoulder in the preseason a year ago. He could be Micah Johnson’s replacement in the middle. Sophomores Ridge Wilson and Ronnie Sneed and redshirt freshman Will Johnson are three others who will get a lot of work at linebacker, especially with Sam Maxwell gone. Junior college safety Josh Gibbs is already in school and will get a shot right away in the secondary. Corey Peters was a force at tackle last season. But now that he’s gone, the Wildcats need Shane McCord and Mark Crawford to step up and be every-down players in the middle.
  • Rebuilding the offensive line – The Wildcats have to replace four starters on the offensive line. The only returning starter is junior guard Stuart Hines, who has All-SEC potential. The good news is that there are seven lettermen returning, so there is some experience. Junior Billy Joe Murphy will probably get first crack at left tackle. He started three games in 2008. Senior Brad Durham, who’s started seven games over the last two seasons, is the front-runner at right tackle. Sophomore Larry Warford played some last season as a true freshman and is a good bet to start at the other guard opposite Hines. The center position will be a battle between senior Marcus Davis and sophomore Matt Smith, although junior Jake Lanefski could move to center when he returns from a knee injury in August. Lanefski has starting experience as a guard.
SOUTH CAROLINA

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:
  • Sorting it out in the offensive line – For all the issues that have hounded Steve Spurrier since he took over at South Carolina in 2005, none have plagued him more than the Gamecocks’ inability to consistently get it done in the offensive line. Heading into next season, there’s enough talent in place for the Gamecocks to make a run in the East if they play better up front. Shawn Elliott, who comes over from Appalachian State, steps in as Spurrier’s third offensive line coach in the last three years. He inherits three returning starters, but nothing is set in stone. Some new faces to watch are tackle Rokevious Watkins and guard Nick Allison, both of whom redshirted last season. There’s a chance T.J. Johnson could move to center. However it shakes out, this is the telltale area for the Gamecocks in 2010.
  • Getting a clear plan on offense – This encompasses so many things, including finding some continuity in the offensive line and getting continued improvement from junior quarterback Stephen Garcia. But the other big component is establishing who the principal play-caller is going to be this fall and getting the chemistry down on the offensive staff. Spurrier has talked about getting better in the running game, but the Gamecocks have to commit to being a better running team, part of which means calling more running plays. Steve Spurrier Jr. has called the bulk of the plays the last two years. And while play-calling on game day can often times be overrated, the guy the South Carolina fans would like to see calling all of the plays is the Head Ball Coach.
  • Replacing Norwood and Geathers -- Between them, Eric Norwood and Clifton Geathers made their share of big plays for the Gamecocks last season, particularly Norwood. Shaq Wilson will likely move from middle linebacker to Norwood’s weak side spot. Wilson can blitz like a safety, and South Carolina will put in some special blitz packages for him. Reggie Bowens and Tony Straughter are two other guys to watch at that spot. At Geathers’ end position, redshirt freshman Chaz Sutton and sophomore Devin Taylor both have a ton of potential. And with Cliff Matthews on the other side, the Gamecocks have a chance to be really good on the defensive line if Sutton and Taylor come through.
TENNESSEE

Spring practice starts: March 18

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Quarterback competition – If experience in the program counts for anything, then senior Nick Stephens will have a leg up this spring in Tennessee’s starting quarterback competition. But for the third straight year, the Vols will have a new guy calling the shots on offense. Derek Dooley takes over the Vols’ program, and Jim Chaney will be his offensive coordinator. Chaney was under-utilized on the previous staff. One of the things Chaney will be looking for from Stephens is increased accuracy. Freshman Tyler Bray will also get a chance to show what he can do this spring. A heralded prospect from California, Bray is already enrolled in school. His first order of business is bulking up and getting stronger. The Vols also brought in junior college newcomer Matt Simms, the younger brother of NFL quarterback Chris Simms.
  • Finding offensive linemen – The anchor of Tennessee’s offensive line is sophomore tackle Aaron Douglas, who was a Freshman All-American in 2009. The only problem is that last season was his first on the offensive line after playing tight end in high school, and he’s the so-called veteran of the unit. He’ll probably shift to left tackle this spring after playing on the right side last season. After Douglas, it’s a scramble. Freshman Ja’Wuan James, who enrolled early and will go through spring practice, will get every chance to win a job. It’s critical for the Vols that JerQuari Schofield and Dallas Thomas have big springs. Tennessee’s going to need both of them to play next season. The center position is a huge mystery. Victor Thomas moved over from defense and could be the answer.
  • Finding leaders on defense – The backbone of Tennessee’s defense is gone in the form of Eric Berry, Dan Williams and Rico McCoy. All three were defensive playmakers and leaders. As new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox takes over, he’ll be looking for both playmakers and leaders this spring. Senior defensive ends Chris Walker and Ben Martin fit the bill in both areas. Getting Nick Reveiz back at middle linebacker after he tore his ACL last season is also a big lick for the Vols, although he’ll be limited this spring. The secondary is wide open. Not only is Berry gone, but Dennis Rogan turned pro, too. Sophomore safety Janzen Jackson is the most talented guy back there. Taking care of business off the field may be his greatest challenge. This is also a big spring for sophomore safety Darren Myles Jr., who could be a breakout player for the Vols.
VANDERBILT

Spring practice starts: March 17

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:
  • Larry Smith has some competition – Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson hasn’t given up on Smith, not in the least bit. Most of the time last season, Smith simply didn’t have enough help around him to be successful. But what Johnson does want is for somebody to push Smith, which is the reason the Commodores brought in junior college quarterback Jordan Rodgers in January. Smith missed the final three games a year ago after tearing his hamstring and will have to play well to hold off Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The best scenario would be for one of those guys to win the job in the spring so that decision isn’t still hovering out there throughout the summer and into preseason practice.
  • Offensive line continuity – The Commodores have to replace the left side of their offensive line as well as center Bradley Vierling, who was a two-time captain. Left tackle Thomas Welch played in the Senior Bowl, so that tells you that Vanderbilt is losing some talent at that position. James Williams returns at right tackle after breaking his ankle in the second game a year ago and missing the rest of the season. Sophomore Ryan Seymour is the favorite to replace Welch at left tackle. This will be an important spring for him after moving over from defense last spring. Junior Kyle Fischer can play guard or tackle and is one of the most talented offensive linemen on the roster. Four younger guys to watch are redshirt freshmen Justin Cabbagestalk, Wesley Johnson and Mylon Brown along with sophomore Jabo Burrow.
  • Passing game – Johnson moved some duties around on his offensive coaching staff this offseason. Quarterbacks coach Jimmy Kiser will now be calling all of the offensive plays. His most pressing duty will be trying to establish some semblance of a passing game, which starts with identifying receivers. Anybody who shows the ability to make a play down the field this spring will get a chance come fall. The Commodores, who will continue to try and develop their no-huddle offense, have several promising young running backs and look set back there. It will be interesting to see how they incorporate redshirt freshman Wesley Tate into the offense. But overall, they desperately need to build some confidence and some momentum in the passing game this spring if they’re going to improve offensively in 2010.

Where does Tennessee go from here?

September, 21, 2009
9/21/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


When is a loss really a win?

See Tennessee’s 23-13 setback at No. 1-ranked Florida on Saturday.

The Vols weren’t supposed to just lose the game. They were supposed to lose their manhood, their pride, any sense of belonging as a legitimate threat in the SEC this season.
 
 Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
 Lane Kiffin and the Vols hope to build off their performance against Florida.


Well, none of the above happened, and it’s a new day on Rocky Top.

Now the hard part begins: Can Tennessee build on the biggest moral victory this program has seen since maybe 1979, John Majors’ third season as coach.

The outmanned Vols were 20-point underdogs that day and faced a No. 1-ranked Alabama team that would go on to win its second straight national championship.

Tennessee took the fight to Alabama and jumped out to a 17-0 lead at Legion Field, but Alabama came charging back to win a hard-fought 27-17 game.

Not that the Big Orange Nation needs to be reminded, but Tennessee lost at home two weeks later to Rutgers on homecoming.

It’s just that kind of dip that Lane Kiffin’s club wants to avoid, especially with Ohio coming to town this weekend.

Build off what you did at the Swamp. Don’t live off it.

On the field, this Tennessee team still has plenty to prove. The Vols are 1-2, and their only win came over a Western Kentucky team that lost 28-7 at home last week to Central Arkansas.

So nobody should be making BCS bowl plans just yet … or any bowl plans, for that matter.

But the Vols’ defense is certainly good enough to keep this team in every game it plays. The running game, namely Montario Hardesty, showed some spark against the Gators, and the young talent on the roster is impressive.

The biggest hurdle remains a passing game that’s non-existent at this point, and that’s not all on senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton, either. Yes, he has seven interceptions in three games. And, yes, he hasn’t proven he can get it done against a legitimate defense.

But pass protection and receivers being where they’re supposed to be, running the proper routes and making plays all factor into the equation.

Kiffin’s greatest dilemma may be when and if he’s going to give backup quarterback Nick Stephens a chance. There’s no reason to believe that Stephens would be a huge upgrade. Otherwise, he’d already be playing.

But when a player struggles the way Crompton has, the head coach owes it to the rest of the team to at least look at his options. In the past, Stephens has fared better in games than he has in practice.

The Vols have three straight home games upcoming that will shape their season one way or the other. After Ohio’s visit this weekend, Auburn and Georgia come to town.

This is a team that’s capable of getting hot and being the kind of team nobody wants to face in a bowl game. The Vols proved that at the Swamp.

It’s also a team that’s capable of being average at best and not much of a threat to anybody that counts, as the Vols showed at home two weeks ago in their 19-15 loss to UCLA.

Stay tuned to find out which team comes to the forefront at season’s end.

Of course, the first order of business is making sure there's not a repeat of that Rutgers debacle 30 years ago.

Crompton, Stephens both likely to play for Vols

August, 18, 2009
8/18/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Like nearly everybody else in the SEC with the exception of Florida and Ole Miss, Tennessee is faced with some uncertainty at the quarterback position.

The Vols have a little more than two weeks remaining until their first game, and coach Lane Kiffin still can't tell you who his quarterback will be.

At least, not publicly.

He said following Monday's practice that the competition between Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens was "extremely close" and he wasn't ready to name a starter.

Few coaches go into a season wanting to play two quarterbacks. But if nobody has won the job to this point and they're genuinely that close, I would imagine the Vols will play both guys this season.

There's also the theory that with Crompton being a fifth-year senior that Stephens may get the benefit of the doubt since he's also going to be around for 2010. If you've looked at Tennessee's quarterback situation lately for the future, it's not real pretty.

Crompton has looked more comfortable in this offense and just sounds the part after struggling to gain any confidence in what the Vols were doing last season under offensive coordinator Dave Clawson.

But I still think the Vols are going to need both quarterbacks this season. Kiffin knows that as well as anyone, which is why he's making sure both Crompton and Stephens are as ready to go both physically and mentally as they possibly can be.

One of the most telling signs of where this offense is and where the quarterbacks are is that Kiffin was still in the offensive huddle during Saturday's scrimmage. He wasn't in there quite as much Monday in practice, but it's reaching that point where you have to turn everybody loose.

I don't think Kiffin is interested in getting into a quarterback carousel again this season, but it's looking more and more like both guys may play.

Is Marve the answer for Tennessee?

May, 13, 2009
5/13/09
3:20
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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It's no secret that Tennessee's biggest need right now is at quarterback.

The Vols would like to sign two in the 2010 class and have immediate playing time to offer.

It makes sense that they would be interested in former Miami quarterback Robert Marve, who's narrowed his choices to Purdue and Tennessee. Marve already has college experience, having played last season as a redshirt freshman. A big-time recruit, he also wouldn't come in as wide-eyed as a freshman.

Here's the other thing: If Marve winds up at Tennessee, you know he genuinely believes he could come in and be the starter right away in 2010. Miami has refused to release Marve to Tennessee, which means he would have to pay his own way through school his first year in Knoxville.

Nick Stephens would be a senior in 2010, and the Vols are currently scouring the country for high school quarterbacks.

It's never ideal to be starting a true freshman at quarterback in the SEC, but that's certainly a possibility for the Vols in 2010. They have their sights set on several highly rated quarterbacks in this upcoming class, namely Jake Heaps of Sammamish, Wash., Andrew Hendrix of Cincinnati, Ohio, Jesse Scroggins of Lakewood, Calif., and Jonny Miller of Denver, Colo. All four are on the ESPNU 150 Watch List.

If the Vols do get Marve, it will be interesting to see how that affects their recruitment of high school quarterbacks.

Tennessee spring wrap-up

May, 5, 2009
5/05/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Tennessee Volunteers
2008 overall record: 5-7

2008 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 7, defense: 6, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Jonathan Crompton, QB Nick Stephens, RB Montario Hardesty, WR Gerald Jones, DE Chris Walker, DT Dan Williams, LB Rico McCoy, S Eric Berry

Key losses

RB Arian Foster, OG Anthony Parker, DE Robert Ayers, LB Ellix Wilson, LB Nevin McKenzie, S Demetrice Morley

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Arian Foster (570 yards)
Passing: Jonathan Crompton* (889 yards)
Receiving: Lucas Taylor (332 yards)
Tackles: Ellix Wilson (89)
Sacks: Nevin McKenzie (5)
Interceptions: Eric Berry* (7)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Western Kentucky
Sept. 12 UCLA
Sept. 19 at Florida
Sept. 26 Ohio
Oct. 3 Auburn
Oct. 10 Georgia
Oct. 24 at Alabama
Oct. 31 South Carolina
Nov. 7 Memphis
Nov. 14 at Ole Miss
Nov. 21 Vanderbilt
Nov. 28 at Kentucky
Walker blows up: If you're looking for a strong breakout player of the year candidate in the SEC, junior defensive end Chris Walker ought to be near the top of the list. He had a dominant spring and was referred to as "unblockable" more than once by Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin. Walker has great burst off the edge to get to the passer, but also plays the run well.

New energy: There's a new energy both in and around the Tennessee program right now. The players are talking about it, and the fans are eager to see where Kiffin and the new staff can take this program. The Vols had fallen from the SEC's elite in the past few years. Kiffin's challenge is to get them back there.

Law according to Kiffin: There's always going to be attrition when a new coach takes over, but the Vols are nearing double figures in terms of players who've left the program since Kiffin was hired. Some of the notables are running back Lennon Creer, safety Demetrice Morley and quarterback B.J. Coleman. Kiffin's response has been simple: His version of Tennessee football isn't for everybody.

Fall questions

Quarterback carousel: With Coleman out of the equation, it's down to Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens. Kiffin has said that Crompton is in the lead. The fifth-year senior will likely start the season as the Vols' starter. Whether he finishes the season as the starter remains to be seen. History suggests that Stephens will also get a shot at some point.

Clearing the way: Can the Vols block anybody that counts in the SEC? They looked to be further ahead in run blocking in the spring, and touted freshman running back Bryce Brown should help once he arrives. But pass protection remains a huge question mark. There's no depth at tackle, and redshirt freshman Aaron Douglas may end up starting next season even though he was a tight end in high school.

Backing up the talk: Kiffin has talked a mean game and stirred it up with the best of them. This much we know about him: It's not going to be boring. But is he ready to manage an SEC program and do all the things that it takes to win in this league? We're going to find out pretty fast because chances are that a few people will be gunning for him this fall.

Lunchtime links: Vanderbilt earning respect

April, 23, 2009
4/23/09
12:55
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

A quick check of the SEC headlines:

  • Slowed by a fractured wrist during the spring, Nick Stephens hopes to make up ground this summer in the Tennessee quarterback race.

Vols' Jones hoping for early answer at quarterback

March, 26, 2009
3/26/09
4:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Tennessee junior receiver Gerald Jones isn't choosing sides in the quarterback battle.

The only side he's choosing is that the Vols know exactly who their quarterback is exiting spring practice. He wants no part of what he and the rest of the Tennessee receivers had to go through last season with the whole quarterback carousel.

"The hardest part about it is that it's such a guessing game," Jones said. "You can't really feel chemistry with the quarterback that's going to be on the field come game time. That's the hardest part, building chemistry."

Fifth-year senior Jonathan Crompton and sophomore B.J. Coleman are vying for the starting job this spring. Junior Nick Stephens joined the fray this week after having his cast removed. Stephens had been sidelined with a fractured wrist. All three played last season, and all three were largely ineffective.

Crompton remains the odds-on favorite to be the starter when the Vols open next season, but he still has to go out and win it. The scrimmages this spring will be big for him -- his decision-making, how efficiently he manages the new offense and how well he takes care of the ball.

However it shakes out, Jones expects the Vols to have their man by the end of the spring.

"I'm not hoping. I'm pretty confident that it's going to happen," said Jones, adding that the summer months are especially valuable to getting the timing down in the passing game when the receivers know who their quarterback is going to be.

Vols taking the green off this spring

March, 10, 2009
3/10/09
6:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Lane Kiffin promised some serious competition during his first spring at Tennessee.

How serious?

The Vols found out Tuesday as they opened spring practice without anybody, including quarterbacks, wearing a green non-contact jersey.

"We're not going to protect anybody," Kiffin said. "We're not good enough to do that. Maybe some day that happens down the road. But right now, we've got to figure out who can play."

The only starting spot that won't be up for grabs is the one that belongs to All-America junior safety Eric Berry. Otherwise, it's wide open.

"None of these guys have done enough, outside of Eric (Berry), to say they know how to perform at a really high level," Kiffin said. "We've got to figure it out at every position, who can play for us. I think when you do that, you'll find surprises."

One guy who won't be out there for at least the first part of spring is junior quarterback Nick Stephens, who broke his right wrist during drill work last week.

That means senior Jonathan Crompton and sophomore B.J. Coleman will share the first-team quarterback snaps for much of the spring, likely turning a three-man battle into a two-man battle.

No quarterback likes to get hit, but Coleman said the threat of being hit should be good for all the quarterbacks.

"Seeing how fast you make decisions with that on your mind ... I think that will make us better quarterbacks in general and get the ball out of our hands a lot faster," Coleman said.

Coleman, who's from Chattanooga, also likes the idea of having a clean slate this spring. A year ago at this time, it was Crompton's job, and everybody knew it.

"I like the pressure situations, and we will see who comes out on top at the end of the spring," Coleman said.

Tennessee's Stephens in a cast

March, 9, 2009
3/09/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The three-way quarterback derby at Tennessee may be more of a two-man race for at least part of spring practice.

Nick Stephens, who started in six games last season for the Vols, suffered an injury to his wrist and is currently in a cast. He's expected to miss or at least be limited for most of the Vols' March practices. They open spring practice on Tuesday and will play their spring game on April 18.

Senior Jonathan Crompton and sophomore B.J. Coleman are the other two quarterbacks competing for the starting job. Crompton opened last season as the starter before giving way to Stephens during the middle portion of the season and then returning as the starter toward the end. Coleman also played some late in the season.

First-year Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin has said the race will be wide open and there's no timetable for naming a starter.

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