When the cast came off his right wrist, Nick Stephens thought it would be game on in the battle to become Tennessee's starting quarterback.
But when Stephens returned to practice on March 24 for UT's fourth of 15 spring practices and scrimmages, the frustrations began to mount.
"I thought when I get through these first couple weeks, I'll be ready to go," Stephens said. "But when you take a cast off, you're not just going to pick up a ball and start throwing it like you wanted to."
At first, Stephens was limited to short throws. Then he took snaps from center about a week later. And even when he started making downfield throws in practice, his accuracy wasn't exactly up to par.
He participated on a limited basis in only two scrimmages this spring, and completed 11 of 21 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's Orange and White Game.
Stephens had bigger designs, though, for his first spring practice with UT's new coaching staff.
"That was the most frustrating thing," he said. "I got my cast cut off, and picked up the ball. It was kind of a downer, because I knew I couldn't grip it like I wanted to.
"But things happen for a reason. Obviously I wanted to make a good impression on them from day one, but that didn't happen. You've just got to take what you get and get ready for fall."
Like the rest of his teammates, Stephens will participate in UT's offseason program.
He'll also try to throw with receivers as much as possible and then help organize seven-on-seven workouts with his teammates.
Stephens said the worst of his wrist injury is behind him, too.
"I'm fine right now," he said. "The only thing that hurts is when I shake someone's hand.
"Taking the snap, throwing the ball is fine. I'll just get the last little bit of whatever's wrong gone in the next couple weeks and be 100 percent."
This week, UT coach Lane Kiffin said coaches would break down film of all three quarterbacks to continue the evaluation process.
Senior Jonathan Crompton left spring practice with a slight edge over sophomore B.J. Coleman and Stephens, but Stephens believes the competition will remain open this fall.
"I hope it is," he said. "They say the best player's going to play, so we'll all get our opportunity. I'm hoping that it's an open competition. It should be. Coach said it has been, so I think it is."
That's a difference from last year.
Despite pushing Crompton in spring practice and fall camp, Stephens saw only limited snaps until taking over the starting job against Northern Illinois on Oct. 4.
Asked if he thought the quarterback competition last spring was wide open, Stephens said "No. No, I didn't. I'm not go into detail much with that, but I didn't feel like it was."
Despite his struggles at times - most notably a pair of interceptions in a 13-7 loss to Wyoming - Stephens led the Vols with a quarterback rating of 108.3 last fall and posted a better touchdown-to-interception ratio than Crompton.
Heading into the offseason, Stephens can't help but look forward to fall camp - and a healthy wrist.
"I'm looking forward to that the most," Stephens said. "Getting a chance to compete from day one and not having to fall behind from a reps standpoint. Mentally, I'm fine. Fall camp is something we're all looking forward to. Me personally, too."
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.