Nick Stephens lost some ground to Jonathan Crompton on Wednesday morning during their battle for the starting job as Tennessee’s quarterback.
“Personally I’m not afraid to admit that I did not have a very good day (Wednesday morning),” Stephens said. “As an offense, I have to look at the film but I can guarantee we’ll come back stronger tonight.”
Stephens fumbled a snap from center, was off-target on several passes, and his worst moment came when he threw a long wounded-duck-like pass that was intercepted by freshman Eric Gordon.
“Overall, slow practice, sluggish personally,” Stephens said of his play. “It’s not going to happen again. I’ll come back stronger (Wednesday night) and so will the offense. The offense finished strong today. I didn’t and that’s on me, so I’m going to come back stronger.”
Stephens, a junior from Flower Mound, Texas, started six games in 2008. Crompton, a senior from Waynesville, N.C., also started six games in 2008 – the first four and the last two.
Crompton had a couple of forgettable moments Wednesday morning, too. Early in the 11-on-11 drills, Crompton fumbled two snaps from center. The two fumbled snaps were separated by only one play.
Late in the 11-on-11 drills, Crompton threw a pass almost right in the hands of rushing defensive end Gerald Williams, who easily batted it down. Crompton threw another pass behind tight end Jeff Cottam that could easily have been interception.
Crompton also threw another pick during seven-on-seven drills, but that one went through the hands of Bryce Brown and was returned by junior linebacker Savion Frazier for a touchdown.
However, Crompton finished strong, moving the offense down the field late in 11-on-11 drills with a nice pass to fullback Austin Johnson and later threw two touchdown passes to Quintin Hancock.
Crompton has been working mostly with the first team, but the competition for the job is still there.
“Like I’ve been saying from Day One, I’m not worried about that (competition for the starting job),” Stephens said. “If you worry about that, it’s going to alter your play. I’m just doing the best I can. I’m going to come back strong (Wednesday night) and have the best practice of the fall camp so far.”
Out Of Action: Several projected starters missed practice Wednesday morning, including wide receiver Gerald Jones, who fell on a pass route during Tuesday’s practice and couldn’t finish it. He appeared to hurt his left leg.
Starting left cornerback Brent Vinson (hamstring) and starting lineback Rico McCoy (knee) also missed Wednesday morning. Also out were freshman linebacker Herman Lathers, junior linebacker LaMarcus Thompson, sophomore defensive back Art Evans, and senior defensive tackle Andre Mathis.
Gordon Cleared: Freshman cornerback Eric Gordon was back on the field Wednesday morning after missing Tuesday’s practice due to unresolved initial-eligibility rules by the NCAA. UT sports information director John Painter said Gordon’s issues were resolved and he is clear to play.
Looking Good: Freshman wide receiver Marsalis Teague, who caught two long passes during Tuesday’s practice, had another good practice Wednesday morning when he caught a pass for a touchdown during seven-on-seven drills.
“All three of our freshman receivers (Teague, Nu’Keese Richardson and Zach Rogers) are playing well,” Stephens said. “They’re making plays and knowing the offense. That’s all we can ask for, and they’re going to keep getting better.”
Richardson, who took some more shotgun snaps from center Wednesday morning, delivered one of the biggest hits of Wednesday morning’s practice when he pounded freshman linebacker Jerod Askew with a downfield block.
Limping: Starting center Josh McNeil hobbled off the field late in practice after bumping a knee with a defensive lineman, but told a team manager he was OK. “I’m straight,” McNeil said.
Senior defensive tackle Wes Brown, who has struggled with knee problems during his UT career, was also hobbling with a sore knee, but kept practicing.
Morning Highlights: Freshman running back David Oku made a long run early in the 11-on-11 drills, making a couple of spin moves to dodge tackles. Late in the 11-on-11s, Oku made a long run up the middle. … Crompton threw a long sideline pass to Brandon Warren, who made a tough catch inbounds. … Safety Eric Berry forced an incomplete pass when he popped Rogers, who dropped the pass. … Freshman defensive tackle Montori Hughes recovered Stephens’ fumbled snap, but on the next play running back Montario Hardesty ran past Hughes for a long gain. … Hardesty made another long run late in 11-on-11 drills before being pushed out of bounds by Berry.