After two weeks of practice and two scrimmages, first-year coach Lane Kiffin doesn't sound close to naming Tennessee's starting quarterback.
In fact, the only context in which the word "close" was used Monday was in describing the ongoing battle between Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens.
"It's extremely close,'' Kiffin said after Monday's practice at Haslem Field.
"They're grading out very close so it's good to see.''
Each started six games last season. Crompton edged ahead in the spring when Stephens was limited by a hand injury.
Crompton still gets most of the work with the No. 1 offense, both in practice and scrimmages. Kiffin, however, is staying on message that All-America safety Eric Berry is the only player who has nailed down a starting job.
Crompton had better numbers in last Saturday's scrimmage but after grading the videotape Kiffin cut Stephens some slack.
"Nick was very unfortunate with the number of (dropped passes),'' Kiffin said, "some plays that would have been very big third-down conversions.
"We had two third-down penalties so it was a group thing of guys not doing right which affected the quarterbacks.''
On the practice field Monday, both quarterbacks were intercepted once.
Cornerback Eric Gordon beat Nu'Keese Richardson for a Stephens pass.
Crompton threw one pass that linebacker Savion Frazier dropped. But moments later he rolled out of pressure and threw an interception to Dennis Rogan.
"He has not made many really big mistakes,'' Kiffin said of Crompton. "He had one today and that was unfortunate.
"We had been avoiding those decisions so that's one to learn from and make sure it's out of our system by the time we play.''
Crompton also threw a perfect strike for a 60-yard touchdown to Richardson.
The senior deflected a question about how he graded his scrimmage performance on Saturday.
"It's more about the team instead of individuals,'' he said.
Crompton said he is seeing the field better than at any point in his career:
"I've got to give the credit to Coach Kiffin and (quarterbacks) Coach (David) Reaves for showing me, 'Think this versus this.'
"It's really good to learn under them and it's really fun to play with our guys because they're going to be where I know they're going to be.''
Kiffin doesn't appear to mind that the competition remains neck-and-neck with only one more full-fledged scrimmage before the Sept. 5 opener.
"I know that you (media) guys want it to be easy and you'd think I want it to be easy,'' he said.
"But if it was easy that would mean one guy wasn't playing well. If that was the case we wouldn't be very good because you never know when you're going to need your number two.
"So I'm excited that they're both playing well.''
Kiffin wasn't exactly excited about the offense in the last scrimmage. But after reviewing the video he didn't feel as disappointed as he had initially.
"(Immediately) Afterwards I thought offensively we really got beat physically and mentally,'' he said.
"After watching the film it was not really a physical issue. The guys were playing with good effort. It was mental.
"It was the first time we'd gone out and had that many penalties and a bunch of missed assignments. There were three times as many missed assignments as the Saturday before.''
Strong Finish: The squad sent the boss off the practice field happy after a hot, physical session Monday.
Both the first and second offenses were successful in a kill-the-clock drill. The first offense scored on several nice Montario Hardesty runs. The second offense got a long run from Tauren Poole and ended with Stephens in the victory formation.
"Just like when a game comes to an end, you've got to do things when you're really tired in the fourth quarter,'' Kiffin said. "It was a good lesson for our defense and good to see from our offense.''
Freshman back David Oku and defensive tackle Andre Mathis showed spirit when they scuffled after a collision. Both were sent on a lap around the field.