Tennessee will begin spring practice at quarterback much like it did last season: Jonathan Crompton will get the opening nod.
After that, things will be much different than a year ago when Crompton was deemed the starter without an open competition.
“We are going to go in evenly, Jonathan will go (number) one, Nick (Stephens) will go two and B.J. (Coleman) will go three based on seniority, and we will see what these guys can do,” UT quarterbacks coach David Reaves said Wednesday on The News Sentinel’s radio show, The Sports Page. “One of those guys will be the leader of this team.”
UT’s coaches aren’t going to place a timeline on when they’ll name a starter, but Reaves wants one Vol to lead the pack as soon as possible.
“I like to have a guy, and I think our team likes to have a guy — a guy they can rally behind, a guy they can work with in the summer,” Reaves said.
That’s a bit of a departure from Reaves’ past. The 30-year-old spent the last five seasons at South Carolina under Steve Spurrier, a coach who can go through quarterbacks faster than visors.
Reaves believes that the nuances of the game and chemistry among offensive players is best mastered with a clear-cut starter.
UT certainly didn’t have that last year. Crompton started the season, gave way to Stephens, who then lost the job back to Crompton until both faltered enough for Coleman to step in.
All that contributed to a 5-7 season and a coaching change.
Indecisiveness was readily apparent for all three quarterbacks. It’s up to Reaves and UT’s offensive coaches to eliminate second-guessing among their quarterbacks.
“Coverage reads are going to be very important for these guys,” Reaves said, “but we are going to keep it very simple so they can excel and gain some confidence.”
Simple doesn’t mean easy when UT opens spring practice March 10. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will see to that.
“They are going to see a lot of different scrimmages that they haven’t seen before, and Coach Kiffin does a great job disguising coverages. So I think this spring is going to be great for us just to be able to read defenses and make great decisions,” said Reaves, who was a three-year starting quarterback at Appalachian State.
A productive spring could be a key to restoring confidence.
After a dismal season, who could blame UT’s three quarterbacks for lacking confidence? After four offensive coordinators in five years, who could blame them for feeling unsure?
Restoring confidence is goal No. 1.
“I think that is big,” Reaves said. “Everywhere I have gone people are saying, ‘You have to find a quarterback. You have to find a quarterback.’
“These guys got beat up pretty bad last year, but that’s going to happen when you have a 5-7 season. The quarterback, I tell them, it is a roller coaster ride of emotion and we have to stay even keel.
“But I think all these guys are excited. It is a new beginning for all of them. They are looking forward to this new offense. They are working hard. The guys have bought in.
“Like Coach (Lane) Kiffin said in the past when he first got to USC, none of those quarterbacks were Heisman Trophy candidates but they coached them and they bought into the system and got great players around them and they all had great careers.”
With Reaves, Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, UT has plenty of offensive experience.
Reaves, however, will be at the point.
As UT’s first sole quarterback coach in recent history, Reaves has the luxury to work on the finer details of quarterbacking without having a coordinator’s responsibilities.
“There are just so many little things that you can work with these guys: footwork, headwork, shoulder position, the mental aspects of the game, dealing with preparation, all the little things,” Reaves said. “The coordinator has so many things on his mind as far as putting the game plan together, having a (practice) script, all the organizational things that go along with being an O.C.
“As a position coach my whole thing is to get these guys to get ready to play on Saturdays.”
The question is: Just who will Reaves be getting ready for Sept. 5 when UT plays host Western Kentucky?
“I think we are going to see one or two people that are going to step above the pack,” he said. “We will see what happens when the bullets are flying and you see four guys rushing.
“There are some guys that hit everything during 7-on-7’s, and then you rush four linemen and get some corners blitzing and they don’t know what to do. I am looking forward to seeing what these guys do when the pads are on.”