New coach Lane Kiffin said both of his scholarship quarterbacks will receive equal repetitions to prove themselves when Tennessee opens preseason camp on Aug. 3.
That, however, might not last long.
“I want to have one,” Kiffin said Tuesday during UT’s annual preseason press conference. “I don’t believe in rotating quarterbacks.
“The quarterback needs to be a leader of your offense. He needs to have a rhythm. Quarterbacks don’t operate well under pressure feeling they’re going to get pulled all the time … You worry about effort and loafs at other positions. That doesn’t happen at quarterback.”
Playing just one quarterback would be welcome news for those who saw senior Jonathan Crompton and junior Nick Stephens jockey for playing time throughout the 2008 season. It didn’t take a football savant to determine that all of the changes had an adverse effect on UT’s already struggling offense.
“Your team has to have a rhythm about them,” Kiffin said. “If you switch quarterbacks, the cadence is different, the huddle is different. You never create a real rhythm.”
Kiffin said the lack of consistency is evident in a typical practice.
“When you change quarterbacks in practice, there’s not a rhythm very much,” he said. “Also your team doesn’t play as fast. You can’t play really fast with two different cadences.”
In some ways, playing fast means cheating — but not getting caught.
“The great linemen — when they get good in this system — are moving actually before the ball is even snapped when you look at it in slow motion,” Kiffin said.
If done perfectly, officials are rarely aware of UT’s head start in zone blocking.
“They don’t call it because they can’t tell; it happens so fast,” Kiffin said. “When you have two different cadences, they never get used to it and you increase your (false start) penalties.”
Kiffin’s quarterbacks have had to overcome some bruises, both physical and emotional.
Stephens missed most of spring practice and a month of the off-season with a broken hand/wrist.
“I think you can improve a lot in the off-season,” Kiffin said. “I haven’t been able to watch these guys for two months. I guarantee you guys have passed guys up (on the depth chart) the way they have worked out this off-season.
Kiffin spent much of the off-season trying to build Crompton back up after a rough season in 2008.
“It’s like a bad relationship; He’s hurt,” Kiffin said. “You can tell when things go bad a little bit with him, that he kind of freezes up a little bit because he’s been beat up so long here.
“I’ve worked very hard getting him out of that … to understand we’re not worried about what happened before, just like with everybody else. We’re focused on the future. I think he’s getting a lot better with that.”
No matter who wins the starting job, Kiffin will be guarding either quarterback.
“They understand that I’m going to protect them,” Kiffin said. “Quarterback is different from everybody else. I’m going to protect them the way I call the game and the way I talk to the media. I got their back.
“They need to understand that. Bad things are going to happen. I’ll take the heat for it when it does happen.”