Tennessee quarterback Nick Stephens returned to practice Tuesday, slightly ahead of schedule in his recovery from a broken right wrist.
The junior had the cast removed from his throwing arm Monday, two days earlier than expected.
Stephens said the decision to speed up the process was made to get started on his rehabilitation sooner.
Stephens was limited on Tuesday, throwing only short passes to running backs.
“It’s getting better,” Stephens said. “The plan is to be full speed by next Tuesday. I’ll just progressively keep throwing more and more until it stops getting sore.”
Stephens missed the first week of practice after suffering the injury when he fell during a workout just days before the start of spring drills.
The timing couldn’t have been worse considering a new offense is being installed and an open competition is being held for the starting quarterback position.
“It’s been hard obviously,” said Stephens, who is competing with senior Jonathan Crompton and sophomore B.J. Coleman. “You see everybody get fired up. You get fired up too but you know you’re not doing everything.”
Stephens said there’s still some weakness in his wrist and his grip.
UT still has three weeks of spring practice remaining following a week off for spring break last week.
“This could not be going any better,” Stephens said. “This is going faster than I expected. To be on the field by next Tuesday gives me plenty of time to make up what I have to make up. I’m excited. I’m ready to go.”
Practice Report: UT coach Lane Kiffin said he was very pleased with UT’s defense. The offense was another matter.
“I thought they really came out ready to play, executed a bunch of new install stuff really well,” Kiffin said of his defense, “and the offense fell behind.”
Kiffin said he was displeased with UT’s offensive execution throughout practice.
“As they say ‘It’s never as bad as it seems and it’s never as good as it seems,’ ” Kiffin said. “Hopefully that will be the case (when coaches watch practice video), but I thought it was pretty bad today.”
Kiffin said UT’s offense struggled as coaches tried to implement more of their offense.
“We put a lot on them today,” Kiffin said. “You want to see them come out and execute when you put a lot of plays in.
“It just showed us we weren’t ready for it yet and we have to do a better job of coaching it.”
Kiffin said he didn’t blame last week’s spring break layoff for UT’s shortcomings.
“If you were to expect anything — which I wouldn’t — it would be that they would come back and not be very good, but one side was great,” Kiffin said. “One side brought it today … I don’t think it had anything to do with a week off.”
Kiffin said the break actually allowed players to recover from the first week of practice.
Dropsies: Dropped passes were the norm on Tuesday. Kiffin reasoned that some of the drops were caused by new passing routes that were added near the goal line, which affected UT’s rhythm.
Receiver Gerald Jones took the blame personally.
“I think I caused that,” the junior said. “I’m still mad at myself about it.”
Jones said he had the first drop then Darnius Moore let a pass slip through his fingers. Then there was another drop by Jones and at least one drop by Quinton Hancock.
Jones and Moore punished themselves by running a lap around the field and doing ten pushups for every drop. Jones turned in 20 pushups on Tuesday, which meant two drops.
“Two too many,” Jones lamented. “Two too many.”
Warren Report: Brandon Warren said he continues to feel more comfortable at receiver after having been moved there from tight end before spring practice.
“I’m doing much better at working my release coming off the ball without getting jammed up,” the junior said. “Then the top ends of my routes, I’m coming out of them a lot more sharp.”
Warren said he plans to work on his speed this summer. For now, he’s focused on battling his way through press coverage.
“It’s like a fight,” the former Alcoa High School star said. “If he (the defensive back) hits me first, I’m going to fall backwards. I’ve got to make first contact.”
Warren said he weighs 218 pounds, a weight he’s comfortable with while playing receiver.
Practice Points: Defensive end Chris Walker continued to look unstoppable. The junior had at least three tackles for a loss and a forced fumble … Coleman and center Cody Sullins fumbled a snap meaning they had to take a punishment lap around the field. … Run blocking on the right side with guard Jacques McClendon and tackle Cody Pope looked strong and helped break a few long runs.
Visitors: UT signee Marsalis Teague was at practice and plans to be in Knoxville for the rest of the week.
Several former players visited practice, including linebacker Ellix Wilson, offensive lineman Anthony Parker and defensive end Daniel Brooks. Coaches from local high schools and Western Carolina were also in attendance.
As has become a regularity, a handful of fans were lined up outside the fence to watch practice.