It didn't take long for Montario Hardesty to learn something about Tennessee's quarterbacks this spring.
From the first day of practice nearly three weeks ago, Hardesty saw a difference, especially in senior Jonathan Crompton.
"The first practice he came out looking miles ahead of where he was at this time last year," Hardesty said. "He looks like a different quarterback right now."
Hardesty isn't the only one who has noticed Crompton, either.
Following Saturday's practice in which the Vols ran about 120 scrimmage plays at Haslam Field, first-year coach Lane Kiffin singled out Crompton as one of the day's best performers.
"I thought Jonathan Crompton played extremely well at quarterback," Kiffin said. "He's making really good decisions with the ball, very few turnovers, getting the ball where it should be and handling the offense. When he's in there, he seems to have very good control of what's going on with the offense."
For the Vols, a different Crompton is a decidedly good thing.
Last year, he struggled out of the gate and finished the year with 889 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions in eight games. UT's quarterbacks, Crompton included, had difficulty making reads last year and struggled to get rid of the ball on time.
This spring, though, Crompton has looked sharp with the football - and much more comfortable under center. Maybe that's because he feels more comfortable.
"Just having fun out here playing ball," Crompton said. "That's the big thing, just letting our reads make the decision for us instead of making the decision really for ourselves and trying to force it.
"If we see it, we see it; if we don't, we don't. That's one of the things I really like about this offense now. I let my keys make all my reads for me. I'm having fun with these guys. I'm getting great protection from the o-line, receivers are making plays for us. That's all you can really ask for right now."
As spring practice continues, though, more will be asked of Crompton and his fellow quarterbacks.
"We've just got to keep getting better in everything that we do," quarterbacks coach David Reaves said. "Decision-making is vital. And timing. Now we've really got to start getting into placement of the ball on different routes, upfield shoulder, back-shoulder throws. We got into some red zone this week and the guys responded well."
Junior Nick Stephens should re-enter the competition at quarterback in earnest next week. On Saturday, he threw some passes downfield, but his injured right wrist still won't permit snaps from center.
B.J. Coleman and Crompton have taken the majority of snaps so far, and on Saturday those snaps were essentially live ones.
"They're not totally live as far as when they're scrambling around and things like that," Reaves said. "We didn't put a (non-contact) shirt on them to protect them. Obviously the guys on defense are doing a good job of holding them up. But those guys have got to be able to play with the live bullets coming at them. They've responded well to it."
That approach makes the success even better, said Coleman, who took a tumble after completing a screen pass.
"When you come into this right here prepared with high intensity and high energy and you're playing live and things go good for you that day, you're sitting there feeling real polished," Coleman said. "You feel good. You feel like you're ready to go for what the coach has to offer you next. And it's going to get us prepared for the fall."
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.