A pair of offensive units worked simultaneously on both ends of the field.
The first-team group operated with the same quarterback it’s had all season, but with interchangeable parts surrounding him.
At the other end, a backup kept plugged away for a job that might be the only one aside from Eric Berry’s that Tennessee hasn’t officially opened since the season started.
Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens were almost literally worlds apart again as practice started for Saturday’s game with Auburn (TV: ESPN, 7:45 p.m.), and barring injury, their roles aren’t likely to change no matter how well the latter performs during the week. The hard part for Stephens is making sure that doesn’t change the way the backup actually does perform.
“I try not to think about that,” Stephens said. “I’m just trying to think about what I can do to improve myself as a football player. I’m not worried about everything else that’s going on around me right now.
“Of course it’s not going to be easy, but you’ve just got to rise above that and just try to stay in a positive manner and help the team, even if it’s not a game. That’s what I’ve been doing, and I’m going to continue to do that. If I get a chance, I’m going to do the best I can to help the team.”
That opportunity doesn’t appear to be coming any time soon, regardless of how much the Vols might be struggling in the passing game.
Only one team in the country has thrown more interceptions than UT’s eight, and all of them belong to Crompton. They’ve come from batted balls, bad decisions and a couple overthrows, but for now his job is safe and coach Lane Kiffin doesn’t have any plans to take it away.
The Vols aren’t going to split the workload either, which is as much a product of their youth at receiver as the belief that Crompton is their best option.
“(Stephens) does not get very many reps because of the receivers,” Kiffin said. “If we had a veteran quarterback, who played a lot for us and our receivers had played a lot and were playing really well, you can give your backup quarterback more reps. But as we continue to try to develop our cohesiveness … we can’t afford to give a bunch of reps to the backup.
“Our expectations for Nick (are) to continue to do a great job, prepare as a starter — like we want all our players to do, but especially at that position because he’s one snap away from going in there. It’s so important for our guys to maximize their reps … because you never know what’s going to happen, never know when they’re going to be in a big-time game having to make plays for us.”
For Stephens that would likely take an injury to Crompton, and for all of his issues, durability hasn’t been one this season.
But if for some reason it became one, Stephens has kept himself ready no matter which group he has practiced with.
“I’m just trying to be as positive as I can be right now,” he said. “These coaches have a plan and they’re doing what they feel is best for the team. Personally, I’m just working as hard as I can to try to get better.”
He’s just doing it at the other end of the field, still waiting for a chance to work when it really matters again.