Aug. 21, 2009
BY DREW EDWARDS
When it comes to naming a starting quarterback, Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin admits he's pretty far behind schedule. Then he grins.
Asked after practice on Thursday when he wants to name a starter at quarterback, Kiffin's response was immediate.
"Six months ago," Kiffin said with a smile. "That's what I would have liked. As soon as it shows, it shows."
Saturday afternoon will be the biggest test so far to see who shows up. And the most realistic one, too.
The Vols, who have tried to simulate game conditions during their previous two fall camp scrimmages, are going a little further Saturday.
First, they'll walk to the stadium, taking the same route they'll use for Vol Walk before the Western Kentucky game on Sept. 5. The pregame warm-ups and music will be the same. So will the amount of time the team spends in the locker room. They'll even begin the proceedings at 12:21 p.m., the same time as kickoff for Western Kentucky.
Every aspect of Saturday's scrimmage will be the same as it will for the season opener. Well, almost every aspect.
"Everything will be the same, except we'll be short about 100,000 (fans) and won't have a band," Kiffin quipped.
The game day simulation will extend to the scrimmage itself.
And while Saturday's scrimmage is vital for the entire roster, the game day effects will definitely be felt most by the quarterbacks.
Kiffin, a presence in the offensive huddle throughout spring practice and fall camp, will be on the sidelines Saturday, and UT's assistants will either be on the sidelines or the press box. And instead of Kiffin's voice calling plays in the huddle, it'll be quarterbacks Nick Stephens' and Jonathan Crompton's show to run between the lines.
The most important aspect of Saturday's performance for the quarterbacks will be how they manage game conditions. Both Crompton and Stephens started six games last season, but they'll be running an entirely new system on Saturday.
"They have to manage the huddle, and they have to manage the offense," Kiffin said. "That will be a challenge for them, doing it without any assistance. Making sure everybody's lined up, making sure the call's right, getting the wristbands flipped. This is a pretty big terminology offense. In the end a lot of times, the decision has been made on who's the smarter quarterback, and (who) makes the smarter decision ends up beating the guy out. It'll be great to see Saturday." To prepare for Saturday's scrimmage, Stephens said that Kiffin has been moving away from the huddle some in practice and letting the quarterbacks announce the play in the huddle. The Vols have also starting using signals as well.
"It's not going to be a real drastic change," Stephens said. "The signals, we're coming up with on our own, and I think that's going to help us remember them. I think we've got them down already. Once we get the signals rolling, it won't take long. We're used to learning signals and stuff. It won't be that big of a change for us." But it will still be a big day.
Kiffin said Thursday that he wants to have a starter by game week, which gives Stephens and Crompton a week at most from Saturday's scrimmage to distinguish themselves.
For Stephens, at least, he'll concern himself with the starting job after Saturday.
"I've got to keep doing what I'm doing. I had a pretty good day last Saturday and the Saturday before," Stephens said. "Once you start thinking about it too much, that's when you're going to try to do too much and force balls and not play well. "I'm going to worry what's going to happen after the scrimmage. There's no point in doing it now. They haven't said when they're going to name a starter. I think both of us are just trying to play football right now, and whatever happens, happens."
Reach Drew Edwards at email@example.com.