KNOXVILLE — It’s a long way from September, but Nick Stephens and B.J. Coleman have a long way to go in Tennessee’s starting quarterback competition.
Those were coach Phillip Fulmer’s thoughts Thursday evening, at least.
Fulmer said after practice that rising fourth-year junior Jonathan Crompton “will quite likely be our quarterback. Not ‘quite likely’: (Crompton) will be our quarterback, unless something really drastic happens.”
One of the nation’s most highly ranked prospects in 2005, Crompton backed up Erik Ainge the past two seasons. He played nearly all of UT’s 28-24 loss to LSU in 2006 and started the following week in a loss at Arkansas.
A lifelong Tennessee fan from just across the border in Waynesville, N.C., Crompton — along with most of the offense — is adjusting to first-year coordinator Dave Clawson’s system, and there have been bad days. Crompton threw three interceptions in last Saturday’s scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.
“You have growing pains, but we’re starting to get over them,” Crompton said Thursday. “They’re just little speed bumps. We’re starting to get better.”
Crompton said he hasn’t put added pressure on himself his first spring atop the depth chart.
“You always want to make plays,” he said. “You never say, ‘Oh, well, this is my time now. I’ve got to make plays.’ You always want to make plays just because that’s how I’ve always been.
“You’ve just got to know when and where to do it. If the defense takes it away, throw (the ball) away. If it’s there, take it.”
Fulmer said Crompton won’t wear his green, no-contact jersey for the first 32 snaps of Saturday’s scrimmage at Neyland.
“That should increase the sense of urgency for him not to hold the ball,” Fulmer quipped.
Hardesty out for spring
Injury-plagued tailback Montario Hardesty’s latest setback will keep him out the rest of spring drills. Fulmer said Thursday that Hardesty’s lower leg injury is a stress fracture.
“It’s disappointing for everybody, but it gives us a chance to work those younger guys,” Fulmer said. “And we know he’ll be ready in the fall.”
G-gun debut on hold
The “G-Gun” package with receiver Gerald Jones at quarterback might have a place in Clawson’s offense, but not until Jones learns the new system at his primary position.
“I’m getting a lot more comfortable with this offense,” Jones said Thursday. “It’s very challenging. (David Cutcliffe’s) offense was a lot simpler. This is a lot more complex. It takes a lot of studying.”
Asked about playing quarterback, Jones said “hopefully that will happen when I learn this offense. Coach Clawson said if I can get this offense down to where I know it effectively, then we can try some of the G-Gun.”
Williams’ weight battle
Defensive tackle Dan Williams came to UT three years ago weighing 360 pounds. Last season, when he first made real contributions on Saturdays, he weighed 295.
He reported for spring practice at around 310 but claims to be halfway back to last season’s size.
“I have gained a couple of pounds in the winter,” Williams said. “It was just winter weight, but the coaches told me I need to get it off, and I will. I play better and help the team better when I have it down.
“It will be off by the start of fall camp. Johnny Long promised me.”
Long, UT’s fiery strength and conditioning coach, is well-known by the veteran players for his grueling summer workouts.
“I kind of got a little lax after the bowl game, but I’ve already lost eight of it,” Williams said. “The first practice, I felt it. I know it’s not supposed to be there. ... But it won’t be there in the fall.”
Holbert midway through
Senior fullback David Holbert has been through one of the two scheduled surgeries to repair ligament damage in his knee, according to UT sports information.
Holbert missed what would have been his senior season last fall with a torn ACL and suffered a more severe knee injury March 29 in this spring’s first major scrimmage. His cleat stuck in the Neyland Stadium grass during an open-field tackle by linebacker Rico McCoy.
Specifics on Holbert’s injury haven’t been released, but it was severe. According to UT officials, he “will undergo the second of the two procedures this summer and continue his rehabilitation after that.”
Holbert would seem to be a solid candidate to receive a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA if he can’t play this fall, because he would have missed two entire seasons to serious injuries. The Nashville native has told coaches and teammates that he plans to play again.