The man expected to win the starting quarterback job at Tennessee appears to have locked it up.
Both Phillip Fulmer, during an SEC teleconference on Thursday, and his offensive coordinator Dave Clawson at a press conference the same day, said as much.
"I think that it's clear Jonathan Crompton is our starter,'' said Fulmer on the SEC teleconference. He has the experience and ability to throw the football and run the offense and the ability to escape and make plays. He has done a nice job. There are certainly areas he needs to continue to work on and improve, but he's clearly the leader of our offensive team right now."
"Nick Stephens and B.J. Coleman both are guys who have good ability and need to continue to work on all aspects of the game. They have the ability to throw the football, but still they need time and experience.''
"Jon can't worry about trying to be Erik [Ainge] or trying to be somebody else,'' said Clawson. "There are things Erik did well, but I think Jon's strengths are different. We need to do things he can be good at. He needs to make good decisions. He's going to make plays. He has outstanding arm strength and he's a good athlete who can create space for himself. His challenge is to learn he doesn't need to win the game on every play.
"His struggles with a lot of interceptions early in spring practice are well documented, but it got a little bit less as practice has gone on. The quarterback is not going to be perfect; he's going to throw picks. But there is a difference throwing a pick 55 yards downfield and others. Those aren't the throws that are going to get you beat. It's the ones inside the 20s that will. Those interceptions either take points off the board or put them on for the other team.''
Clawson said Stephens and Coleman made progress, but still are learning.
Clawson was pleased with the progress the offense has made in spring practice. It was manhandled at times by the defense, but did better as it learned the offense that Clawson put in.
"We had a good spring for a lot of young guys,'' said Clawson. "We have a veteran at running back in Arian Foster, but his snaps were limited and a lot of young guys Lennon Creer, Tauren Poole, Kevin Cooper and Austin Johnson got a lot of reps.''
The same was true at wide receiver where Lucas Taylor missed spring practice after shoulder surgery and Austin Rogers missed all but the first week with an injury. Josh Briscoe also missed practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays so he could concentrate on academics.
"Most of our receivers were either redshirt freshmen or true freshmen who will be sophomores next fall,'' noted Clawson. "Now, when the experienced guys come back I think the wide receiver position will be one of the deepest on the team.''
Gerald Jones could be a key playmaker.
"A lot of has been said about the G-Gun,'' said Clawson, referring to the package where Jones lines up as a quarterback and takes a direct snap. "But his challenge this spring was to learn to become a good receiver, to be able to read defenses and react. He has learned the split end, the flanker and slot positions and has even lined up at fullback. We need to count on him to make plays.''
Another receiver, redshirt Ahmad Paige, has also shown an ability to help.
Paige was selected as a co-recipient of the Harvey Robinson Award that goes to the most-improved offensive players. He shared it with tight end Luke Stocker. They will be recognized at the Orange & White Game in Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
Stocker is another player who got a lot of reps because of injury to a starter. Jeff Cottam broke a leg early in spring practice and Stocker has taken every snap as the starter at tight end since.
"He is learning to play 40, 50 or 60 snaps in a game as opposed to 20 or 30 plays and he has a chance to be a dynamic tight end,'' said Clawson.
The offensive line is the most established group on the offense, though Clawson said there were some problems with communication initially while the offense was being put in.
"But we got better as practice went on and, at times, we have been really, really good,'' said Clawson.
With Josh McNeil out with an injury, Anthony Parker has filled in at center. Parker will be moved back to guard when McNeil returns for fall practice, but the experience Parker has receive will prepare him to play center in the fall, if needed. Walk-on Cody Sullins has also impressed there.
Clawson said he "threw more at the offense in the spring that we will in the fall because we wanted to learn about the guys we had and what they could grasp.''
Ramon Foster has been especially outstanding at right tackle, said Clawson.
Other than the quarterback and five offensive linemen, "we will be looking to put the best other five players on the field,'' said Clawson. "The players will decide whether that includes a fullback, two tight ends or a third wide receiver, though we will need to play a little two tight ends.''
Defensively, the defensive backfield is the strength, said defensive coordinator John Chavis on Thursday.
"I expect that to be the strength of our team,'' said Chavis. "For the past two years, we have not been able to play that fifth and sixth defensive back when we have needed to, but this year I think we can. That has gotten us in some bad matchup situations in the past.''
The emergence of defensive backs has been a bright spot of spring. DeAngelo Willingham will share the Andy Spiva Award for most improved defensive player with defensive end Robert Ayers. Willingham is joined by safeties Eric Berry and Demetrice Morley and cornerbacks Dennis Rogan and Derrick Furlow as players who have turned heads in spring practice. Missing spring practice were starting cornerback Brent Vinson and part-time starters Marsalous Johnson and Antonio Gaines and when they return the depth will be even better there.
Chavis said the potential is there for this to be the best defensive backfield he has coached at Tennessee.
Chavis is also high on the play of Ayers and the other defensive end starter, Wes Brown. They give Chavis hope the Vol pass rush will be improved.
"We'll see as the season goes on, but I feel it will be much better and one reason is the play of those two guys,'' said Chavis.
It will, however, come down to the ability to stop the run. At times that was good last season and at times, very bad.
"We tended to play better there against the better running teams -- Georgia and Arkansas,'' said Chavis. "But then against Arkansas State we give up a 65 or 70-yard run and when you look back on it, your statistics in stopping the run don't look very good. We have to be more consistent there.''
Stopping the run, to a large degree, will fall on the shoulders of the linebackers. Rico McCoy has a chance to be very good and is the only returning starter there, but Chavis likes the potential of Nevin McKenzie, who is expected to start at outside linebacker opposite McCoy, and middle linebacker Ellix Wilson, who will replace Jerod Mayo. Mayo is currently listed as the top inside linebacker prospect in the upcoming NFL draft. Adam Myers-White, Savion Frazier, LaMarcus Thompson and Nick Reveiz are others expected to contribute at linebacker.
At defensive tackle, Dan Williams, Demonte' Bolden and Walter Fisher are expected to be solid players, but developing depth there will be a priority in fall practice. Victor Thomas, Chase Nelson and Donald Langley are others the staff will look to.
Saturday's Orange & White Game is set for 2:30 p.m., at Neyland Stadium. Fan Day will precede the game at 11:45 a.m., to 1 o’clock at Haslam Field, across from Stokely Center. It is being held there because of construction at Neyland Stadium will limit where fans can sit and will limit access to the field. If it rains, that activity could be cancelled. The forecast is calling for scattered showers on Saturday.
The Vol Walk begins at 1 p.m., finishing down Peyton Manning Pass with the team entering Neyland Stadium through the south tunnel because of construction in the Gate 21 area.
Fans entering the stadium should do so through Gates 1-10.
All university event parking lots are available, with the exception of Lot 9 or the G10 garage, which are reserved parking for media and donors.
Church Hill native Lloyd Carr will be presented the Gen. Robert R. Neyland Trophy on Saturday at the 2008 Awards Brunch for the East Tennessee Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame begins at 9:45 a.m. at the Foundry. The program will begin at 10 a.m.
Primary awards to be presented Carr and the Distinguished American Award will go to former SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer. In addition, amateur football awards are being presented to LaTain McGhee, Oakie Pickard, George Quarles, Gary Rankin and Bill Wilson.
Those interested in attending the brunch should contact Tyler Johnson in the UT Athletics Department at 974-1219.