Will UT Pass on QB?

With soon to be four-year starter Erik Ainge entering his senior season on The Hill, UT's coaching staff appears to be comfortable with the idea that his successor is on campus in the form of Jonathan Crompton, Nick Stephens or B.J. Coleman.

To this point in the recruiting process, the Vols have offered only two scholarships to signal callers from the Class of 2008. The first of those went to D.C. Jefferson of Winter Haven, Fla., a 6-foot-6, 241-pound quarterback with loads of raw athleticism, a powerful right arm and a steep learning curve. He impressed scouts, media and onlookers with his size and strength at the national junior combine in San Antonio last January, but he also had receivers counting to make sure all their fingers were still attached. Nonetheless, his resemblance to LSU QB and No. 1 draft choice JaMarcus Russell was uncanny, and the Mobile, Ala., native went through a long learning process before fine tuning his arm and harnessing his deep reservoir of natural talent.

UT was Jefferson's early favorite, and the four-star prospect would have made an ideal project for a coach of David Cutcliffe's impressive credentials to develop, but now D.C. appears to be a strong Rutgers lean with fading interest in Tennessee, Florida, Florida State, LSU and Auburn. He has made unofficial visits to each of those schools which makes a dramatic shift in his position less likely. However he is still at least technically in play.

Tennessee's second offer also went out to a Sunshine State signal caller — Casey Kelly of Sarasota. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound taskmaster is also a flame-thrower on the mound and he hurled a two-hit shutout in the Class-6A state title game last spring.

His versatility makes Kelly a problematical football prospect as he is sure to be taken in the annual Major League Baseball draft next June. He could decide to sign with a Major League club then, or enter college and become eligible for the draft again after his junior season. He has talked of playing both sports, which is always tougher than it sounds, especially for a quarterback.

Otherwise, Kelly is the type of talent a college could fast track into a starting position. He has 4.6 speed and connected on 57 percent of his passes for 1,809 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior at Sarasota. Tennessee is contending with Alabama, Cincinnati, Mississippi, North Carolina, Rutgers and South Florida.

As things currently stand he doesn't have a favorite among those schools. Neither does he have a favorite between football and baseball, and if he signs a football scholarship he'll likely insist on playing baseball, too. That, and the fact he might leave as a junior three years, makes him less attractive to colleges. On the plus side, he could provide immediate help on the diamond.

It's much harder for a true freshman to make that leap to quarterback, and usually, it is the result of exigent circumstances. Such uncommon conditions have existed at UT three times under Phillip Fulmer — 1994, 2000 and 2004. That shouldn't be the case next year with Crompton in the system three years, Stephens two years and Coleman one. However only Crompton has a start and he also stepped in for an injured Ainge against LSU and led the Vols to 24 points in three quarters against what was arguably the top defense in the country.

He should have the inside track on the No. 1 job next spring, although he will have strong competition. The Waynesville, N.C., native was ranked the nation's No. 2 signal caller in 2005, while Stephens was ranked No. 11 in 2006. Coleman was ranked No. 16 in 2007 and may have been underrated there.

Clearly quarterback isn't in need of a quick fix and the Vols will be very selective about any QB prospect they sign. Besides when you have the depth UT has it's difficult to sign a top tier talent.

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