Doubters inspire Crompton

As a Tennessee football fan, at some point during the past two months you've probably uttered a variation of the phrase: "If someone can just come through at quarterback ..."

If so, you've unwittingly helped motivate Jonathan Crompton. After a redshirt season and two years as a little-used backup to Erik Ainge, Crompton understands that some Vol fans are uncertain about him. It's OK. He relishes that uncertainty ... feeds off it, in fact.

"I love it when people say the main question mark is the quarterback," he said, flashing a confident grin. "They can think that, and I'll be ready to go. That's all that counts."

Crompton doesn't mind having to prove himself to Vol fans. He doesn't even mind having to prove himself to Vol coaches. The first depth chart of the spring listed the pecking order at quarterback this way:

Jonathan Crompton (Jr., 6-4, 220) OR

Nick Stephens (So., 6-4, 215) OR

B. J. Coleman (Fr., 6-3, 210)

As the only quarterback on the roster who has thrown a pass in a college game, Crompton surely expected to be No. 1 on the spring depth chart. Still, the fact he is bracketed with two guys who have never taken a snap in a college game doesn't make him mad. It simply makes him even more determined.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "Little things that people wouldn't think motivate players do motivate them. People can question the quarterback position but I know my abilities and I know what I'm going to do.

"I know what our whole team is going to do. I've been around here three years and I know these guys, and we're all ready to go.

Like most heralded high school players, Crompton enrolled at college expecting to make an immediate splash. A shoulder surgery short-circuited his freshman year of 2005, however. By the time he had fully recovered, the coaching staff had decided Ainge was the present and Crompton was the future.

Now, after a three-year wait that must've seemed like three decades, the future has arrived for Jonathan Crompton.

"It's been a long time coming," he conceded. "But I wouldn't trade my time here for anything because of the experiences I've had and the things I've been through with the team. We've been through 5-6, which was hard, then bouncing back and all the adversity we faced (after lopsided early-season losses at Florida and Alabama) last year.

"It's been a long-time wait but it's finally here, and we're going to have fun with it."

The first thing David Cutcliffe did upon becoming Tennessee's offensive coordinator in 2006 was alter Ainge's mechanics. New OC Dave Clawson has not suggested any changes in Crompton's mechanics, however.

"No, and I'm kind of glad he hasn't," Crompton said. "I was brought up with my dad and my high school coach teaching me the fundamentals, and apparently they've done a pretty good job."

When Cutcliffe announced in December that he was resigning as UT's coordinator to accept the top job at Duke, Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer launched a pains-taking search for a successor. Big Orange fans grew restless as the process went on and on but Crompton says he never panicked.

"I knew Coach Fulmer was going to get the best coach possible," he said. "I had all the confidence in the world in him and trusted he'd do it. And he did. He told me, 'I'm going to get the best guy for you and our system.' Once he told me that, I could concentrate on getting better – watching more film and learning more about the game. Then, when the new coach got here, go to work."

The "new coach" will put Crompton under intense scrutiny when practice resumes next week following spring break. What specifically is the new coordinator looking for in his young quarterback?

"The ability to run the offense, be a leader in the huddle and to get us into the right plays," Clawson said. "As much as technique and reads are involved, I want him to develop a big-picture understanding of what we're trying to get done. Part of that comes from reading coverages but part of it comes from the ability to manage the different sets we're going to be in."

Crompton got virtually no chance to show what he could do last fall, completing 7 of 12 passes for 97 yards in mostly mop-up duty. He produced enough impressive showings in scrimmages, however, to convince many observers he's the Vols' best option at quarterback. Now he just has to convince the coaches.

"Obviously, it'll all be played out on the field," Fulmer said, "but Jonathan right now would be our quarterback."

Clawson essentially echoed those sentiments.

"He's played behind Erik for a couple of years," the coordinator said. "This is his opportunity to compete for it, and there will be competition for it. But he's the guy with the most experience."

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