A rocky start ... a Rocky finish

What Tennessee's No. 1 quarterback did last weekend was akin to a boxer suffering a first-round knockdown, then winning every round thereafter.

After throwing three interceptions in Spring Scrimmage No. 2 one week earlier, junior Jonathan Crompton had to be frustrated when his fourth pass of Scrimmage No. 3 was picked off and returned 21 yards Saturday at Neyland Stadium. His intended receiver had run the wrong route but Crompton compounded the mistake by trying to salvage a play that was doomed to fail.

Fortunately for the immediate future of Vol football, the young quarterback got off the canvas at this point and showed the toughness of Rocky Balboa. He threw 18 more passes – completing 15 with zero interceptions – to finish 17 of 22 for 146 yards. Figuratively speaking, his performance may not have been a knockout but it was at least a unanimous decision.

"I think we leave this scrimmage feeling really great about what he did if you take away a bad play," offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said. "But how many football games can you say, ‘Boy, we would've won the game (except for that one play).' We've got to eliminate that one play."

The 6-4, 220-pound Crompton has more physical ability than any Vol quarterback since fellow North Carolinian Heath Shuler. After a redshirt year and two years backing up Erik Ainge, Crompton also has adequate levels of maturity and experience.

All he needs is to make the transition from gunslinger to field general. He took some strides in that direction Saturday, although one of his earliest strides was a mis-step.

"It's one thing to know the plays and it's one thing to have physical talent to make the throws," Clawson said. "But it's another thing at the quarterback position to be able to manage the game for 60 to 80 snaps per game. That's what he's learning to do. That's why every time we come out here (in a game-type situation) and he gets 50 to 60 snaps, that's great for him."

Although Crompton turned things around after the interception, the turnaround wasn't immediate. His fifth pass was dropped and his sixth was completed for a loss of a yard. Thus, the stat line for his first two possessions on Saturday showed 3 completions in 6 attempts for 24 yards with an interception.

Something must have clicked at this point because Crompton was near perfect the rest of the day, completing 14 of his last 16 passes. One of the two incompletions was an intentional throw-away under heavy pressure. Clawson found the throw-away very encouraging.

"Sometimes, playing quarterback your smarts have to take over for instinct," the coordinator said. "It's the nature of a competitor that you want to make a play, you never give up and you fight to the end. But sometimes, at quarterback, you've just got to cut your losses.

"There's times that it was second-and-10 and it was a good play (throwing the ball away). We took a shot at something deep; it wasn't there, so we got rid of it and played the next play. A week ago we forced some things that weren't there."

The fact Crompton has not thrown an interception in his last 18 pass attempts – after throwing four in the previous 22 attempts – is a very positive development. Clawson was understandably pleased.

"It is a work in progress – it's not where it needs to be – but I feel we got better from last week to this week," the coordinator said. "As long as that process keeps going, we have a chance."

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