Life in the spotlight

You were a High School All-American. You were a brilliant passer and a surprisingly effective runner. You were compared to first-round NFL Draft pick Heath Shuler. You were coveted by colleges throughout the U.S.

Three years later, however, you're just another quarterback trying to prove himself at the collegiate level.

Welcome to the world of Jonathan Crompton.

After an injury-induced redshirt year and two years as a little-used backup to Erik Ainge, Crompton's time in the spotlight has come. In the world of college football, however, there is no bigger transition than going from the obscurity of the No. 2 quarterback to the scrutiny of the No. 1 quarterback.

How Crompton handles that transition will be one of the primary keys to Tennessee's 2008 season.

Because of the hoopla surrounding Crompton's signing, some fans now consider him to be a dud. Others still consider him to be the second coming of Heath Shuler.

That's a lot of pressure. Offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, a former college quarterback himself, understands better than most the stress involved with being The Guy on offense.

"Whenever you're at that position – especially at a school like this that it's so talked about – you've just got to worry about getting better and not trying to meet other people's expectations," Clawson said.

Ainge threw for 8,700 career yards and set a single-season school record by completing 67 percent of his passes in 2006. Statistically, he set the bar pretty high for his successor.

"Erik had a very productive career but Jonathan can't worry about trying to be Erik or trying to be someone else," Clawson said. "There's things Erik did well, and I think Jonathan's strengths are different. We need to do things he can be good at and he needs to make good decisions."

Because he was unable to unseat Ainge the past two years, Crompton's skills are being questioned by some fans. Not by Clawson, though.

"He's going to make plays," the coordinator said. "He's got outstanding arm strength. He's a good athlete. He can create space for himself. I think his challenge is to learn that he doesn't need to win every game on every play."

Crompton showed plenty of grit this spring, rallying from a poor start to finish with spectacular performances in the last two scrimmages.

"The amount of interceptions he threw early is well documented," Clawson noted, "but it got a little bit less every week. A quarterback's not going to be perfect. He's going to throw picks but there are certain picks you can live with. If the ball's at midfield and you throw a go route and the corner makes a pick 55 yards down the field and you tackle him, those aren't the plays that are going to get you beat.

"The picks that are going to get you beat are the picks inside the 20 going both ways. Those interceptions usually take points off the board or give the other team points."

Basically, there is a fine line between aggressiveness and carelessness. Clawson wants Crompton to locate that line and stay on the proper side of it.

"There are certain times maybe you can take a chance and force one in there," the coordinator said. "And there's other times you need to cut your loss."


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