Given all of these obstacles, Vol coaches probably should've treated Crompton like a first-game freshman this fall. They probably should've given him a simple game plan with a simple role in it. In other words, let him crawl before asking him to walk.
Instead, Crompton was called upon to uncork 41 passes in the season opener. To put that number in perspective, consider the starting debuts of his Vol predecessors:
1994: Peyton Manning threw a mere 14 passes in his first college start, then tried 18 in each of the next two games. His season high for attempts that year was 23.
1998: Tee Martin tried just 26 passes in his starting debut and attempted only 20 in his second start two weeks later.
2000: Casey Clausen threw 24 passes in his first start and tried no more than 31 passes in any game that season.
The only Vol quarterback of recent vintage who was asked to shoulder a large share of the offensive load in his initial start was Erik Ainge in 2004. He threw 35 passes that evening, with four of them being intercepted in a 34-10 loss.
Through the first three games of '08, Crompton is averaging 33 passes per game. He has a respectable 56.0 completion percentage but has thrown twice as many interceptions (4) as touchdowns (2). His passer-efficiency rating of 104.24 ranks 13th among SEC quarterbacks. Under his guidance the Vols are 1-2 and averaging a mere 21.7 points per game.
Crompton's stats are mediocre but so were Tee Martin's during the first half of '98 ... and Vol coaches didn't expect nearly as much of Martin as they're expecting of Crompton. Tennessee's head man conceded as much when asked to compare Crompton and Martin earlier this week.
"We didn't ask Tee to do all of those things," Phillip Fulmer said.
Although some of Tennessee's fans already have given up on Crompton, Tennessee's coaches have not. They understand that evolving from The Understudy to The Guy can be tricky.
"The biggest transition going from the backup quarterback to the starter," Clawson said, "is that you've got to be able to focus – not for eight or 12 plays at a time, but for whatever the situation requires ... 60 plays per game, 80 plays per game."
Crompton's focus was outstanding in the first quarter of last Saturday's game with Florida, as he completed 7 of 8 passes for 54 yards. He struggled after Tennessee fell behind 17-0, however, losing a fumble and an interception in the second quarter.
The major knock on Crompton is his vision. He tends to lock on to one receiver, rather than seeing the entire field. Clawson concedes the point but says the quarterback is getting "a lot better" in that area.
Although Crompton has underachieved to date, the 6-4, 240-pounder has the tools to be a quality SEC quarterback in time. Time, of course, is the key word.
"I've seen quarterbacks that were just terrible ... horrendous – and I'm not saying Jonathan is that way – but I've had quarterbacks in the past that couldn't get out of their own way," Clawson said. "Then, just through playing and going through game situations, they'd emerge and become all-conference quarterbacks."
Naturally, as Crompton becomes more comfortable with Tennessee's West Coast offense he will become more adept at operating it.
"Every time he has a game under his belt I expect it to get better," Clawson said. "We learned a lot on Saturday. It was a painful lesson but we've got to take that, build on it and get better with it."
Crompton appeared to regress from his redshirt freshman year to his sophomore year. He seemed less focused and attentive to detail in 2007, probably because he knew Ainge would be taking every meaningful snap.
"I think that's human nature somewhat ... when it's not your team and you're not going to play a lot," Fulmer said. "It's hard to get second-team guards or defensive tackles to stay focused like you'd like for them to. That's human nature and immaturity."
Crompton is more mature and more focused this fall, so he should continue to improve significantly as the season progresses
"Jonathan in the last two years has started four games," Clawson noted. "There's things he's learning every game. We just need to see progress on the field."
Although Crompton has made a lot of rookie mistakes, his game management improved from Game 1 to Game 2 and from Game 2 to Game 3.
"The only way to get better is you work hard at it, do everything to correct mistakes," Clawson said. "I firmly believe it will get better.
"It HAS to."