Vols' volatile situation

Nothing can divide a football team and destroy a football season quicker than a quarterback controversy. Tennessee's staff learned that lesson in 2005, when a team ranked No. 3 in preseason limped home 5-6.

That's why Vol coaches are understandably concerned about having another unstable QB situation this fall. Ineffective first-teamer Jonathan Crompton is battling to keep his job, while rifle-armed second-teamer Nick Stephens is battling to take it.

Will the '08 team come unraveled, as happened to the '05 team? That may depend on how much Jonathan Crompton resembles Rick Clausen.

Clausen, you may recall, started at quarterback in the 2005 Florida game but generated just seven points. Informed that Erik Ainge would start the following week at LSU, Clausen was all set to quit the team until several teammates dissuaded him.

The ensuing Clausen-Ainge controversy divided Tennessee's coaching staff, Tennessee's players and Tennessee's fans. No longer functioning as a team, the Big Orange split into pro-Clausen and pro-Ainge camps, and a once-promising season went down the toilet.

So, how is Crompton handling the news that Stephens will get some snaps this weekend against Northern Illinois and may even get the starting nod?

"Jonathan is disappointed, but I think he's disappointed in how he's played," offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said. "He wants to do well. I mean, he's taken a lot of criticism, and it's part of the nature of the beast. If you're the quarterback or the coordinator or the head coach at Tennessee, you're going to be criticized when you don't perform well."

And, make no mistake, Crompton has not performed well. He is completing just 52 percent of his passes. He has thrown twice as many interceptions (4) as touchdowns (2). In last weekend's 14-12 loss at Auburn he was 8 of 23 for 67 yards. He has not performed anywhere near an SEC level. Still, Clawson isn't ready to throw him under the bus.

"The kid is a great kid," the coordinator said. "He loves Tennessee, he loves Tennessee football and he's worked extremely hard for a number of years. I'm sure he's as disappointed as anybody that it's not going better."

Clawson's reluctance to bench his starting QB also is based on practice performance. Crompton's vision and decision-making apparently are much better Monday through Friday than they are on Saturday.

"In practice he's done a great job with it," Clawson said. "That's probably been one of the most frustrating aspects of it is that. Usually there's not a hundred-percent carryover, but practice performance more times than not will lead to a good game performance.

"Jonathan in practice has been excellent. He's really taken care of the ball well. The ball's going where it should when it should. For the most part, it's been on time.

"We obviously haven't translated that to Saturdays."

That's why the Vols may be headed for another quarterback controversy.

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