A guy who started the first four games but scarcely left the bench the past six weeks is back in the saddle again.
Welcome to the Tennessee football soap opera "As The Quarterback Turns." There's plenty of drama, but casting problems have rendered the show a total flop.
"This is as far from an ideal quarterback situation as you can have," Vol offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said this week.
Upon assuming dominion over Tennessee's offense last spring, Clawson basically handed the QB job to fourth-year junior Jonathan Crompton, giving him most of the practice reps in spring ball and in preseason. When Crompton failed to carry the show, going 1-3 as the starter, the producers decided to introduce a new male lead.
As Clawson noted: "When you invest that many reps in a guy in preseason and spring football and it doesn't go well, that's a difficult situation."
The word "difficult" doesn't begin to describe UT's situation. Sophomore Nick Stephens succeeded Crompton but went 2-4 in his six starts. His most recent performance was his worst – 9 passes, 3 completions, 2 interceptions (1 returned for a touchdown, the other returned to the Vol 4-yard line to set up a TD).
Stephens' play vs. Wyoming in Game 10 was so bad that he has been demoted from No. 1 to No. 3 on the depth chart. Crompton has moved up from No. 2 to No. 1 and redshirt freshman B. J. Coleman from No. 3 to No. 2.
To characterize the Vols' 2008 quarterback situation as a mess would be too kind. It has been an absolute nightmare.
"The whole time you just wanted one of these guys to separate himself and pull the thing away," Clawson said. "Not one of them ever really separated enough that you could eliminate another one, so two guys got all the reps."
As a result, 10 games into the season, Tennessee still doesn't know who its best quarterback is.
"These guys have been competing all along," Clawson noted. "They're competing more at this point in the season than they should be competing. If you're playing well, moving the ball and winning games, you don't deal with these issues."
Asked if he could remember another season in which his QB situation was so unsettled, Clawson nodded.
"Yep," he said. "And those aren't good seasons. I've been through it before and, hopefully, I'll never go through it again."
Although poor play by the offensive line and wide receivers also has contributed significantly to UT's 3-7 record, those positions have been overshadowed by the glaring deficiency at quarterback.
"With the way defenses play now, it is very, very difficult to win football games without good quarterback play," Clawson said. "If you look at who is really having great seasons in the SEC this year, what's the one constant with those teams? You've got a Heisman Trophy winner (Florida's Tim Tebow). You've got one of the best quarterbacks in the country with (Georgia's Matthew) Stafford and you've got a three-year starter in (Alabama's John Parker) Wilson.
"Any time you put on their film, they are consistently making good decisions, taking care of the football and making plays. There's a reason those are the top three teams in the conference right now; they're getting very good play from their quarterbacks right now."
And there's a reason Tennessee is the bottom team in the league right now. The Vols have gotten awful play from their quarterbacks.
As Clawson noted: "That's been one of my disappointments this year ... that I have not gotten my quarterbacks to play better."
Tennessee ranks dead last among the 12 SEC teams in completion percentage (49.0), passing touchdowns (7) and pass efficiency. The Vols are 11th in passing yards. Still, Clawson says poor play at quarterback isn't totally to blame.
"I think part of the reason we have not been in sync all year is that we have not been settled at quarterback," he said. "But we've also played four different tailbacks. We've had injuries at the receiver position. You don't develop a good passing game by mixing and matching parts all the time.
"Any good quarterback has a go-to receiver that he has a comfort level with, and they can make throws blind. We're not like that. We're still working to get there. We've got two more shots to make it look good, and that's what we're working to do."