Why not start B.J.?

The quarterback play has been abysmal. The season is lost. The head coach is on his way out. Given all of the above, one question has reverberated throughout Big Orange Country all week:

Why not start B. J. Coleman Saturday against Vanderbilt?

The rationale is obvious: The redshirt freshman from Chattanooga surely can do no worse that junior Jonathan Crompton, who went 1-3 starting in Games 1 through 4, and sophomore Nick Stephens, who went 2-4 starting in Games 5 through 10.

Compton has completed just 50.6 percent of his passes with more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (3). Stephens has completed a mere 48.5 percent, with two of his three interceptions returned for touchdowns and the third returned to the Vol 4-yard line to set up a TD.

Given how poorly Crompton and Stephens have played, you figure the coaching staff must have had zero confidence in Coleman. How else would you explain the fact that his varsity action this year consists of two fourth-quarter hand-offs in a 34-3 blitz of Mississippi State?

Coleman finally got a chance to show what he could do last week, and he turned some heads. The 6-3, 210-pounder completed 22 of 31 passes for 325 yards in guiding the Vol junior varsity to a 37-21 defeat of Hargrave Military Academy.

With Coleman suddenly emerging as a viable alternative to Crompton and Stephens, the obvious question was directed to offensive coordinator Dave Clawson:

Why not start B.J. Coleman Saturday against Vanderbilt?

"You still have to approach it as 'What is the best way to win the football game?'" Clawson replied, hedging a bit by adding: "It might be playing B.J. Coleman. If that's what it is, then we're going to do it."

Whereas many Vol fans have seen enough of Crompton and Stephens to figure Coleman can't be any worse, Clawson is unwilling to make that assumption.

"It's very popular to be the backup quarterback when the starter isn't playing well," the coordinator said. "You make a change because it's going to make it better. The way B.J. has practiced lately, and the way he played in the (JV) game the other day, that might very well be the case."

Head coach Phillip Fulmer, who has lost his job because of Tennessee's offensive ineptitude this fall, says Crompton will start vs. Vandy but that Coleman will get some snaps in a backup role.

"The truth of it is we haven't done very well consistently, and there's no reason not to try anything that's available out there," he said. "B.J. will get his opportunities throughout the game and we'll see what happens."

Considering how awful UT's quarterback play has been, you wonder why Coleman had to wait until Game 11 to get a chance.

"I think B.J. has really improved since the beginning of the year," Clawson explained. "Certainly, the job he did in the JV game was impressive, and I think he deserves an opportunity."

Asked what he liked most about Coleman's play vs. Hargrave, the Vol aide replied: "The timing of his throws. He made some plays with his feet. I thought he threw the ball accurately.

"He and Ahmad Paige on some of those comeback (routes) the ball was right on time and he used good footwork. On some of his naked bootlegs he avoided a defensive end and found a throwing lane. The ball he threw on the run to Tyler Maples in the back of the end zone was a real impressive throw on the run.

"He's been improving all year, and I think he's a lot further along right now than he was Week 1 or Week 2. He's a lot more ready to take a snap now than he was 10 weeks ago."

Fulmer agreed that Coleman's rise to No. 2 on the depth chart was a season-long process and not a reaction to his sterling performance against Hargrave.

"It's not just because of the JV game," the head man said. "Hargrave's a good prep school but that was not an SEC defense. He did some good things – I'm not taking anything away from him – but you don't go from here (prep school competition) to way over there (SEC competition)."

Still, Fulmer conceded that Coleman "gives us some things that perhaps will be better than what we've gotten."

Although Coleman may be the future of the quarterback position at Tennessee, Fulmer is more concerned with winning the last two games of 2008 than resolving the quarterback issue for 2009.

"That's exactly right," the head man said. "The next guy can figure that out."

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