Although inept quarterback play was a key reason Tennessee limped home 5-7 in 2008, new head coach Lane Kiffin does not seem overly concerned by the absence of a QB in the 2009 signing class.
"We may not take a quarterback in this class, and I'm OK with that," he said during a Saturday news conference. "I don't want to take a quarterback that's going to come here and not going to meet our expectation level for what we're looking for."
Kiffin's expectation level at the QB position is high, and understandably so. He was spoiled during his days as an aide at Southern Cal because the Trojans were led by Carson Palmer, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2002, and Matt Leinart , who claimed the award in 2004. If Kiffin expects to sign a quarterback who approaches that level of excellence, he may have to wait another year.
"We're looking for great players," the new coach said, "and we're looking for players that can take us to a championship level. We're not into settling for guys just because it's our first year and we can't go get certain guys. We're shooting at the top."
For the most part, Tennessee's holdover quarterbacks spent 2008 shooting blanks. Junior Jonathan Crompton completed just 51.5 percent of his throws en route to a 98.13 passer-efficiency rating. Nick Stephens completed a mere 48.5 percent with a 108.28 passer-efficiency rating. B. J. Coleman completed four of eight throws in limited duty with a 47.05 rating.
After reviewing film of the returning QBs, however, Kiffin is not ready to do a front one-and-one-half off the Gay Street Bridge.
"We think that we have some good quarterbacks on the roster here," he said. "I have looked at some of the film just to get a feel for who they are athletically and the way they throw the ball."
None of the three QBs performed well in the West Coast system Tennessee tried to play in 2008 but Kiffin isn't concerned about that. They'll be playing in a different system – his – in 2009.
"I'm not evaluating them as far as the system they were in," he said. "I don't know what they were told on a daily basis. I don't know the expectation level or what they were taught. I think it's unfair to evaluate them on how they've played so far.
"I don't care what's happened before with them ... just like all our players. We have a completely new system, schematically. Spring will be huge for these guys....The quarterbacks will have a really, really big battle this spring."