Looking for a leader

Naturally, first-year Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney would like to have an electrifying play-maker at quarterback. But he'll gladly settle for an astute decision-maker.

Decision-making and leadership, he believes, are the qualities that separate the winning QBs from the losing QBs.

"I think all of the good ones possess a quality of leadership about them that can rally the troops, that can make the average player look great, that can score points in the red zone," Chaney said mere hours before Tuesday's first practice of the spring.

Tennessee's quarterbacks went 0-for-3 in those categories last fall. Surrounded by average players, they were unable to rally troops or score points in the red zone. The Vols averaged a paltry 17.3 points per game en route to a 5-7 record that cost Phillip Fulmer his job.

Tennessee's 2008 quarterbacks proved Chaney's point about decision-making, however. Each made some disastrous decisions last fall, resulting in costly fumbles and interceptions that led to opposing touchdowns.

Chaney hopes to eliminate those mental mistakes in '09, noting that: "A lot of what we do within the offense is based on decisions. That ball's in their hands, and they've got to make the good decisions. They've got to be smart, they've got to have great leadership and the team's got to play for them."

Asked if he sees signs of leadership from the Vols' current cast of QBs, Chaney shrugged and answered: "I haven't been able to evaluate that one bit. I'll reserve judgment on that till we get through the spring."

The new coordinator has watched some tape of 2008 Vol quarterbacks Jonathan Crompton, Nick Stephens and B. J. Coleman but doesn't put a lot of stock in what the trio did last fall.

"I've watched a few ball games," he said, "but I'm trying to be real open-minded as we approach spring ball, judge them on what they get done on the football field in the upcoming days. That's been my history – to do it that way."

Tennessee's three-man quarterback race lost a competitor last week when Stephens fell during a drill and suffered a fractured wrist. He'll be out three to four weeks and miss probably half of spring practice.

"It's not a favorable issue – not at all – and Nick understands that," Chaney said. "You've got to make up for that somehow. I'm certain that Nick, being the competitive person he is, will find a way to keep up with everybody in film study and meeting with (quarterback) coach (David) Reaves.

"He'll do his due diligence to stay on top of it, without any question. He's falling a little behind but he'll catch up. I don't worry about that."

Nor does head coach Lane Kiffin, who plans for Crompton and Coleman to split the practice repetitions right down the middle.

"You're going to see two guys take exactly equal reps," the head man said. "You're going to see them start different drills. One will start one drill, and one will start the other drill, so they'll have exactly equal opportunity. And when he (Stephens) gets back, then all three will do the same thing."

With only two scholarship quarterbacks available, overworking their arms is a concern. Chaney emphasized the need to "manage them, do a real nice job (not wearing out) their arms and watch them compete."

None of the three returning QBs posted acceptable numbers last season. Crompton completed just 51.5 percent of his passes with more interceptions (5) than touchdowns (4). Stephens completed 48.5 percent with 5 TDs and 4 interceptions. Coleman was 4 of 8 for 21 yards with an interception in his lone relief stint.

Chaney says the number that matters most, however, is the number of times a quarterback puts points on the scoreboard.

"Ultimately, it gets down to competitive spirit at the position and who can lead the team into the end zone," he said. "That's what we're looking for."

Following David Cutcliffe in 2007 and Dave Clawson in 2008, Chaney is UT's third offensive coordinator in three years. You'd figure his quarterbacks would be confused as they try to learn their third new scheme in as many years, but he says that isn't the case.

"I see a bunch of sponges out there, absorbing stuff," he said. "Right now I'm real pleased with their development – how they're meeting our expectations and how they competed in the winter workouts.

"They're hungry to be the starting quarterback, which is what we're looking for."

Even with the QB corps reduced to two, Tennessee has no plans to put Crompton and Coleman in protective green practice jerseys, designating them not to be tackled.

"We're not going to protect anybody," Kiffin said. "We're not good enough to do that. Maybe someday down the road that happens."

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