Counting the days

An awkward fall during an agility drill earlier this month broke Nick Stephens' wrist but not his spirit. The strong-armed Texan vows to make a serious bid for Tennessee's first-team quarterback job as soon as Vol trainers clear him for practice.

"You have to have a positive mindset. You can't have negativity come into anything you do," he said recently. "That's just going to bring you and the team down. I'm going to try to stay up, be out there helping everybody out – receivers with their routes, quarterbacks. I'm trying to have a lot of positive energy."

Even though he currently is unable to sharpen his skills on the practice field, he's able to sharpen his mind as he waits for his wrist to heal.

"I'm spending more time in the film room and more time getting mental reps," he said. "When I do step on the field I'll be ready to go."

Two factors weigh heavily in Stephens' favor. First, UT's new offense is pretty basic. That means he should pick it up quickly once he's cleared to practice.

"I think that makes a huge difference," he said. "I almost feel completely comfortable with it now. I'm not saying I know everything; I'm not saying that at all. But the stuff I do know I feel comfortable about.

"I know where everybody's going to be and I know what's happening. And the receivers know where they're going to be."

The second factor that lessens the severity of Stephens' absence is the timing of it. Because the Vols are in the middle of a 10-day spring break, the only work he has missed to date is two no-pads practices and one full-pads workout.

"That's what me and my family thank God for every day," he said. "It could've been ligament damage that required surgery. It could've been a lot of things. I've been real lucky. I get the whole spring break to relax. You never want to go through something like this but if it had to happen, this is probably the best time it could happen."

Stephens is expected to miss practice on March 24, 26, 28 and 31 but might be cleared to participate in April. That would give him seven workouts, plus the Orange & White Game, to show what he can do.

Even if he returns by April, though, he'll be well behind rising senior Jonathan Crompton and rising sophomore B. J. Coleman in the quarterback competition. The obvious question: Will he feel pressure to make up for lost time?

"Not at all," Stephens said. "I'll be three weeks behind in reps but I won't be three weeks behind mentally. I'll be fine mentally. I don't feel like I'll have to prove anything. I'm just going to try to play relaxed. If you play relaxed everything will come to you."

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