Nick's ahead of schedule

If he learns as quickly as he heals, Nick Stephens could be competing for Tennessee's first-team quarterback job sooner than expected.

Stephens, a strong-armed junior from Flower Mound, Texas, fractured his right wrist in a fall mere days before spring practice began. Though projected to miss roughly half of spring drills, he did some light throwing at Haslam Field Tuesday after missing just three of the 15 practice days (counting the Orange & White game).

Although limited to making a few short tosses to Vol running backs, Stephens clearly was excited and encouraged to be back with his teammates.

"I did the warm-up throwing and I threw with the running backs a little bit," he said. "It's day-to-day. The plan is to be up and full-go by next Tuesday."

Stephens will try to do a little more when the Vols work out on Thursday and still more when they practice on Saturday.

"I'm going to do as much as I can," he said. "Obviously, I don't want to land on it and re-break it or mess it up even more. I'm just going to try to stay off the ground and do whatever I can do with it. Hopefully, I'll be full-speed by next Tuesday."

Because the fracture occurred in his throwing wrist, Stephens conceded that his "grip's a little weak right now.... It's just going to be about me getting some rehab and getting everything strong again."

The 6-4, 227-pounder said he has done plenty of running to stay in condition. The only work he missed was the drills that involved passing the football.

"I did everything as if I didn't have a cast on except throw the ball," he said.

Although unable to join fellow QBs Jonathan Crompton and B. J. Coleman in passing drills, Stephens has kept up in other areas. He watched just as much film, attended the same meetings, and listened just as intently to head coach Lane Kiffin and quarterback coach David Reaves the past few weeks.

"I've been on top of everything," Stephens said. "I've been in the film room. I'm right there behind Coach Kiffin (near the huddle in practice), listening to everything they're saying, making my reads in my head while the plays are going on. I feel like I'm ready to go mentally."

After conceding that having to watch rather than participate has been "frustrating," Stephens added: "The competitors always want to play, but you have to put that aside and just try to get better, even though you can't play."

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