Butter-fingered Vols

Nick Stephens' bid to be Tennessee's No. 1 quarterback didn't get a whole lot of help from his teammates in Saturday's scrimmage.

His second pass of the day, an eight-yard completion to Todd Campbell, was nullified by an illegal procedure penalty.

His third pass of the day, a well-thrown 25-yarder over the middle, was dropped by tight end Ben Bartholomew.

His fourth pass of the day was a throwaway because the line couldn't protect him.

After completing a 20-yard toss to freshman Marsalis Teague and an 18-yard touchdown strike to tight end Jeff Cottam, Stephens finished the first half 2 of 5 for 38 yards. He easily could've been 4 of 5 for 71 yards.

The second half was more of the same. A drop by freshman tailback David Oku cost Stephens a 10-yard completion. Bartholomew bobbled a short toss near the East sidelines, costing another 2 or 3 yards. A throw over the middle was mishandled by freshman wideout Nu'Keese Richardson, costing another 12 yards or so.

If the four dropped balls had been caught, Nick Stephens' stat line could've been 15 of 22 for 171 yards, instead of 11 of 22 for 121 yards. Being the team player that he is, though, he wasn't complaining.

"I'm not worried about my stats," he said. "I'm more worried about guys making plays and us scoring points. Obviously, that hurts the offense more than it hurts me. We'll get that right. We had an off day in a bunch of different areas. That happens every now and then but we'll try to make it happen the least amount possible."

Primarily going against the No. 2 defense, Stephens wound up directing two of Saturday's three touchdown drives. He capped the first with the 18-yard pass to Cottam and closed the second with a swing pass to walk-on fullback Sam Edgmon, who went 20 yards to score.

"We did move the ball and put some points on the board," Stephens conceded, "but to be a great offensive team you've got to do that consistently, and we didn't do that today."

Stephens was generally decisive on Saturday but did have one noticeable brain lock. He held the ball much too long on one pass play, finally being sacked for a nine-yard loss by defensive end Chris Donald.

"I took that one sack, which I thought was my worst play of the day," Stephens conceded. "I knew the defense was going to cover that; I should've checked it down immediately (to secondary receivers) but I didn't do it. I bounced back from it and had a pretty decent day, though, so I'm happy with that."

In addition to the stress of trying to unseat No. 1 quarterback Jonathan Crompton, Stephens faces additional pressure every time he takes a snap in practice: Rather than watch from the sidelines, head coach Lane Kiffin positions himself just a few yards behind the quarterback. That could be unsettling to some but Stephens says it's no big deal.

"I think it's more that he (Kiffin) likes being in the middle of everything," the strong-armed Texan said. "He knows he can't do it in the game, so he likes being out there where he can take control, put in extra things if he wants to. It's not a bad thing."

Not as bad as having four of your passes dropped in one scrimmage, for sure.


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